Having lived in Tulsa for more than a quarter century, I've had my share of meals that by most accounts would fall into the Mexican food genre.
Set down in front of me on technicolor Fiestaware has been everything from the cheese-doused, deep-fried chimichanga filled with Rotel and composite chicken to handmade tamales I had to order either in Spanish or by number from one of those back-lit menu boards we know from snack bars at high school basketball games.
I know I just painted the two ends of the spectrum of what could be called Mexican food in the lower Midwest in very different lights. But, here's the deal. I'm not one of those food writers who leads a concurrent life as a food snob. Sure, I like fine food and dishes that resonate with authenticity. But, I also like bagged tortilla chips and several brands of canned enchilada sauce. I'd eat the dishes I described in the preceding paragraph with equal satisfaction. And vigor. And by dirtying the same number of napkins.
A secret: All the great food writers are messy eaters. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise. This is one of the easier ways to aspire to greatness in our lives.
Since my opinion on the importance of authenticity of cuisine is neither here nor there, I'm also not one of those food writers who is hellbent on globetrotting to discover how different foods are "supposed to be prepared." I've never been to Mexico, but I have shopped in grocery stores that, for a certain red-headed, self-tanner addict, required an English-Spanish dictionary.
All of that said (yes, I'm about to get to the actual food part of this post), I love to get my nosh on at El Rio Verde.
At 38 N. Trenton, just off of Admiral and Utica, its safe to say the location is right for authentic Mexican food. The decor is spot on, too.
While what comes out the mouth of the conservative talk radio personality Neal Boortz usually makes me want to jump out of my skin, I love what I heard him once say about Mexican food restaurants. He likes 'em bright, he likes 'em gaudy and he likes 'em pretty darn near offensive to the eye. The more cacophonous and contrived the decor, the better the food, he says.
I couldn't agree more.
This, ladies and gents, is the fabled El Rio Verde wet burrito.
What it is: A steering-wheel-sized flour tortilla is packed with pulled beef (or pork or chicken), refried beans, fresh pico de gallo, rainbows, ponies and baby giggles. It's smothered in a rich, zingy enchilada sauce and topped with a few hands full of queso blanco. Sour cream and fresh guac are stacked on top almost humorously, like eyes.
Anyone still feeling snooty about authentic Mexican food? I know a lot of folks say that once cheese and refried beans come into the mix, a dish ceases to be authentic Mexican food. To those people I say, fine - all the more for me.
Girls, don't let anyone tell you it's not ladylike to eat the entire thing. I did it, and no one looked at me sideways. My debit card was charged a mere $6, a bargain for a platter-sized lunch, and I was allowed to continue to sit at my table to chatter with my friend and dining buddy, our basket of housemade tortilla chips and salsa being refilled regularly. We didn't even hear a tisk-tisk.
My buddy and I, we were in real-girl heaven.
Guys, if you can't eat a whole wet burrito, you'd better have the cash for a tip to make up for it. You can't slack on the machismo in a place like El Rio Verde and expect to get away with it.
Have you made your way to El Rio Verde? What do you order there? I hear the breakfast is good enough to send a person back to bed.