Delicioso y económico

Henri brushes up on his español at Tacos Cortez

FOOD WITH <i>SOL</i> <br>The new walk-up Tacos Cortez on Park Avenue offers menu items for less than $5.

The new walk-up Tacos Cortez on Park Avenue offers menu items for less than $5.

Photo By Josh Graham

Tacos Cortez
1530 Park Ave.
Opens daily at 10 a.m.; Mon. until 8 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs. and Sunday until 5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m.
Phone: 342-3797

Tacos Cortes

1530 Park Ave.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 342-3797

Henri has always been orally gifted, and though technically only bilingual, at one time he could also speak passable Spanish, having spent a year exploring the Iberian peninsula, mostly shopping—from San Sebastián to Málaga—with a tall, ravishing dark-eyed model from Barcelona. Since moving to California, however, he has learned that the Spanish he picked up abroad—what little he can recall—is rather more formal than that often heard here in the valley.

But thanks to the many Mexican eateries in Chico, I’m picking up some survival West Coast Spanish. In fact, I enjoyed an impromptu and informal little Spanish class just other day, in which, after being flummoxed by a particular term on a menu, I was moved to somewhat self-consciously ask for a translation. It turns out that cabeza does in fact mean “head,” but at barrio-style Mexican restaurants it’s a common taco and burrito filling, pulled from a long-boiled steer skull.

Colette and I were en route to the Galley to look at meat thermometers when we passed by the newly opened Tacos Cortez on Park Avenue. Being a fan of the original restaurant on Dayton Highway, although having eaten there only once, I suggested we stop for lunch.

The menu at the new restaurant—it’s actually just a walk-up window, with three concrete picnic tables out front—is a scaled-down version of that of the other restaurant—the key feature of both being value: The most expensive item is $5 (for the nachos, with meat, beans and rice).

Complete dinners, which include rice and beans, are $4.75, and choices include chimichangas, burritos, carnitas, carne asada, tacos (two) and tamales (two). You can also order a la carte. Burritos range from $2.50 (bean and cheese) to $3.70 (carne asada, chicken and carnitas), and the chicken, chile verde and carnitas tacos are $1.40. The taco salad, which comes with beans, meat, sour cream and guacamole, and cheese, is $4.50, and chimichangas are $3.70. A la carte tamales are $2 (or $16 for 12).

I was famished—naturellement!—and ordered a carnitas taco and a chicken chimichanga. Colette ordered a chicken taco. We sat down and waited for our number to be called.

“Twenty-eight, vientiocho.”

Colette looked at our tag. “That’s us.”

We picked up our food at the window and sat back down. “This is huge,” Colette said, unwrapping her taco. “I’m going to need a fork. Want one?”

I nodded, pulling the foil away from my chimichanga, which was beyond huge, and dug in. It was absolutely delicious, the beans, shredded chicken and rice wrapped in a crisp flour tortilla topped with salsa, lettuce, tomatoes and a large dollop of sour cream. I ate about half then turned to the taco, which was even better. The generous amount of pork was seasoned with onions and cilantro that spilled out of doubled-up white-corn tortillas.

Colette ate most of her taco and offered me a bite, which I dutifully accepted. It was good, but the chicken taco comes with rice and beans and sour cream, and the chicken gets a bit lost in the mix—it was actually more like a burrito.

We returned several days later to sample more of the menu—I especially wanted to try a tamale. Unfortunately, they were out, the woman behind the window just shrugging when I asked her when they might be available.

“I don’t know,” she said. “We had them for a while.”

I ordered two tacos instead—al pastor (spicy pork) and chile verde (beef with green-chile sauce)—both of which came with lots of meat and just the right amount of onion and cilantro seasoning, and which was plenty for lunch. Colette, at my recommendation, had the carnitas taco. She agreed that it was better than the chicken, and, without the beans and rice, didn’t leave her feeling so stuffed.

We will definitely be regulars at the new Tacos Cortez, though I will continue to pass on la cabeza.