manteca and fire up the tastebuds fare I remember getting at such Stocktone joints as Azteca, Arroyo’s and Las Manitas, I head on over to this dimly lit eatery in Alkali Flat. The décor is unpretentious (we’re talking beer signs), the booths are funky but comfortable, the service is friendly and the food has a pronounced but perfectly balanced reliance on cumin and cayenne that will keep you coming back. My only complaint is that 524, like too many eateries in this town, stops serving at 9 p.m.
Don’t get me wrong; those corporate-subsidiary “fresh mex” joints where they sing you “Happy Birthday,” then shove a giant sombrero onto your head so hard that you end up calling a chiropractor the next morning to deal with the pain, are all right if you like that sort of thing. It’s just that, having grown up in the San Joaquin Valley, I’ve developed a low tolerance for Mexican food that’s anything short of down-home wonderful. So whenever I crave the kind of south of the border, don’t hold the