Monday, August 29, 2011

Four Score and Seven Years Ago…

(actually, it was four years and two months ago, but the other has a better ring), the Dannenberg clan gathered in Reno, NV, for one of their periodic family reunions. (The Dannenbergs are Chuck’s mother’s family.)

Mexican food and Mexican restaurants have had trouble establishing themselves in the Philadelphia area. We’d find one that we liked, and it would soon close. So, as we traveled, we were always on the lookout for good and authentic Mexican food. And Chuck discovered that one of that Reno’s best Mexican restaurants—Beto’s Mexican Food—was located just a few short blocks from the reunion hotel. We managed to squeeze in two lunches around family activities and vowed to someday return.

“Consis-tently voted in area reader polls as having the best Mexican food, Beto's is a hole-in-the-wall place that's been around for years. Order your traditional Mexican tacos, enchiladas, soups, and seafood with the usual chicken and beef, or the more adventurous tripe and head at the counter, then grab a table and enjoy”(

Camille, posting at, said: “I have my favorite dish and order the same thing on half my visits. The salsa they bring out is the best in town because it's roasted to perfection. I hate the lines and crowds, but I put up with those things even on hangover days, because sometimes a Beto's Burrito is the only cure. I love the workers because they have been the same for years and really make the place comfortable and familiar.

“Dine inside on a cold day. Dine outside on a warm day. It's the kind of place you might wipe your seat and table down with a napkin (you know the kind of place I'm taking about) but don't really mind, because you know it's only like that because you swooped on the table as soon as the last guests left.”

Well, it was nice and warm the day of our visit, but we eschewed the outdoor patio. Too many pigeons. At Beto’s, you stand in the middle of the smallish room in order to get a complete view of the pictorial menu board.

How authentic is Beto’s? Menu choices include birria (goat meat soup), menudo (beef tripe soup), and pozole (pork with white hominy). Yes, you can order soft tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and tostados. But in addition to the familiar meats (carne asada, pollo, carnitas, pastor, and chorizio), if you are adventurous, you could also order lengua (beef tongue), cabeza (beef head), or tripitas (fried tripe)—I’m not that adventurous.

We placed our order at the counter and, armed with a basket of tortilla chips and dish of salsa, found a seat where I could see a print(?) of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. The salsa, as Camille indicated, was delicious, but wasn’t as spicy as I remem-bered. Then again, we have eaten so many New Mexico salsas, which can be quite combustible, that my perspective may have changed. Soon, our meals arrived.

Chuck ordered a carne asada combo plate that included a taco, an enchilada, rice, and beans. ("Carne asada [lit., ‘grilled meat’] is an item that consists of thin beef steak. The meat can be marinated by rubbing with olive oil and sea salt or with spice rubs such as lemon and pepper or garlic salt, lime and Worcestershire sauce, before being cooked on a grill” []). Chuck has routinely been a ground beef man when it comes to tacos and enchiladas. At Beto’s, he didn’t have that option.

Still semi-boycotting plates with rice and beans, I went the all a la carte approach and chose a pastor (sometimes called al pastor) soft taco, a chorizio enchilada, and a ceviche tostada. The taco was filled with little nuggets of spicy marinated pork, but was missing pineapple which is usually a staple of pastor. Since I don’t really like pineapple mixed with meat and/or fish, this was fine with me. The chorizio enchilada packed some real heat, and didn’t have the harsh taste of uncooked spice that I find in too many chorizios. The enchilada was lightly covered with a mild red sauce, a little chopped lettuce, and queso fresco (a fresh cheese with a taste not unlike feta).

The ceviche tostada was my least favorite of the three, because the lime-marinated fish and seafood had been minced to an almost fine paste. This “paste” was mixed with chopped tomato and onion. The flavor was great—I just didn’t like the texture.

And now for a bit of ancient history. On our second visit to Beto’s during the reunion, I saw a young man eating a concoction from a very large goblet. It looked like a shrimp-laden gazpacho. It looked delicious. I wanted one. I was too full to even think about it.

I have lusted after this dish for the past four-plus years. I planned my meal this time so that I would finish with a crescendo of shrimp goodness. What was it? Beto’s take on the shrimp cocktail. My dessert would be the smaller version. Did the reality live up to my erotic fantasy? You bet—and more so. As best as I can deconstruct this dish, they place a few glugs of catsup in the bottom of the glass. Then some chopped onion, tomato, and cilantro are added. Then crisp, cold, and sweet cooked medium shrimp. And, as a final component, either clam broth or fish broth is poured into the glass. When it comes to the table, you mix the catsup up from the bottom and all of the textures and flavors merge into a succulent deliciousness. The only thing missing from a standard shrimp cocktail was the grated horseradish and you wouldn’t want that strong flavor here.

Oh. Chuck decided that two more carne asada soft tacos would also make a great dessert. Hey—they’re small.

Beto’s and the Red Iguana in Salt Lake City are worlds apart in ambience and price, but both set forth authentic Mexican food. Beto’s may more closely resemble street food, but it still serves 5.0 Addie food.

No comments: