On the trail

A search for the best Mexican food leads to Amigos de Acapulco

ROLLIN’ FAT ONES Theodoro Alvarez assembling one of the giant burritos at Amigos de Acapulco.

ROLLIN’ FAT ONES Theodoro Alvarez assembling one of the giant burritos at Amigos de Acapulco.

Photo By Carla Resnick

Open late: Amigos de Acapulco restaurant has been in its current location at 820 Oroville Ave. for eight years and is open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sunday 12-8 p.m.

Traveling around Northern California over the past few years has given me and my partner, Mr. D, a chance to eat at lots of different hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants. At La Fogata, in Watsonville, we found the freshest, most tender hand-made corn tortillas ever (but the jukebox was so loud), and in Ukiah there was the Taquería Santa Rosa, with big gooey burritos and Charlie’s Angels dubbed into Spanish on the TV.

Chico is our new town, and like all new towns it offers a chance to try new fare and (hopefully) find a new special place. Lucky for us, it has so many Mexican restaurants from which to choose.

On a recent weekend, after a long day in the park, we found ourselves at a little place called Amigos de Acapulco, a restaurant that shares a concrete island with Sound Source music store at the historic Junction where Highway 32 meets Oroville Avenue. The building’s painted exterior wall, featuring a big gray fish on a platter, hand-lettered menu listings and a tropical beach scene, is hard to miss, and since being in Chico we’ve thought it might be our kind of place.

Walking through the door across the funky brick flooring, things looked promising, as the chunky bricks met the Saltillo tiles, spelling out “Amigos de Acapulco” in a sort of patchwork of brick pieces.

Sitting on thick vinyl benches, we perused the menu, which offered the expected fare of tacos, burritos, seafood dishes and more.

Mr. D has a thing for chicken burritos, and since he never tires of them, he stuck with ordering his standby from our smiling young waiter. I’m more of a “hot plate with gooey beans, rice and something smothered in spicy sauce” kind of person. The waiter was friendly, and he didn’t laugh too hard when I tried out my restaurant Spanish, “Dos enchiladas pollo combinación.”

While we waited for our food, we munched on crispy, fresh-from-the-deep-fryer tortilla chips dipped in spicy and tangy salsa and took in the dàcor.

Since the floor is thick Saltillo tiles, some of the tables are a little less than level, but what’s dinner without a little adventure in balancing? The rough-textured wall above our table was painted with a tropical beach scene, with a big blue sea and a beach leading into stacks of condos. Thankfully, there was no blaring jukebox blinking in the corner and no TV set. This was also the first such place in recent memory that didn’t have a velvet painting featuring some luscious woman being carried off by a macho warrior man.

Our food arrived promptly and we dug in. The fabulous looking chicken enchiladas showed up bubbling on a hot plate heaped with beans and rice. The chicken was wrapped in fairly tender corn tortillas and topped with a green sauce that was packed full of both subtle and powerful flavors: a hint of garlic, a strong dose of spicy peppers and that tomatillo tanginess that at once bites and pleases the taste buds.

Bubbling refried beans were rich and just the right consistency—not too stiff but not too runny, either, and they were sprinkled lightly with cheese. The rice was perfect—cooked just right and not salty or greasy.

Mr. D’s burrito was enormous and came with a nice hot tortilla wrapped around freshly cooked ingredients of large chunks of cumin-flavored chicken, tender beans and fluffy rice.

As we drove home with our bounty of leftovers and full bellies, we were pretty pleased. The food was delicious and affordable (most entràes were around $7), the waiter was friendly, and the mellow atmosphere topped off the experience. We’ll be back, for certain.