You know the one. It’s a squat, nondescript building off the main road, and the sign is in Spanish. Some of them have jalapeno peppers dancing in sombreros on the sign. You’ve never been there. There are no lights in the parking lot, and you’re just not sure. Let me help you.
In different parts of the country, it could be Greek or Italian, maybe even a Mom and Pop diner that is open all night, just off the highway. Open the door and you know you’re in the right place — it smells like fryers, and they serve milkshakes and real Cherry Coke. We had an amazing local Japanese food place that was run by a Korean family. A lot of Asian food in most parts of America is brought in preprepared and frozen; little nuggets of breaded frozen meat and frozen precut veggies. That’s how you know you’re in the wrong place. Watch for the delivery truck in the back. If they’ve got crates of fresh onions and green peppers, go in and have a seat.
The thing about restaurant food in America, is that we tend toward chain stores and stay focused on speed. So they accommodate us. That’s the glory of Capitalism. We usually get exactly what we ask for. So it’s our own fault if we get quick, deep fried garbage. It’s terrible for our bodies, and there’s no pleasure in eating it, nor pride in preparing it. That’s what the Sketchy Mexican Place is all about.
I won’t gloss over a fundamental truth: I have gotten sick with this philosophy. Sometimes sketchiness is a warning. Oddly enough, I had a bad feeling about the place when I walked in, and a worse feeling when I got my food. In my experience, the best way to judge is the bathroom. Outdated is fine, even a plus. Dirty is not. Chain stores are heavy on the gloss, and low on the freshness.
So when you find your own Sketchy Mexican Place, and you try it, go often. Take your friends. You are not only getting a great meal, but you’re supporting the local economy, and encouraging small business owners to take risks. It’s better for you, and there’s more flavor, and more passion in the food you will find there.