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Monday, December 31, 2007

Malena's tacos

asada tacos

This evening, just when I returned from work, my friend Quinn arrived on my doorstep. We started talking fast and moving out the door, down the steps, across the street, toward the other end of the block -- to Malena’s Tacos.

Just because I didn’t cook doesn’t mean the evening was devoid of food.

Malena’s is one of my favorite little places in the world. These days, I don’t eat in restaurants that often. It’s not because I’m afraid of growing sick, so much — I seem to have figured out how to make my way through the dining-out experience with safety. Instead, I’ve learned how to cook food in my kitchen — with the freshest ingredients, in season, grown locally — that tastes better to me than most restaurant food I eat. I don’t want to waste my money on a meal I could have easily made at home, and for half the price.

These days, I only eat in a restaurant when I know the food will be extraordinary. Or, when I can eat a cuisine I haven’t learned to make in my kitchen yet. Outrageously good Thai food. Delicate, kick-in-the-pants Vietnamese food. A veggie combo platter at an Ethiopian restaurant. Sushi.

Now, I could probably learn to make asada tacos, but they just wouldn’t taste as good as they do at Malena’s. The women in the twenty-foot-square storefront have been flipping tortillas and grilling peppers for years longer than I have. And since they use corn tortillas for almost everything, and I can watch them cooking on the grill in front of me, I feel assured eating there, at one of the tiny tables with the wobbly legs. They bring salty corn chips, made on the premises, in a red plastic basket with red-and-white checked paper, like the kind in which fish and chips might arrive in a bar. The salsa bites the tongue, then dances around it lightly. Not aggressive to the point of pain, but also not so bland as to disappear. Smooth, like a real sauce, instead of the American-salsa-in-a-bottle, with chewy chunks of pale tomatoes floating in a light liquid. This one is dark red. It means business. Order a side of fresh-made guacamole and you have corn chip heaven: green softness that clings to the chip, then a splash of salsa. Ah.

Last night, I ordered the asada tacos: chunks of tender beef, seared, with onions, little tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, and fresh cilantro. I try to order something different every time I go in, but I always end up with those tacos again. Quinn had a pork burrito with guacamole, and he seemed happy. It certainly disappeared quickly. We talked about food, of course. He had just been to Vancouver with his girlfriend, and they had eaten some magical substance: hot frites with cheese curds on top, then beef sauce poured over it all. Ay god, I wanted some immediately, even with those lovely tacos in my hand. There were discussions of wine, bad art, broken-down cars, promising second dates, upcoming events, and the students we shared. Time always passes quickly with Quinn.

Malena's Taco Shop
620 W Mcgraw St
Seattle, WA 98119-2837
(206) 284-0304



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