Ft Bliss (El Paso), TX, 1963
Me, Upper Left - Debbie, Lower Right, Hose, Background
"We Got Beer," Rosa Mexicana
Rosa Mexicana, Union Square
The Old Man loved Mexican food like he loved the West. Cheap, hot and not a lot a fans. Well, used to be. Charlotte, NC -- Sometime in 1970. Not a lot of fans. A new Mexican restaurant opened and it looked like the Alamo. We pulled into an empty parking lot on opening night.
Five of us cram into a red banquette and a waiter takes orders. It takes forever for my family but military life in Texas and Mexican towns speaks to our cutting edge knowledge of Mexican food. Hell, in 1970 Charlotte, we were cutting edge... and we were showing off.
The waiter looks to the Old Man for the last order -- he gives it and adds a beer. "We ain't got no beer," says the waiter without looking up. I'm not sure what the Old Man's thinking, "Do they expect me to drink sweet iced tea like everyone else in this one horse town?" Or, "He didn't even look at me."
What the Old Man said was, "Then what'aya doing with all those beer signs lit up in your windows?" The waiter opens his mouth. I look down at the table and wince. The bull has entered the arena. He is snorting and pissed off.
30 years later, I order Carne Asada tacos with hand made corn tortillas, marinated hanger steak, raw chopped onion, cilantro and lime. No cheese. No salsa. The waitress looks at me and says, "You eat like a Mexican." I think I'd be happy with those words on my tombstone. Under, "He never ate a Big Mac. He never watched, 'Titanic.' He never stepped foot in Las Vegas."
I remember eating at Rosa Mexicana in 1985. My date was Jean, an FBI agent who was learning Italian and who is better remembered here. The tab was a quarter of my monthly take home pay. Rosa Mexicana is still at it. I'm a fan. The Union Square location has always been my favorite. If I were you, skip the table and head for the bar.
Guacamole and a beer starts it off with a side of corn tortillas. Butter and salted or spread with Guac -- Doesn't matter. At least I know what I'll be eating when I lose my teeth. About a year ago, Rosa did a Pork Pibil that was as brilliant as it was unknown. Slow cooked in banana leaves covered in an achiote paste. Not sure why but they discontinued it.
The Carne Asada tacos are my way home to El Paso. They connect me with tumble weeds and horny toads and underground desert forts we built as kids. A girl named Debbie made me walk a garden hose shaped like a heart. If my foot slipped off -- I had to kiss her. Later, her brother and I went to the Ft Bliss skating rink and I dropped a cherry coke on the smooth hard wood floor. The spill arc must'a been 20 feet.
Rosa Mexicana always takes me back to El Paso and it never hurts to be six again. It does hurt to remember Charlotte, NC again. The waiter tells the Old Man they don't have their liquor license yet. I remember thinking that might explain the empty parking lot but not before I hear, "Let's go." And we all follow the Old Man out of the Mexican restaurant. Adios, mi amour...