Tuesday, October 14, 2008

*golden arches.

Warning signs that I'm not having a super spectacular day:

RED FLAG. L Sis tells me a stomach-turning Sheila story, which leads to the singing of "Oh! Oh, Sheila" until my brain aches. (Honestly? Racism is the lowest common denominator. I'm pretty sure you should just have your humanity card revoked and be forced to crawl back under Rush Limbaugh's desk chair. I am NOT IMPRESSED by your narrowness, so please stop breathing it into my personal space. )

RED FLAG My tragically low patience dwindles to nothing, forcing me to draft letters to other people's coworkers (see above).

RED FLAG A mashed-potato lunch does not unknit my brow.

RED FLAG I start to identify with Mariah Carey lyrics.

RED FLAG My sinuses stare at the possibility of a cold, and the left and right sides make different decisions (right side: I'll get right on it! left side: Leave me alone; I'm on vacation).

RED FLAG Resolve to walk dogs with friend starts to buckle under the pressure to slide into a booth at Los Arcos, nurse a margarita, and sigh a lot.

There's some in-family dispute as to who first discovered Los Arcos, but we can all agree it is now where everybody knows our names. And also what we look like post-exercise, post-workweek, sans makeup, and pre-nap. They know that we are likely to be loud, stay for hours, host a revolving table of comers and goers, and—in the case of L Sis some people who shall remain nameless—discipline other people's children.

The Js recently introduced a moratorium on the place (something having to do with "college tuition" or "imploding economy" or "tuna ni├žoise" or something—it was hard to hear with my head in the cheese dip), so I suppose we'll be giving Dante and Manuel a break. And some time to re-stock the tequila.

Manuel is Los Arcos' secret ingredient. He makes some of the best, most authentic Mexican food in town. Example of the Manuel Effect:

pre-Manuel MJ: "I haaaaaaaate Mexican food. I haaaaaaaaate spicy food. I am a disgrace to my race."
post-Manuel MJ: "Sorry, L Sis. I'm leaving you to marry the sopa de pollo.

They're very proud of their commitment to authenticity and quality. The spiral-bound menu proudly proclaims that there is no fat used in the preparation of their beans, and they say that they work hard to produce grease-free chip baskets. Those chips come with a chunky tomato salsa studded with onions and cilantro. JBSH is partial to "Jim's Dip" (Who's Jim? Who knows? It sort of comes out of the waiters' mouths sounding like "Jeems Deep," so it's worth ordering for that reason alone). It's ground beef and mushrooms, swimming in a pool of oozy cheese, served with flour tortillas. L Sis demands the salsa verde, a tomatillo salsa with a haunting sort of heat that your brain can't quite put its finger on. I think it's narcotic. But the best is the salsa de cacahuate, a peanut salsa with a creamy goodness that lulls your taste buds so that the smoky chipotle can assault the back of your throat.

(The salsa verde and the salsa de cacahuate aren't on the menu, but ordering them will identify you as In The Know.)

The margaritas are the typical tequila + sour mix concoction, but asking for "top shelf" means an extra shot of orange liqueur that has rendered extended family members variously unable to control the volume of their voice, unable to control their blubbering into their enchiladas, unable to resist singing along with the mariachi band, and unable to stay awake in the parking lot. They are delicious, but they are POTENT.

MJ orders the chicken soup without fail. And it's not your average wimpy broth.

That's rich, briny stock enveloping chicken, cilantro, and tortilla strips. It comes with pico de gallo and avocado, though they'll add or subtract any ingredients you like—MJ likes it with pico but without avocado, with rice but without sour cream. B likes to add extra cheese to hers. And the waitstaff never complain about all this picky rigamarole.

I don't really have a usual, although they recently put a "fajita side plate" on the a la carte menu (beans, rice, pico de gallo, sour cream, and guacamole), which I love to order with a side of flour tortillas. The side plate has all of my favorite things, plus I get to make tiny tacos for myself with just the right proportions of ingredients. Bonus: so cheap. Their vegetarian menu is extensive (burritos, tacos, enchiladas, taco salad, etc.) and carefully plotted with meat-free eating in mind. And there are options elsewhere on the menu that, if you order carefully to avoid meat sauces, are even more adventurous.

But this time I had the veggie taco. Curiously, it's not a taco at all—it's a quesadilla.

That, my friends, is perfection in browning. No soggy tortillas here. The griddle makes them taste buttery and flaky. Inside, there was cheese, green peppers, onions, and avocado. I like to pull some of the cheese out so that I can shove the unassuming iceberg-lettuce-and-pico salad inside for a cooling, piquant crunch.


Sorry. Little drool on the keyboard, there.

L Sis' gustatory life changed when she discovered these:

Those are "Mexican-style tacos" (also not on the menu, but ... In The Know!). Pollo asado, fresh, puckery onions, and a snowfall of cilantro. L Sis likes them as authentic Mexican street food—in corn tortillas—but you have your choice between flour and corn, and you can substitute grilled beef for the chicken. Topped with thick dollop of the salsa de cacahuate, they have been described to me as transcendent. Even the most staunchly determined sofa-surfer has been coaxed out of the house at the mere mention of these.

Los Arcos is open seven days a week, for lunch and dinner, and they have competitive prices and some of the nicest people you'll meet. Every other Thursday you can be serenaded by an enthusiastic mariachi band (stop beforehand for tip cash but please please please do not make them play "Rocky Top"). And the decor is bright and cheery, but not eyeball-searing.

Only downsides? The lights will go out on you in the ladies' room—it's strangely set to a motion-sensor timer no lady could ever beat, meaning you'll have your panties around your knees and your arms flailing to turn it back on. It's a PRETTY PICTURE, let me tell you. It's also not as close to the Woodside as I'd like. But I'm willing to commute for a smile.

Los Arcos Mexican Grill 2
2531 Rocky Ridge Road
Birmingham, AL 35243


Juarez Family says:
at: 2:28 PM said...

Oh Katie why must you TEASE me. My stomach is growling and I just ate!

You should send this to Manuel - he might hire you to write his advertisments!

John-Bryan Hopkins says:
at: 2:52 PM said...

I was having a perfectly fine day tll......I had to put away the idea of going to Los Arcos for I am marinating dinner.........

thanks a lot K.

I like me some peanut dpt too!!!!!

K. says:
at: 3:08 PM said...

more marinade = more FLAVOR! you can leave it on for a bit and take me on a date to LA2.

it's win-win.

kate says:
at: 3:10 PM said...

HA! I thought I was the only one who couldn't make the light cut-off in the bathroom. That is a seriously scary experience--which I try to avoid at all costs.

I've figured out if you go in there and keep your hands flailing from the start then it will not cut off . . . but that takes a small amount of "rub-your-belly-and-pat-your-head" talent that is hard to come by after a margarita or two.

K. says:
at: 8:56 AM said...

turns out i didn't even have to commute for a smile! the rub-your-belly-and-pat-your-head image is just too hilarious.

at: 9:08 AM said...

You make it sound SO delicious and that place is dangerously close to our future house... I have a feeling this might become a problem!



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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.