fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

speaking from the stomach: rita’s

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A recent visit to Eureka and chance landed me on a little slice of Mexico in the form of the excellent Rita’s Café & Taqueria. There are two Rita’s and I can vouch for the Harris Street location as well worth veering from Hwy 101 and into one of Eureka’s older neighborhoods.

During my meal I imagined the diners around me include a girlfriend and boyfriend from one of the local colleges, a mother and father and their children joined by grandma and grandpa, older couples enjoying dinner out and a mother treating her college-aged daughter and her friends. A handful of customers must be regulars as customers greet them by name; always a good sign. Another good sign: smiles a every table.

This smallish restaurant greets diners with happy colors while the friendly staff swiftly brings chips and salsa to the table and take drink orders. Music reminiscent of the streets of Mexico reinforces the feeling without bring obtrusive. Margaritas in nearly gallon-size glasses, apparently a big draw for Rita’s, grace many of the tables. Others call to mind Corona commercials, with galvanized buckets filled with ice and half a dozen Coronitas. Tortilla more delicate than expected arrive with a novel treatment: mild and warmer salsa in small dispensers with bowls that allow you to sample, choose, then use only the salsa you want.

Without calling myself a connoisseur, I have an idea of what makes good Mexican food. And Rita’s makes good Mexican food. The huge menu will satisfy the cravings of nearly anyone, with the only blatant American influence being the inclusion of the omnipresent chimichanga. I chose Burrito Especial, encouraged to find a place offering two smaller all-meat burritos — one chili colorado and the second chili verdé — instead of one giant version of tortilla-wrapped goodness. By virtue of these burritos being home to only meat, they are accompanied by beans and rice.

I finished it all. It was that good. The burrito chili verdé is the spicier of the two, but just enough to wake the taste buds. The burrito chili colorado presents a more mellow flavor that sneaks up with a bit of heat. However, this dish is one probably better — an easily — shared.

Around my office a few of us recently agreed that the better Mexican restaurants are in Southern California and that it’s hard to find a solid Mexican meal in or around San Francisco. Rita’s offers the irony that I found one of the better Mexican places almost at the northern edge of the state.

Mexican food lovers…there’s hope! Unfortunately it’s roughly 275 north of my house.

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