What I Ate: Chile Relleno with Chicken, Beef Enchilada, Stuffed Sopapilla with Chicken and Beef.
I have a soft spot for Tex-Mex food. I love stringy, melted cheddar cheese. I love seeing little cubes of diced red tomatoes nested on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce. I love crunchy tacos, nachos, quesadillas, and fajitas. I love tomato-based enchilada sauce when it covers the entire plate. At Garcias, when they bring you a plate like this it’s usually so hot it’s bubbling like La Brea, releasing a brothy essence of depth and deliciousness. I know it’s not popular to like Tex-Mex food, but it’s places like Garcias that make me not give a damn about what’s popular.
Those things may be true to some extent, but a meal at Garcias is enough to make you remember sometimes food is about putting something in your face that tastes good.
I’m not sure how Tex-Mex became the scorn of opinionated eaters, but it’s definitely a thing. It’s not authentic enough; it’s not nutritious enough; it’s not diverse; it’s too cheesy or greasy. Those things may be true to some extent, but a meal at Garcias is enough to make you remember sometimes food is about putting something in your face that tastes good.
Any Mexican food establishment’s overall worth must be heavily weighted in favor of the quality of their chips and salsa. The chips need to be warmish, the perfect thickness, and fried adequately through. Chips that are too thick are a culinary hazard. Stay away and the roof of your mouth will thank you. Too thin and you’ll be fishing remnants out of the queso your entire meal. Plus, you’ll eat twice as many thin chips because the only way to use them as an appropriate delivery method will be to structurally reinforce them by stacking at least three back-to-back before you scoop. And get ready for true disappointment when the top layer of chips is gone from the basket because everything underneath will be obliterated into mostly crumbs.
Garcias chips are perfect. They’re always hot and they’re as thick as they possibly could be while still remaining crisp and airy. They’re cooked perfectly, too. I’ve never seen any soggy, limp grease sponge chips; nor will you see any that have been fried so long and sloppily that they seem to have reverted back to being a kernel of dark brown corn. You know those crusty pieces of chip that hang at the bottom of the basket, looking so strange and caramelized, you just have to know what they taste like. So you bite it, and it hurts your teeth. Garcias chips will not hurt you.
Salsa has a user experience factor to it that should not be overlooked.
The salsa is really good at Garcias. It has just the right amount of sweet heat. It’s a thicker kind of pureed salsa, which just makes sense. You can actually dip a chip in it and take it to your mouth without making a messy trail of pepper-juice across the table leading straight to your piehole. Lots of salsas are too watery, too mild, and served in a bowl that’s too shallow (molcajete). Salsa has a user experience factor to it that should not be overlooked.
Wait a sec, does my server even still work here? Is it still lunch on Tuesday?
Garcias service is always on point. I know some of you millennials yearning for authenticity with allegiances to places like Aranda’s and Autlan might not care about good service, but I think you’ll be surprised by the experience of being taken care of. You won’t have to sit and wonder, 20 minutes after you’ve finished your meal, do I pay at the register? Did I already pay and I just forgot? Did my server get hit in the head and forget my face and thus the reality of our business relationship? Wait a sec, does my server even still work here? Is it still lunch on Tuesday? Because the position of the sun is making me feel like it’s breakfast on Wednesday. Not to rag on “authentic” places only. I don’t know if I’ve ever been served a hot plate at Chuy’s. Every ounce of queso I’ve ever tasted there was cool and congealed long before it passed my lips. Every serving of beans had the stale crust of oxidation across the top of it. Lukewarm food doesn’t happen at Garcias.
The staff operates like there’s some whip-cracking plata-o-plomo ride-or-die expo homie with an itchy trigger finger just waiting for someone’s dish to go cold at the order-up station so he can throw the runner into the Salamander and leave them there until the cook needs the space again. That’s the kind of motivation Garcias staff seems to have when your food is ready. The sauces and cheeses are bubbling and boiling when they get to your table. The fajitas are so hot a cloud of billowing mist of Maillard mass rolls out and up and off the plate as they are rushed to the ordering table with a laudable kind of urgency. You can hear the pyrotechnic sizzle of a fajita plate from anywhere in the restaurant. Hot food has real production value at Garcias, and it won’t go unnoticed.
It’s food from the borderlands, where we live. It’s not the bastardization of some timeless and perpetual cuisine. It’s food that represents a history of cultures entwined.
At Garcia’s, there’s no cotija cheese, goat cheese, Nopal, molcajete, tomatillo, al pastor, lengua, caldo, caldero. There aren’t many vegetables or dishes with fiber. The only beans are refried. It’s not authentic in the way that would allow hipsters, foodies, and cultural appropriation police to sleep at night. It’s not authentic in those ways. But of course nothing is.
Garcia’s is authentic Tex-Mex. It’s food from the borderlands, where we live. It’s not the bastardization of some timeless and perpetual cuisine. It’s food that represents a history of cultures entwined. At the end of the day, Garcia’s is where owner, Sylvia, showcases her very own Mexican recipes, the recipes she’s always cooked. That’s as authentic as it gets.