Some time ago, I posted about a Mexican restaurant built on the bones of two previous places. We went back for a second visit and it just got me to thinking.
In this area, the first wave of Mexican food was the chain places serving mostly Tex-Mex stuff that had become familiar. A lot of times they were just places to eat chips and drink Margaritas. Or the classic fajitas which made your clothes smell like cooked onions if you got too close to one as it passed by.
The second wave were local places. Kind of low budget with big menus full of all the familiar options and lunch specials for those wanting to eat cheaply and get back to work quickly. You’d hear more Spanish spoken so there was an air of authenticity to the place. They’ve pretty much run the chains out of business here.
But there is more to Mexico than the Tex-Mex stuff from the chains. I suspect other places caught on to this sooner than we did but now there are places that offer selections from certain regions. Still have some of the familiar things but the menus are more limited and highlight dishes from a local region. The best are those actually made by someone from that region.
And that is the case with this restaurant. Both times we’ve been there, Spanish is the primary language at about half of the tables. So I couldn’t help but look around to see what people were ordering and I ended up with a Arabe Cemita (pork sandwich). They do the Arabe as tacos also but when you see the Cemitas on so many tables, it is a clue that it may be worth trying. And it was.
The guy who I took to be an owner came by our table to see if I liked it. He made a point of saying you wouldn’t get that at any other Mexican restaurant around here. There was some pride in his voice and it was deserved.
Just for fun (because I find this kind of stuff fun), I just did a little search on the region and this particular dish. I didn’t clue in because my Spanish is limited but the translation is basically “Arab Tacos”. The actual history is murky but it may have originated with Lebanese families that settled in that part of Mexico in the 1930s. The original dish was lamb but it mostly changed to pork since pork was cheaper and easier to obtain. The spices were a blend of things typically used in Lebanese cooking and Mexican ingredients that were more widely available.
I suspect like a lot of dishes, each family puts their own little spin on things. After all, recipes are just guidelines but I thought the history was interesting. Not to make a real big deal out of it but it is just shows how food can bridge cultures and bring people together.
For nostalgic reasons, I do miss the chains. But I wouldn’t trade in what we now to go back there. They served their purpose as an introduction but now we have significantly better options.