I am old.
Actually, I feel old. I am only 40-something and that isn't really old, but when I got an AARP mailer two weeks after my 40th birthday (#&$%*!*), I started feeling old. So, I notice things that make me feel old. My issues and this is why God invented therapists.
My old-feeling self decided it wanted Mexican food for lunch. Some kind soul left a nice comment on my blog and suggested I try La Pinata for a good Mexican meal. Wow. I haven't been to La Pinata since the mid 70s when I was young and had my very own leisure suit. It was lime green and had matching white platform shoes and white belt and I had a bit of an afro thing going on.
Good grief! What was I thinking???
Anyway, I thought I should revist a place I went to as a child for great Mexican food. It was exactly two miles from work and I was there in no time. The lunch crowd was still in full swing when I entered the parking lot. Clearly the businesses in the tiny strip mall all covet their own parking spaces, so I parked out of the way. I entered La Pinata wondering how it has changed over the years. All I remember was the dark interior and pinatas hanging everywhere.
The interior was actually pretty bright with lots of lighting and white paint on the walls and what looked to be new carpet. It was very nice and the place was clean. I was seated at a booth and chips, salsa and water were at my table before I even got my menu open. The chips were hot and in a big bowl. Bonus points there. The salsa was chilled and fresh. More points here.
I opened the menu and decided to go for one of the lunch specials. Reviewing the menu, it is clear that La Pinata is serving all the regular favorites and a few surprises. They clearly are featuring their tortas and the egg dishes. Still, I wanted a nice-sized lunch.
There are 15 lunch specials to choose from and I opted for "F" which consisted of a taco (YES!), a cheese enchilada, and rice and beans. The server appeared and took my order. One F, more chips and a Diet Coke. Within a few seconds, more hot chips were at my table along with my soda.
About 10 minutes later, my server appeared and asked what I had ordered for lunch. Um... Okay, this wasn't looking good. I reminded him that I had the "F" and he smiled, nodded and scampered off to the back. This was not reassuring.
A few more minutes passed and the server appeared with a large tray of plates. He served the table behind me and then set my plate in front of me. My "F" had been converted to a chimichanga enchilada style. When I turned to get my server's attention, he had run off again to the back. About 90 seconds later he reappeared carrying a plate with my "F" and took the chimi away.
I first tried the beans. Creamy, good seasoning, with a lot of cheese on top. The rice was next and it was perfectly cooked and had a nice, rich flavor from the tomato sauce. Thankfully, the whole frozen peas and carrots thing in the rice was nowhere to be found.
The taco was next. The top of the shell was crunchy and the fist taste of meat was flavorful. Here is where the greatness of the taco ended. The problem was two-fold. First, there was barely a heaping tablespoon of meat in this standard sized taco. I don't expect tacos to be filled to the brim with meat (where would you put the cheese and lettuce and salsa after all?), but this was sad. Second, the lettuce had not been dried and so the water from the washed lettuce had turned the bottom part of the shell and the rest of the taco, save the first bite, into a watery mess. After a second bite, the limp remains of what was left got pushed to the empty space that once occupied the beans and rice.
The last thing to try was the enchilada. I was pleased. The sauce was very good: mild, but with a full bodied flavor. Some enchilada sauces are nothing more than thinned tomato sauce with some chili powder tossed in. The tortilla was packed with a big dose of melting cheese. It was a success.
I finished my meal and then asked for my bill. While waiting, the most bizarre thing happened. The music playing was what you would expect from a Mexican restaurant. The music was in Spanish with a heavy reliance on trumpets, guitars and the occasional accordian. Suddenly, it was as if I stepped onto a Disney ride. I literally thought this was "When You Wish Upon A Star." It wasn't, but I was waiting for the next song to mirror "It's A Small World" and then I would not be responsible for my actions. (I love Disneyland and Disneyworld, but that song, once in your head, take months to get rid of.) Even the guy at the table next to me looked up at the ceiling with the confused look. It was truly odd.
By this time, I had waited a good 10 minutes for my server to bring my check. I finally moved up to the hostess station and asked if they could produce my check. A minute or so later, my bill arrived, I paid it and was out the door. The total for my lunch was $12.91 including tip and tax.
As I wandered back to my car, I realized that I hadn't been to this neighborhood in ages, probably since I was last at La Pinata. Across the street was a market and I instantly recognized that it had once been an A.J. Bayless. This reminded me of the old Food-A-Rama Market at 36th St. and Indian School back in the early 70s and the A&W Root Bear Restaurant across the street (where the Avis Oil and Lube place is) that served me countless frosty mugs of root beer and numerous "Papa Burgers."
Lunch was pretty good, but the taco and service need some work. Still, I was satisfied and climbed into my car to head back to work. I began reminicing about how this neighborhood had changed and the last time I was at La Pinata.
I then realized that I was feeling really old.
La Pinata Mexican Restaurant
3330 North 19th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85015