It’s taco time
Arsenio’s offers authentic Mexican food for the night owls
Chico, CA 95926
Dr. Epinards’ office has been sending me the little postcards again, reminding me that I’m overdue for a physical exam. As if I needed reminding. Actually, it was one of my New Year’s resolutions. I think in 2005. That and to paint the house.
Well, maybe not the whole house, but at least a particularly dreadful section of wainscoting in the dining room. I’ve even already bought the paint.
Physical exams are always so depressing, though. And humiliating! Scowling nurses, lectures from doctors. Not to mention the hideous paper gowns with the little string ties that they make you wear—and which are never big enough to close up around the back. Once every six, eight years is probably fine.
But Colette intervened, bribed me, actually—told me that if I made an appointment for this summer that she’d take me out to dinner. I was thinking Spice Creek Café, or perhaps the Red Tavern. Turns out my calendar was so full that the receptionist couldn’t find anything until November. Colette shook her head. Sorry, she said, the deal was for an appointment this summer.
But she did agree to lunch.
I suggested Arsenio’s, the new fast-food Mexican restaurant on East Avenue near Cohasset—recommended one afternoon off-handedly at Trader Joe’s by Henri’s former Chico News & Review colleague Thomas.
Arsenio’s is part of a small Northern California chain of Mexican restaurants—so new that the Web site’s “Locations” link lists only one, in Fresno. Chico’s Arsenio’s opened in February. The food’s authentic and fresh, the portions huge and the menu quite large, with several different taco, burrito, tostada and enchilada options ($2-$6), as well as a dozen or so combination plates, with rice and beans ($6.99-$9.99). Order at the counter, and then help yourself to a basket of chips, three different salsas from the salsa bar, and marinated radishes and carrot slices. The drive-thru is open 24 hours.
I started simple, with two à la carte chicken tacos ($1.99 each)—hard-shell corn tortillas stuffed with lettuce, onions, cheese and lots of chicken. Very good, certainly several notches above the generic Taco Bell (which previously occupied the building) and definitely filling. Colette had an à la carte tostada ($2.49), which she thought was good but nothing to rave about—chicken, lettuce, onions, cheese and refried beans on a hard-shell corn tortilla.
We wanted to give it another try, though, particularly after Thomas’ recommendation, and went back a couple of days later. This time Colette ordered a side of rice and a bacon breakfast burrito ($3.65, served all day), which came with eggs, potatoes, cheese, onions and plenty of bacon wrapped in a light flour tortilla. Good, especially spicing it up a bit with the salsa verde from the salsa bar. Henri obviously made the better call, though—an à la carte grilled-chicken taco and an à la carte grilled-shrimp taco ($2.69 each). Sacre bleu! Délicieux. Perhaps the best tacos in Chico. Et énorme! The soft double corn tortillas not even half wrapping around the lettuce, peppers, onions, cheese and generous portions of meat that spill onto the plate. Even the shrimp were large—not the little bay shrimp often used in tacos at fast-food Mexican restaurants.
Minor complaints: 1) The food doesn’t always come out at once. Our second time there, we ordered four items; two were ready together first, and the other two, several minutes later, one at a time. I imagine they’ll work that bug out, though. 2) The salsa could be a bit more picante—it seems a bit mild for such an authentic Mexican eatery. 3) The menu is quite extensive but doesn’t include tamales, Henri’s favorite Mexican food. On the other hand, it would have been difficult to compete with Rosarito’s, the delicious tamales from Chico’s Thursday evening and Saturday morning farmers markets.
All in all, though, Arsenio’s is a fine addition to Chico’s list of good Mexican restaurants. I’ll certainly be back, especially for those tacos.