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Vendor Sylvia Fragosa

Sue De Lapa

Vendor Sylvia Fragosa


Barney Eats His Way Through Fiesta

Once Again, Too Much of a Good Thing


Too Many Tacos: I can’t believe I ate so many tacos.

There I was, wandering El Mercado de la Guerra around noon on Wednesday, August 5, planning on just finding a plate of cheese enchiladas with rice and beans. Washing it down with a glass of horchata. That’s all. But no.

On the Beat

Well, I couldn’t pass up Raul Gil’s goat tacos at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce booth, could I?

Then there was John Maloney, hollering his head off from the Special Olympics booth: “HOT TACOS!”

And for good reason, a line had formed at the always popular carnitas asada pollo booth, right at the entrance to De la Guerra Plaza, almost immediately after it opened. So I scored one of those. It always has the longest line at De la Guerra.

Mark Martinez tends the tri-tips
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Mark Martinez tends the tri-tips

And I couldn’t pass the Semana Nautica booth without saying hello to Sylvia Fragosa. Sylvia was selling a plate of chicken tacos, rice, and beans for $6. Chicken tacos? Sounded bland. But they were among the best at the Mercado.

I lost count of how many tacos I ate and my notebook is too salsa-stained to read. My wife, Sue, who was with me taking photos for The Indy, found this highly unprofessional. Sue is very efficient. I am not, especially at Fiesta time.

Not that I didn’t find more to taste. At the Holy Cross booth, Selena Guzman, 15, and Marilynn Ibarra, 12, were selling the biggest, fattest tamales I have ever seen, at least since last Fiesta. A meal in itself. (Sorry to say, but tamales are not always what they should be. Some are as skinny as your index finger or you have to search for the meat hidden inside. Where’s the beef?)

Selena and Marilynn
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Selena and Marilynn

Sue and I scouted the street behind the booths and found young Mark Martinez tending the coals where tri-tips were just starting to cook, ingredients for Casa de la Raza’s huge torta sandwiches. “We just started,” Mark said, aware that crowds were forming. “They’re coming and they’re coming hungry.”

We ran into Fiesta El Presidente Anthony Borgatello, resplendent in his charro outfit, greeting folks behind the counters. Fiesta, he said, “is a lot of work, but there’s a lot of fun to be had.” He started his Fiestas years ago at Mercado del Norte at MacKenzie Park. “I love the mercados and seeing the families,” said El Presidente.

Barney and El Presidente
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Barney and El Presidente

When we ordered our goat tacos (the Hispanic Chamber booth also sells chicken and shredded beef tacos), Raul’s son Andrew waited on us. “I’ve been doing this since I was 13.” Turns out that he’s a political economy major at UC Berkeley. Lotsa luck, kid.

You may not think barbecued ribs are Fiesta food, but I got a few tastes of the ribs, slathered with whatever magical sauce they’re using, at the Masonic booth, and I wrapped up two to take home. I was urged on by Roy Zbinden, who for all I know did the slathering.

I haven’t had a good arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) dish since I left Panama many moons ago. So at the urging of Sandra Toro, I tried a $3 bowl at the Iglesia Pentecostal Unita booth. “Colombian-style,” she pointed out. It was good, Sandra, just not Panamanian-style as I remember it. But that’s been more than a half-century.

By Sue De Lapa

Mr. Taco Raul Gil

Sue and I lurched out of De la Guerra Plaza holding plates of food to take home and finish later. As for the forgotten cheese enchiladas, I’ll try to find them at Mercado del Norte today.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns throughout the week and a print column on Thursdays.

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