I don't get down to Tucson that often. When I do, I avoid certain conversations. The first is that I never mention Arizona State University and how superior it is to The University of Arizona. This sets off a firestorm, despite the fact that ASU is clearly the better school compared to that smaller tech school to the south in greater rural Arizona. Bringing these facts up will only invite trouble, so why mention them?
I simply refrain from getting into those fights or instigating them because they serve no purpose. (Go Devils!)
Now, the second conversation I avoid is the Great Carne Seca debate. This is where I can never win because I am not an expert on Carne Seca. For those of you who don't know, Carne Seca is a very Tucsonian thing. It is beef that is cooked with seasonings, shredded and then allowed to dry out in the sun. It is then reconstituted and cooked with various other things or served as a filling to many Mexican mainstays like tacos or enchiladas or the like.
Saying that you like a particular place's Carne Seca to someone who thinks otherwise may start a fist fight. So, I will simply say that I am not a connoisseur of Carne Seca, but I do love the stuff. This leads me to my stop at the El Minuto Cafe in downtown Tucson.
As fate would have it, I ended up in Tucson because Madge wanted me to meet her new boyfriend and see if he was 1) good enough for her and 2) wasn't an ax murderer. The fact that his name was Boris immediately made me suspicious. However, we decided to take in the Arizona Desert Sonora Museum outside of Tucson and have lunch before hand.
We arrived at El Minuto just after noon on a Saturday and parked in the tiny lot next to the restaurant. We were a bit concerned about the parking because as we drove into Tucson, we saw that it was one of the "Gem Show" weekends and we knew the streets and the restaurants would be packed.
Luckily, we found a spot and stepped inside. There weren't more than a few tables being used and we were seated in the main dining room which is decorated in Mexican designs. We reviewed the menu and decided that we wanted a Cheese Crisp ($7.00). Boris seemed very accommodating in agreeing to Madge's demand that we have a Cheese Crisp. One point for Boris.
Chips arrived along with water and we were pleased to dive right into them. The chips were room temperature and, while crisp and tasty, should have been warm or hot. The hot sauce was served in a small bottle and a small dish accompanied. We let the pouring begin and feasted. The sauce was slightly thick, tomatoey and slightly sweet. A bit of spice kicked in on the aftertaste and it was quite good.
Our server appeared and took our drink order: two Diet Cokes ($1.50 each) and one Iced Tea ($1.50). Boris does not like Diet Coke. Minus one point for Boris. (Oh! Go Devils!)
He returned in a flash with our drinks and one of the bus staff returned with another bowl of chips. This time they were very warm and delicious. One point for El Minuto for the save. Our server returned and we placed our orders. One Cheese Crisp for the table. Madge chose the Carne Seca Chimichanga ($10.00) and had it served Enchilada Style ($2.00 add on). Boris had never had Carne Seca (-1 point) and played it safe with the Two Carne Seca Enchilada Plate with Rice and Beans ($9.00). I decided to just savor the Carne Seca itself and went with the Carne Seca Plate ($11.00) which came with Rice and Beans as well as tortillas.
We waited a few minutes while I peppered Boris with questions about his work and family and upbringing and which university in Arizona he thought was the best. Minus 1 point for being a coward and choosing Northern Arizona University.
Our Cheese Crisp arrived and we were pleased that it did. On a pedestal, a large cheese crisp was set before us. It was truly crisp and not a "Cheese Limp" that so many Mexican places serve. The cheese was gooey and fully melted and we dug in. We all agreed that the crisp was a huge hit (+1 for Boris since he said it first). It was truly a great cheese crisp, and I offer the photo below as proof.
We polished off the crisp in no time and it was only a few minutes before our table was filled with the delightful aroma of Carne Seca.
First up, Madge tried her Carne Seca Chimichanga Enchilada Style. The thing was huge. Madge took her first bite and that smirk of enjoyment crossed her face. She said it was excellent. She noted how smokey the Carne Seca was and how fragrant the entire dish was. The enchilada sauce was decent, she noted, and said the flavors all worked well.
Boris was next up with his Carne Seca Enchiladas. He also was quite pleased. He loved the taste of the Carne Seca (+1 point) and also mentioned that he like the beans and rice. He seemed very happy and was quite busy finishing off the enchiladas as quickly as possible.
There was then a brief conversation between Madge and Boris about their meals where Boris audibly said, "Yes, dear." (+5 bonus points, as "yes, dear" are the two most important words a man can ever know in a relationship with a woman, especially one like Madge.)
It was my turn to savor my meal and I did just that. I grabbed a bit of tortilla, filled it with the Carne Seca and took my first bite. Success! The Carne Seca was spot on. It was indeed smokey, meaty and the seasonings were perfect. Most of all, they had given it sufficient liquid to reconstitute and it was absolutely wonderful. The tortillas were hot and fresh. The beans were standard, but not bad. I noted that the rice was exceptionally fluffly and actually had some decent flavor to it. Unfortunately, most Mexican restaurants serve bland rice. This, however, was a nice treat. (Go Devils!)
I enjoyed every bite of my Carne Seca. Since I selected the place, I asked Madge and Boris if they would come back to El Minuto. They both nodded in agreement. It really was a great lunch.
Our total bill, including tax, was $48.10. Boris generously picked up the tab for which I gave him +2 bonus points. It would have been 4, but I deducted two because he was clearly trying to schmooze. I could have insisted we go Dutch, but I am no fool and always up for a good round of graft.
Service at El Minuto was okay. There were clearly some problems with the bus staff and our waiter kept having to remind the bus staff as to what their jobs were. However, our drinks were kept filled and our wait was minimal between courses.
We finished up and made our way outside and off to the Arizona Desert Sonoran Museum. It was evident that Madge likes Boris and Boris likes Madge. On the Seth Scorecard, I give Boris a passing grade. He isn't an ax murderer and he knows how to say "yes, dear." So I am sure things will bode well for them both.
Oh, one last thing: Go Devils!
El Minuto Cafe
354 South Main
Tucson, AZ 85701
Note: There is a sister location at 8 North Kolb Road in Tucson.