Henri braves the bustle of students for El Patrón
El Patron Taqueria1354 East Ave.
Chico, CA 95926
One of the unexpected joys of Henri’s relocating to Chico was discovering the availability of so much excellent local Mexican food. It seems I can hardly go more than a few blocks without being seduced by the scent of carne asada or chile verde wafting out of a little storefront or through the window of a taco truck.
At the Saturday morning Farmers Market, I always pick up at least a couple of tamales at Rosarita’s little kiosk. They’re especially good with the hotter of the two salsas in the plastic jugs and a glass of decent pinot. (Unfortunately, several weeks ago, Henri was embarrassingly reprimanded by a large man in a hideously inappropriate clown costume. He now leaves his bottle and personal Baccarat wine glass at home and is currently enjoying, reluctantly, his public imbibing from the locally popular, if rather garbage blanc, alternative, a hip flask.)
And of course, there’s Tres Hombres downtown, right across the street from Collier’s Kitchen Supply. Henri loves to stop in before a Blue Room play and munch on chips at the little taco bar in the back while I watch the boy put his meat on the grill to sizzle for my quesadilla. I usually stop in after the play, too, to take advantage of the two-for-one margarita coupons in the Blue Room programs.
Henri was recently out by East Avenue Safeway dropping off his new Cassini blazer at the dry cleaner—I’d fallen asleep on the couch watching The Apartment and spilled a glass of wine, Bordeaux-wise, all down the front. Suddenly a throng of young bodies began to descend on the quiet little strip mall, some wearing sports tops, some barefoot, one carrying a guitar. It was like a casting call for The Breakfast Club.
Terrified, I retreated to my little Renault and hid in the back seat under some apron fabric that I’d just purchased at Jo-Ann’s. After about 45 minutes, I sensed a return to tranquility and peeked out the window. Gone. Just like that.
Famished from my ordeal, I stumbled into the nearest restaurant. Which—quelle surprise!—turned out to be a lovely little locally owned Mexican eatery, El Patrón Taqueria. I ordered a couple of a la carte chicken tamales—huge (twice as big as Rosarita’s) and covered in a tasty though not particularly spicy traditional red sauce. Just what I needed. Filling and delicious—a perfect distraction. Before leaving I asked the boy behind the counter about the mob. Turns out they were Pleasant Valley High School students on lunch break and, he assured me, mostly harmless.
I went back a couple of days later to pick up my blazer—waiting until close to one o’ clock—and stopped in again at El Patrón. This time, I had two soft chicken tacos, which came on doubled-up corn tortillas piled so high with meat, lettuce, cheese, onions and tomatoes that I could barely fold it over. Also very good.
Henri definitely plans to return to sample more from El Patrón’s menu, which includes a wide range of burritos, with refried or whole red or black beans, and red or green salsa. The misnamed “minis” (quite large) range from $3.75 for beans, rice and cheese to $5.15 for the steak, the carnitas and the chile verde; the “regulars” (gigantic) run $4.75-$6.15. Tacos are $2.25-$2.95.
The menu also offers more than a dozen platillos (rice and beans—$6.95-$7.75), with tacos, enchiladas, chimichangas, fajitas, flautas, carnitas and chile rellenos. Specials include quesadillas ($2.85), tostadas ($4.15) and nachos, with meat, cheese, beans, onion, sour cream, tomatoes and guacamole ($6.20).
El Patrón is also open for breakfast, serving huevos rancheros, huevos con chorizo and other traditional fare ($6-$7), as well as menudo (weekends only).