Barney chows down at Fiesta

Sue De Lapa

Barney chows down at Fiesta

Eating at Del Norte

Barney Chows Down at One of Fiesta’s Mellower Spots

Eating at Del Norte:At last, elbow room when I’m roaming Fiesta food booths. That’s what I found Thursday at grassy MacKenzie Park./strong>

Look, El Mercado de la Guerra Plaza is fun, but unless you sit down on a curb or the steps of City Hall, there is virtually no place to have a seat while you’re balancing a plate of Mexican food and a horchata rice and cinnamon drink.

Ah, but at MacKenzie there are tents shading large round tables. True, the seats are in major demand, but they’re there if you’re willing to play musical chairs.

And there’s lots of room to stroll (except at peak hours). El Mercado del Norte is known as a family-friendly place. There’s a huge circus at the far end, with rides and those inflated fun houses, and live music on stage.

And, over the years, food you could never find at De la Guerra Plaza. Sadly, German sausages, Thai dishes, and other exotic non-Mexican cuisine have been missing this last couple of Fiestas.

But I found plenty to fill my stomach at El Mercado. And there seemed to be more booths this year - and beer, which you’ll never find hawked at the Plaza. The Thirsty Iguana is a fenced-in place where you can wet your whistle with Tecate or Bud Lite for $4 a cup. And - as I was told by the woman at the gate - wine margaritas.

Barney can't wait to try this tamale sold by Ignacio Jimenez and Delilah Lopez
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Barney can’t wait to try this tamale sold by Ignacio Jimenez and Delilah Lopez

Sue and I weren’t drinking, but we did get lucky with the best tamales I’ve tasted all week. At the Homemade Fiesta Enchilada booth, sponsored by the Apostolic Faith Tabernacle, I was blown away by the beef tamales, which would have been tasty even if I hadn’t sprinkled hot sauce on them. Not to mention they’re a deal at $4.50 each. For some reason it’s hard - though not impossible - to find outrageously delicious tamales the rest of the year.

At the same booth, Delilah Lopez and Ignacio Jimenez sold my friend Michael Edwards a plate piled up with a chicken enchilada, beans, rice, a tamale, lettuce, and a horchata drink for $14.

I was envious, but new culinary adventures beckoned. Over on one side, I found Sanjua Gil and her baseball-playing son Jose (nicknamed “Pepe”) at the family’s El Sitio restaurant booth.

Sanjua Gil explains the fine points of making tacos
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Sanjua Gil explains the fine points of making tacos

You must try a sope,” insisted Sanjua, a warm, gracious woman. I was already digging into one of their tacos de abobado, jam-packed with shredded pork, but I gulped one down, handed the other two to Sue, and tried a sope.

A sope - Sanjua’s signature dish - is built on a thick corn bread tortilla, then topped with cheese, lettuce, pepper slices, and a slice of tomato. It’s the pepper that got me and I was soon swigging down all the water I could swill.

Who couldn't resist these tacos made from shredded pork?
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Who couldn’t resist these tacos made from shredded pork?

But my favorite was the shredded beef taco featuring a traditional favorite in Mexico, pork skin, or chicharron. They’re small, but lovely. Sanjua said the family started out 18 years ago with one El Sitio and now have five. The booth benefits the Scorpions baseball team, where Pepe, 14, tall, and headed for Santa Barbara High, is a pitcher.

After that, Sue and I needed something cool. I heard someone yelling about ice cream and traced it to Boy Scout Troop 2’s booth. Scott Burns, Fiesta El Presidente in 1999, was hawking Oreo ice cream sandwiches and Choco Tacos; an ice cream goodie. Fran Rosenberg offered me a wonderfully sweet $3 cup of frozen lemonade, “sold with a smile.” “Someone says they sell them at Dodger Stadium for $5,” Scott said.

Michael Edwards spoons up a tasty treat
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Michael Edwards spoons up a tasty treat

Scott’s son Matthew was in the booth with Jamie Rosenberg; both members of Troop 2. “I was a Scout once,” I said. “Once?” questioned Les Sloane replying, “once a Scout, always a Scout.” True.

Nicole Schultz gives 17-month-old Nicholas Schultz-Clifford a taste of her strawberry smoothy at the Gay Cafe
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Nicole Schultz gives 17-month-old Nicholas Schultz-Clifford a taste of her strawberry smoothy at the Gay Cafe

It was coffee time and we headed for the Gay Cafe (sponsored by the Gay Santa Barbara Foundation), where Sue eagerly paid Charles Rice $6 for a Greek-style iced coffee frappe. It was warm, so we skipped the hot chocolate Mexicano and were too full to try the oatmeal cookies or zucchini and carrot bread.

There’s much more to eat at MacKenzie Park: Chicken nuggets and taquitos at the Notre Dame School booth, quesadillas benefiting the San Marcos High Dance Force dance team, pizzas to raise money for the Santa Barbara High Aquatics Booster Club and countless other ways to fill your stomach and help the community.

Scott Burns mans the ice cream booth benefitting Scout Troop 2.
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Scott Burns mans the ice cream booth benefitting Scout Troop 2.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at or 805-965-5205.

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

Dyer Returns as Interim Fire Chief

When Eric Peterson steps down, Mike Dyer will fill in for County Fire.

Santa Barbara Bodybuilder Wins Mr. Olympia Competition

At 43, Shawn “Flexatron” Rhoden ties for the oldest champ in the contest's history.

Renovated Cabrillo Ball Park Now Open

The park got new exercise equipment, multi-use grass turf areas, and an upgraded softball field.

UCSB Researcher Charged with Molesting Child on Campus

Dr. Hongjun Zhou was arrested September 6.

Teen Serial Robber Caught and Confesses

The suspect was identified through an anonymous tipster.