Now, with cocina
La Paisa taco stand expands into new restaurant
Chico, CA 95928
It wasn’t easy getting through the door of La Cocina Economica, Chico’s newest Mexican restaurant. A throng of people were waiting to be seated, and all of the tables were full at noontime one recent weekday. It appeared to already be common knowledge that La Cocina Economica is owned and operated by the same family—headed by Jose Uriarte—that founded the enormously popular El Paisa taco truck at Eighth and Pine Streets. El Paisa won the Best of Chico reader’s poll for Best Taco Truck the third year in a row this year.
Instead of feeling frustrated by the crush of people waiting to order, I felt happy to see how quickly the new restaurant was becoming popular. My friend and I found a spot to stand near the entrance and decided to order ours to go.
Many of the items on the menu hanging on the wall by the entrance are favorites offered at El Paisa. But now, with a full kitchen, the menu has expanded to include classic breakfast plates, such as the Capiro Eggs served scrambled with spinach, chorizo and cheese, and a choice of potatoes or beans ($5.50); and Ranchero Eggs served fried on a crispy corn shell topped with Ranchero sauce, plus a choice of potatoes or beans ($3.50).
The specialty of El Paisa has been the shrimp burrito supreme ($6), which was what I was craving. So, I ordered my standby and my friend ordered a chile rellano plate with rice and beans ($7.50), one of the daily specials that also included a mole chicken option.
I have a long history of enjoying Jose Uriarte’s burritos. I tried my first one about five years ago when he had a truck located on Park Avenue. I was on my way to band practice one day, and while picking up beer at a convenience market, I stopped at an old taco truck that read “Taco Man” on the side. Uriarte greeted me with the comment, “Are you ready to have the best burrito you’ve ever had?”
After paying $3 I walked away wondering at the weight of my burrito, a massive cylinder that seemed as heavy as the six pack I was slinging. Unwrapped, the burrito revealed lusciously creamy white beans, savory moist rice and juicy tri-tip beef chunks. What sent it over the top for me were the thick slices of ripe avocado, placed with the care of a mother fixing lunch for her children.
I told Uriarte many times how correct his best-burrito claim was, and I had plenty of chances to do so. As soon as my band members jealously eyed the stew of flavors that burst forth from the obscenely stretched tortilla, a Taco Man stop became a regular pre-practice meal.
Soon after, Uriarte opened El Paisa in a new vehicle, better described as a stand than a truck.
With his vision of taste and quality, it seems natural that Uriarte would expand his venture into a full-fledged restaurant. Inside the new place, he stops to greet his longtime customers with a giant smile before rushing out to the store to pick up more plastic forks.
As my friend and I were leaving the restaurant holding our to-go bags, I noticed a romantic scene with a couple sitting on the grass just outside the restaurant next to the sidewalk. Undaunted by the crowd inside, their impromptu picnic was an easy remedy for a leisurely lunch date.
Behind the couple was the nearly completed mural that Uriarte designed with the community in mind. Five ethnic groups are represented, all waiting happily to eat from his taco stand.
When I got home and unwrapped my burrito, I dissected the middle to see if I could figure out the secret to its flavors. The bulging shrimp were grilled simply, retaining their subtle flavor while a perfect tenderness added texture to each bite. The rice and beans, like opposite twins, complemented each other. And the beans—somewhere between whole and runny, and hearty with flavor—rule. Of course, several slices of ripe avocado added that special touch.
How sweet the simple things are when prepared with love.