Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mex Without the Tex

At the end of a tiny strip mall in Memphis’ Wolf River basin is Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana, where the Magallanes family brings authentic Mexican food to a city in which most so-called Mexican restaurants serve up things a citizen of that country would never recognize as his homeland’s cuisine.

Forget the Tex-Mex, the nachos and the cheese dip. Forget the mediocre entrée flanked by too much rice and flavorless refried beans that most likely came from a can. This is the real stuff, prepared by a personable family who love sharing not only their native food but the back-story of the food as well.

Small but clean and bright (and with a lunchtime line that trails out the door), this eatery serves up freshly-made specialties that anyone from Mexico City would recognize.

Pepe, the patriarch, explains that the twice-cooked pork ribs are made from his grandmother’s recipe. How can I not try them?! and have them on the second visit? and on the third? They’re superb, the meat falling off the bone so cleanly I can accomplish my post-meal lipstick reapplication in my reflection. Superb mole in homemade mini tortillas, fresh, wonderful tamales, both chicken and pork. And corn on the cob that you wouldn’t believe, beginning with fresh—not frozen—corn, that’s perfectly cooked, then coated with a thin layer of mayonnaise and sprinkled with grated cotija, an aged cow’s milk cheese, and red pepper.

Pepe and his son Jonathan are warm, friendly and hospitable hosts. As I trot to the pick up area when my number is called, Jonathan reaches across a case filled with cheeses, chili peppers and long curls of cassia bark to explain each item I’ve ordered.

Of course, you need a real Mexican beverage to go with your feast. Their agua fresca, fresh fruit drinks, will make you forget all about your favorite soda. Horchata, jamaica, mango, watermelon, limonata and tamarino are just a few, all made fresh and all made really, really good (hey, I’ll shove a clean straw into the glass of anyone who will allow me a taste!).

Tomorrow Andy and I venture to Mexico City to spend a week visiting friends, seeing the sights and enjoying the local cuisine. We look forward to learning more about authentic Mexican food. Of course, just as Italy’s food is regional, so is Mexico’s. But as happens everywhere, folks from the country venture to the city, and some of them open restaurants where their fellow transplants can go for a taste of home. So we anticipate finding at least a smattering of the country’s regional dishes to enjoy while we’re in its capital.

So until our return, hasta luego!

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