Secret’s Out: El Mercado del Norte at MacKenzie Park used to be Fiesta’s best-kept secret. Quiet. A few families strolling. Maybe a swing band. No longer.

Wednesday night a full-fledged carnival rocked and rolled, bands blasted the night air, and crowds swarmed. And ate.

As usual, I prowled for food. That was my assignment. Sue and I took our lives in our hands crossing State Street and headed for the neon-blazing midway. There we dodged a full-fledged Ferris wheel, and detoured around spinning rides, tikes balancing cotton candy, and hordes of teens out for fun. But where were the ponies for the little kids to ride? Nowhere to be seen.

Sue De Lapa

Food there was. The Northside Fiesta has always been different in the food department. I didn’t see any German sausages or Thai food, as I have in past years, but good old traditional Mexican food was much in evidence.

My best of the night were the tamales that a pretty woman named Ruth was selling for $4.50. I had my doubts about whether they could measure up the ones I enjoyed at Mercado De la Guerra. But they did, steaming and savory. “It’s delicious,” Sue yelled over the band racket. And she’s very much a critical diner. We ended up sharing three.

I am not a taquitos person. Little, crackly tubes, usually heaped with some anonymous sauce. But Sue insisted, so we paid Cesar Montes $6 for a plate of rolled toasted tortillas, piled high with lettuce, tomato hunks, spicy green sauce, and sour cream. Sue gobbled them up, and I gnawed on a couple of chewy taquitos myself and pronounced them tasty indeed.

Usually, good tamales are hard to find at Fiesta. This year they were plentiful. What was lacking, as usual, at least on my first day of tasting, were cheese enchiladas—the basics. The only one I could find at the Northside was inedible. Caution advised.

I didn’t try the Greek gyros, but they looked tasty: chunks of beef, with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions on thick pita bread. A meal for $5.99.

And, of course, I had to top things off with a sweet, toasty churro.

But the night was young, so we took our chances crossing the dangerous intersection of Las Positas and Street to find Harry’s Café jumping. This hangout for locals had the booths jammed with families gobbling Mexican food. La Fiesta Pequeňa was on one TV and the Dodgers were on another, when who should come in the door but a mariachi band piping away. Most popular song played to booth dwellers: “Happy Birthday!”

Oh well, Viva la Fiesta!


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