Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Eulogy (part 2)

Stephanie and I made the grim discovery that Los Cuatro Amigos had gone to that great taco stand in the sky when we paid them a visit last Thursday. We knew before we even got out of the car that something was terribly wrong. No lights. No movement. Nothing. This was actually my first visit to the Amigos. I had been meaning to stop by for the longest time, but other restaurants always seemed to get in the way, and I just never took the time to get there. Standing before the dark windows of Los Cuatro Amigos, I felt touched by the cold hand of survivor’s guilt.

In my eulogy post the other day, I relied on a familiar form of ritual to help ease some of the guilt I was feeling for never making it to the Amigos for lunch before it closed for the last time. I believe in ritual because it’s an important way to heal and to come to terms with grief. As it turns out I’m not the only one whose been engaging in mourning rituals lately. My Unitarian Church staged its own impromptu grieving ritual on Sunday to mark the passing of a long time contributor to the Church.

The service began with a quiet dirge playing in the background. Most of the parishioners were wearing black arm bands as a symbol of their unified grief. The ushers came forward with a black shroud which they draped carefully over the Church Copy Machine. It had died earlier in the week. Displayed at the front of the sanctuary just below the pulpit, it looked like an awkward coffin. The copy tray was extended and held two burning candles on either side of an empty wicker basket. We were all invited, as part of the ritual, to come forward, pay our respects to this old work horse, and drop an offering in the basket to help pay for its replacement.

Back in the parking lot of Los Cuatro Amigos, Stephanie and I were feeling cold and hungry. Somehow we needed to find our own ritual to help fill the hole in our stomachs left by this terrible tragedy. So we did what Los Cuatro Amigos would have wanted us to do. We went somewhere else for lunch.

We drove to the other side of town to El Charrito’s on Richfield Road, just off Dort Highway. If you remember my post from last fall, we already visited El Charrito’s, but that was the downtown Davison restaurant. We were less than impressed with that experience, but the Richfield Road El Charrito’s is not owned by the same family. This one is unrelated and independent. And so was our dining experience.

The hustle and bustle of the crowd of people already seated by time we got there was definitely a good sign. Steph and I have been to enough lunch places to know that if you get there before noon and a crowd has already gathered, then the food is probably going to be pretty good. Within minutes after our arrival, the place was nearly full. It was comforting to be among noisy happy people, and by the time our sever got to our table we had forgotten all about the depressing episode we had recently left behind us.

The appetizer menu listed some of the usual suspects, like nachos, taquitos, quesadillas, and of course, chips and cheese. Just below that part of the menu is the complete list of side orders. In addition to French fries, you can also get a bowl of sour cream for a buck and a half, green sauce for a buck and a quarter, or a bowl of guacamole for two bucks. First of all who would ever order a bowl of guacamole, and second who would pay two bucks for it when a lunch special only costs five bucks? Stop nickel and diming us to death already. (no offense intended, Los Cuatro Amigos).

We settled on the chips and cheese, which was served like it is at so many other places—Wrigley Field pumped from the can style. It wasn’t bad, but I’m beginning to realize that the number of places that serve real cheese dips and sauces is really minimal. Our appetizer was accompanied by a really good house salsa made of a fresh tomato puree with a slight peppery undertone. The hot salsa was quite simple, a cup of freshly minced jalapenos. This approach could go either way in the flavor department, but we got lucky because the jalapenos had a great fresh taste with a great heat level. It also made the perfect topping for our entrees.

While we waited for our very busy, but very friendly server to take our orders, I started making noise to Stephanie about ordering a salad. I never do that in a Mexican restaurant, but I was thinking that maybe something a little lighter might be nice. It only took one well-placed Really? from Stephanie and I came to my senses and ordered the Seafood Burrito Plate, a two pound platter of three burritos, a small mountain of beans and a generous pile of fried rice.

Stephanie ordered a combination platter that was served with a taco, a tostada, a cheese enchilada, and a cheese tamale. All of that was joined by beans, rice, and the best beef stew I think I have ever tasted in a Flint Mexican restaurant. The meat practically melted in your mouth and the sauce was slightly thickened with an earthy, smoky heat to it. I still need to get back to El Nopal to taste theirs again, but in the meantime, this beef stew is on the list of contenders for the coveted Tater Tot Casserole Award. I could have been happy ordering a bowl of that for lunch and waiving the other pound and a half of food that came with it.

Our dishes were served on metal plates inserted into a hard plastic liners to protect us unsuspecting diners from burning the hell out of our fingers. The choice of plate is wise considering each entrée is placed under a broiler after being assembled, and the result is an attractive, well browned topping on each plate of food. This struck me as a little odd at first, but my rice had a slight crunch to it that mingled with the softer rice underneath to create a unique texture that worked really well.

For a Tex-Mex diner, this El Charrito’s really came through for us in our time of need. And judging by Thursday’s huge lunch crowd, I don’t think they have to worry about facing the same future as Los Cuatro Amigos, whose memory will live on in all of our future Mexican lunches.


  1. As I read through these, I have a reoccurring question with respect to salsa: can you provide a sliding scale or set of scales as to the desirable qualities? There are the purees, chunkys, etc. How can I tell from the description how good it is?

  2. Welcome back Steves. Hope the beer was good last night. You pose a good question about salsas. The purees are best if the tomatoes are fresh not canned, if they have some fresh onion and jalapenos in them, and if they aren't ladened with ground pepper. (I still don't get the ground pepper fetish that some places have). The chunky salsas are best if they have all fresh ingredients, a bit of fresh cilantro mixed in and they're not too watery. Your question makes me think that maybe a post on the matter might be in order.

  3. We tried this place out tonight, on the strength of this review. Not bad at all. A different style than we usually go for (especially for Vickie, a SoCal native with a refined palate for "fresh" Mexican). Tex-Mex often relies on a sauce ("gravy" here) whose flavor tends to dominate everything. At El Charrito's, we found this sauce to be much better than most. The only drawbacks were the cold (keep your coat on!) and that we had to pay for the chips.

    John Pendell

  4. Oh such sorrowful woe! I shall miss Los Quatros Amigos. Steve and I were regulars there until our move to Oakland County in January.