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Contributor: Susan Smiley Schramm
If you’re stuck in a rut and finally figuring out that you are getting bored heading to the same ‘ole two or three favorite eating establishments in Penasco, then it’s time to open your mind to all sorts of alternatives. From fine dining to storefronts, to takeout to food carts, our town has a remarkable blend of eclectic cuisine choices. We all know the big name restaurants and have a favorite or two among them. Delicious and varied in menus, these standard-bearers of “good eats” predictably open and close their doors at their appointed hours. Yet, why fight that late night urge for carne asada any longer? What are the choices, you ask? There are countless alternatives from long-standing food carts in reliable locations and others that seemingly come and go overnight.
Let’s discuss some of these “Carts of Mystery”, kitchens on wheels, or mobile deliciousness. Walking or driving, we have all seen those hot dog, taco and mariscos carts. I pray you have taken a moment to stop and enjoy what these purveyors of ambrosial eats have to offer. While one might say “a hot dog is a hot dog” and “a taco a taco”, that indeed would be to sell our street corner chefs short. Yes, you can get a plain ‘ole hot dog, but ask yourself WHY? Lift a pillowy bun, the offspring of a traditional hot dog bun and a yeasty dinner roll, to your lips. Enjoy the aroma of the bacon wrapped frank, anticipate the first bite. Yes that is guac dancing on your taste buds! Yes! That wonderful zing was a jalapeño. Grab a Coke or cerveza and enjoy your first of many Sonoran-style hot dogs. Just ask your friends and I trust you’ll find that we ALL have a favorite cart or stand, or two.
Same goes for the taco troubadours. Break out of your carne asada doldrums, tear the restraints off tacos al pastor. Try lengua (tongue), cabeza (head), or birria for a new delicacy, three traditional and delectable varieties, simmered in intoxicating broths. Shredded or cubed, do traditional tacos “el vapor” or “vampiro” style – my personal favorite when the taco is lined with cheese and melted before they throw in your favorite meat. Don’t ruin your experience into kitchen nirvana by getting out your Spanish dictionary and finding out what you are eating. Again, just do it! This brings us to the magicians of Mariscos. These skippers of seafood have their own specialties. Shrimp cocktail: a hybrid of shrimp, a few veggies and a virgin bloody mary. What’s not to savor here? But, have you ever tried a coconut filled with callo (scallops), cacahuates japonesas (Japanese peanuts) and Clamato? There are many staggering combinations of fruits of the sea that are available to you. All that is required is an adventurous spirit. And while seafood is on the brain, one of my favorite things to do is to drop by one of the fish vendors in the Malecón and have them crack open a giant clam, cut it into tiny pieces, squeeze in some lime juice and add as much hot sauce as your heart desires!
Not all of these “best kept secrets” are on wheels. Unlike their mobile cart brethren, there are a plethora of permanent little cocinas dotted throughout our fair city. They are often called “cocinas económicas” or “cenadurias,” the former meaning inexpensive meals and the latter supper or dinner place. These little spots offer everything from taco plates to menudo. Some of these mini-restaurants serve regional fair. Be sure to discover the spot where you can try Oaxacan mole! So, let’s talk about hours of operation. Guidelines for carts: there seem to be morning carts that eek into early afternoon and then there are the evening carts that serve up to, and in some cases past, midnight. The little neighborhood restaurants, with a few exceptions, seem to serve from late afternoon till 10:00pm-ish. None of this information is more than personal observation. If you see something open, go in. Grab a menu and you might ask if the restaurant has ‘servicio a domicilio,’ delivery to your home, and be sure to check their hours. Not all places will have take-out menus, yet delivery service may be offered.
Keeping your eyes open and seeing Puerto Peñasco as the mecca of all things edible will make your stay more enjoyable, whether you are visiting or living here. These little carts and cocinas take a lot of pride dishing up their individual specialties. Go explore! But take a notebook so you can remember where you were, what you loved, and the establishment’s hours. Plus, don’t forget to share your discoveries with your friends….and always but always tip generously for their service.
Buen provecho, amigos!