Thursday, January 10, 2008

La Michoacana

I remember a few summers ago when I volunteered in a day care for kids whose parents were learning English (read: everyone was Mexican). There was one little boy who wore a shirt one day that said "La Michoacana" and I asked him what it was and he told me that his dad worked there. Follow the natives if you want to find the best food, so later on I looked up the restaurant and found that there were at least seven listed with the same name, I'm still not sure if they're all related. I never went by any, and then one day last summer I was driving on the East side of town and what did I stumble upon but La Michoacana. And I'm so glad I did.

Not so much a restaurant but a Mexican market with a taquería inside and it’s one of the best things there is. In Austin. In Texas. In the world, I don’t know, but it’s good. One of the things I love about it is walking in and the gringo alert goes off and you’re literally the only person in there who doesn’t speak Spanish (natively, that is). The first time we were in there, we drooled over the counter with all the juicy meats and different gorditas (stuffed fried tortilla) and sope (kind of a thick, flat, fried doughy tortilla with a lip so you can pile stuff on top) shells, as well as chile rellenos and soups. Mexican Spanish was flying all over the place, and they sent someone over to translate for us (probably the only person who worked there and spoke English). They way it works is you place your order at the checkout counter and then take your receipt to the taquería counter and you tell them what you want in your gordita, and they’ll pile on high the crema (sour cream), cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, whatever you want. There are a few tables behind this counter with rolls of paper towels, definitely necessary.

The second time I went I know exactly what I wanted, because the first time I had been so awe-stricken with the food, I ordered a gordita and a sope (my sope seen below) and couldn’t even touch the gordita. So the next time, I went straight for the gordita al pastor. Al pastor is something you can find at lots of places in Austin, and it’s become one of my favorites. It’s pork cooked in some sort of sauce so it turns out orangey on the outside and they usually serve it with cilantro, white onion, and pineapple. It’s a great combination. Michoacana has everything but the pineapple, and I’m never one to turn down cheese and sour cream, so I had my own version and sometimes I like to look at the pictures and just reminisce about that thick, greasy, fried gorditas stuffed full of al pastory goodness, dripping with rich juice. I should find out how they cook that stuff, but I’m sure it’s with tons of lard.
That’s another plus about La Michoacana: you can find a lot of your obscure, necessary for Mexican cooking groceries. It’s actually a pretty small market on the East side, but they got their stuff, like all kinds of chiles, tortilla presses, all parts of the animal that you probably don’t want, and fridges full of tubs of lard.

The first time we were there, Dan was aching for some menudo, that Mexican soup that uses the cow’s head as its main ingredient, but they only serve it on weekends. When I went back this most recent trip on Saturday, people were getting buckets of it to go. Not that I’d delve into that, but I guess it must be decent if you’re into those less popular animal parts, such as head. What else can I say? Ah yes, the price. Seven bucks for my gordita and my mom’s chicken gordita. And my mom doesn’t like to order chicken out for fear of gnawing on some cartilage or ligament, and she gave Michoacana an A+ in the good chicken department, as well as taste.
One last thing: they have trays full of all different kinds of meat cooked different ways, it’s hard to get an answer out of them what exactly is what, but I’d like to go in there one day and just have a go at all of ‘em. And you can stuff your gordita or sope or tortillas with whatever you want. As we went behind the counter to the table area, I saw a lady stuffing something in banana leaves. Actually stuffing by hand, getting ready to steam (I assume). She’s making the food homemade, right in front of our eyes. Now that’s what I like to see.

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