La Super-Rica Taqueria

(Santa Barbara, CA) — Recently we had a great dinner at Trattoria di’ Stagione, where Chef Dan Chudik suggested we have lunch at La Super-Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara during our upcoming California trip. He claimed it was Julia Child’s favorite restaurant when she lived there. Who are we to doubt Julia Child? After leaving Los Angeles, we drive 90 minutes up the coast for an authentic Mexican lunch fit for a famous chef...

He Fed:

It is hot, but still not as hot as Los Angeles. We want to kick around Santa Barbara for a bit, peeking into shops and checking out the vibe of the place, so we pay for parking downtown. I confer with Google Maps to discover La Super-Rica Taqueria is a mile away. Gamely, Juliet agrees to a long stroll.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much to look at along the way. It’s block after block of residential houses and the occasional school. It’s well after noon, so the sun is at its zenith now, hammering down on us. I forgot my hat in the car. Doh!

Finally, we spy the bright turquoise structure, a line of ten or so people meandering out the front door. Inside, a man takes orders then tallies up the total. Cash exchanges hands... Cash? Uh oh. I check my wallet. Not enough. I quickly Google nearby ATMs to find one three blocks away at a car wash. I leave Juliet in line and go get some green. By the time I’m back, she’s only moved up a few feet. This could take a while. Oh well, I’m already sunburned by this time.

Eventually we make our way in. We order three different dishes to sample and some Corona (which goes down way too easily after all that sun). By luck, a woman vacates a table as we enter the patio seating area. It’s first come, first served for seating and I was worried we’d have to eat standing up. In the small kitchen, the staff is hard at work, frying up various meats, chopping veggies, and stuffing tortillas. Soon our ticket number is called.

Juliet opts for #7 Alhambre de Filete, three warm corn tortillas and a tray of grilled tri-tip with bell peppers, onion, and bacon. It’s not bad, but kind of standard. A dash of salsa helps slightly. I get #16 Super-Rica Especial, roasted chile pasilla stuffed with cheese and marinated pork. Three tortillas hide underneath. It’s kind of like chile relleno. The sweet, spicy pork sinks deliciously into the gooey cheese. I fork it onto a tortilla for one of the best “tacos” I’ve ever had.

Neither dish can hold a candle to #13 Chorizo Especial. It looks innocent, just a small bowl of melted cheese with chorizo chunks but the sausage is spicy, with a succulent, fatty texture. Best chorizo I’ve ever had. Sink that into a luscious, how-the-hell-did-they-get-this-to-melt thick cheese fondue? Breathtaking. I ordered this to share, but wish I were dining alone.

Corona washes it down so nicely, all we can do is stare at each other in disbelief in the afterglow. For once, the hype has lived up to the reality. We owe Chef Dan a sincere thank you for turning us onto this Santa Barbara treasure. Julia Child knew what she was talking about.

She Fed:

It’s our first official day of vacation together and we’ve decided to take a drive up the coast from LA to Santa Barbara. Gorgeous coastline, balmy sunshine, and bright blue skies the entire trip. We’ve had amazing weather this whole week. It occurs to me this is why everyone in LA is so damn friendly and happy. They enjoy this luxurious weather most of the time; they’re not scraping off their cars and slipping on the ice in February like us stoic Midwesterners.

Best of all, Jeremy’s doing all the driving this trip so I can sit back and truly relax after working all weekend at the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival. I know it sounds like a glamorous work environment (and don’t get me wrong, it beats the heck out of sitting in a cubicle all day, everyday), but the days are truly long and the prospect of kicking off my shoes and taking in the coast is appealing.

We arrive in Santa Barbara’s charming downtown and find parking easily. I haven’t had any breakfast or coffee so Jeremy knows to steer me to a nearby Starbuck’s. Ice tea in hand we set out for what we believe will be a one mile stroll through downtown. Turns out we’re headed back the way we came through a fairly industrial area. The sun is scorching and I’m getting grumpier by the block. We arrive at La Super-Rica Taqueria to find a line out the door. A slow moving line. It’s hotter than the hubs of hell (one of my Grandma Wava’s sayings) and I can feel my skin burning as we wait.

But we discover it’s well worth it. In less than 30 minutes we’re queued to order. We’re both famished and worried we’ll have to go to the back of the line if we want to order more. Three dishes and four Coronas sounds like a feast so we opt for the tri-tip with grilled bell peppers, onions, and bacon; the melted queso with chorizo; and the roasted chile pasilla stuffed with cheese and served with marinated pork. The food is made to order and piled on top of three stacked tortillas. It’s messy digging the tortillas out from underneath, so I knife and fork a lot of it. I’m perfectly happy with the tri-tip, veggies smoky from the grill though the meat is a bit chewy, until I try the pork and pasilla pepper dish. The pork is incredibly juicy and packed with flavor while the pepper gives it a nice wallop of heat. As much as I loved the grilled veggies, the pork wins out.

The star of the show however, is the melted queso with chorizo. The cheese is ridiculously flavorful and hearty. The generous chunks of chorizo give it heat and texture. My expectations for this dish were low, but it turns out to be my favorite. Our bellies are full and it’s time to hike back to the car. Let the vacation continue!

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