Day One of eating my way through Fiesta, 2006:
photos by Sue De Lapa
So where’s the best food at El Mercado de la Guerra? A guy dashed past me just after the booths opened at 11 a.m., saying, “You can tell how good the food is by how long the line is.”
If so, La Casa de la Raza’s torta booth won by a mile (well, almost a mile). Even at that early hour the line stretched halfway across the plaza. Andrew Matz walked off with a huge bun stuffed with grilled steak, poised to dig in.
Behind the booth slabs of meat cooked over an oak grill, wafting the most wonderfully smelling smoke over one and all.
But I was saving my taste buds for the goat tacos served up at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Now some people I talked to wrinkled their nose at the thought of eating goat. Maybe they considered it gamy.
Well, it was a bit chewy. So what? I bought three for $6 and slathered them with salsa of pico de gallo and nopolitos cactus. It added a few gobs of regular salsa too. My advice: The birria de chivo needs salsa and lots of it.
Raul Gil was also selling birria de rez, shredded beef. You can eat beef any day, but goat? “They’re popular,” Raul said of the goat tacos. “You made them popular.”
Another favorite of mine from Fiestas past are the carnitas, shredded pork, at Mayo’s booth, first one on the right as you enter the plaza from De la Guerra Street. Again: pour on the salsa. (Another long line.)
By then Sue and I had thirsts that could only be quenched by the traditional Mexican drink, jamaica, crimson and made from hibiscus flowers, $2 at the Semana Nautica booth. I was still thirsty and headed for the most beautiful booth in the plaza, festooned with bananas, pineapples and strawberries. For $6 I got a large non-alcoholic strawberry and banana daiquiri, ice cold, topped with a strawberry clinging to the rim, and a tiny umbrella.
I bumped into Sarah Burton, who insisted that sweet chewy churros are “the first course” of Fiesta eating instead of dessert. At $2.25, I waited and never got around to them. Maybe tonight.
Another long line formed for ahi tacos, $3 each. But I was thirsty again and the next-door booth caught my eye. The Girls Inc. folks had urged me to stop and I did, shelling out $2 for a bottle of lemonade-flavored vitamin water.
I started surveying folks about what they were eating. The chicken enchiladas at the IPUL Church booth were “very tasty,” said a satisfied Beth Brown.
“The tamales are excellent at the Boys & Girls Club booth,” Dianne Harrell told me. Also digging into the tamales as they waited in line at the Hispanic Chamber booth were Kristy Dobransky (“I came all the way from Dallas”) and her friend Ashley Dorris of Santa Barbara. Tamales are $3 each or $6 with rice and beans.
Meredith Kronja, a Santa Barbara High senior-to-be, bounced around in her cheerleader outfit, promoting $2 ears of corn on the cob, benefiting the cheerleaders.
The most wonderful-looking food I was too full (yes, it’s possible) to gobble were the Italian sausages, served loaded with grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms, on a bun. The Doghouse guys from Milpas Street were selling them for $5, or $3 for a classic hot dog.
(Thursday: Chowing down at El Mercado Northside at MacKenzie Park.)