Barney’s Fiesta Blog for Thursday, Aug. 3

Day Two of Eating My Way Through Fiesta, 2006:

photos by Sue De Lapa El Mercado Northside at MacKenzie Park more than lived up to its reputation.

Wide open spaces for families and food you’ll never find at El Mercado De la Guerra. Like the hottest – and best – guacamole I’ve ever tasted, served up by the Santa Barbara city firefighters.

dscn1027.jpgFor $4, firefighters Scott Watters and David Berkovich filled a tray with chips and a huge mound of guac. I dipped in and loved every bite.

So did Sue and pal Michael. But Joyce, my sister from Scottsdale, doesn’t like hot food. “I don’t like spicy,” she told me, tentatively scooping up a miniscule bit of guac on a chip. “I lose my breath.”

The best I could get out of Joyce was, “It’s OK.” Folks, it’s more than OK. I recommend it. Just get ready for a taste of the firehouse.

dscn1026_edited.jpgA good man may be hard to find, but most of the year, a five-star tamale is even harder to find. But the fat, juicy tamale at the “Homemade Tamales and Enchiladas” booth was as good as this traditional dish gets. Some I’ve seen have a couple of strands of dried something inside. This was stuffed with savory pork and I thanked Delilah Lopez and Lea Suazo.

Joyce poked at the cheese enchilada. “I’m not crazy about Mexican food.” What am I going to do with this sister?

Michael sipped a glass of horchata, the traditional Mexican sweet rice drink ($1.50). “The horchata goes very well with the chicken taco from down at the end,” Michael said. That would be Tinker’s soft taco at the very first booth on the right.

But for a thirst quencher that froze my taste buds, I ordered an ice vanilla latte at the Gay Café under the “Dr. Smoothie” sign. Three of us tried it, an ice blended mocha and the mango smoothie, all good and all priced at $6.

dscn1023_edited.jpgMy granddaughter, Danielle Arellanes, needed nourishment for her upcoming dance there with the Linda Vega troupe. She headed for the chicken nuggets at the Bishop High alumni booth. She dipped one into a container of catsup and announced, “It’s sooo good. Much better than McDonald’s.”

The Bishop kids were also selling slices of pizza for $3 to $3.50. My stomach was full but I headed down the line. “Sausage Masters” had tasty looking National Hebrew hot dogs for $3 and Polish sausage and bratwurst for $6.

Over at the Rincon Grill & BBQ, Nancy Cranford was offering an abalone burger (ever heard of that?) for $23 and an abalone dinner plate for $28. “It’s better than lobster,” she insisted.

Whenever I smell smoke at one of these mercados I don’t call the firefighters. I know there’s meat on the grill. In this case, Woody’s had tri trip, ribs and chicken cooking over an oak fire. Isabel Conero was handling the job.

I couldn’t resist and brought a plate of barbecued chicken and cole slaw over to the table. Joyce dug in. I finally got her into Fiesta food. And she’d only been in town a few hours.

(Friday: Who knows where I’ll be eating? Stay tuned.)

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