As often as I can I try to take my own advice. My old employer called it eating your own dogood. Yucky imagery aside, there’s something to be said for testing your theories on yourself. I figure if I’m going to blah blah on this site about what each of you should do I should try it myself as often as possible to make sure I know what I’m talking about. Novel, huh?
One of my favorite pieces of advice is to find a small restaurant that caters to the local ethnic population. The theory is that immigrants to this country with a strong culture and sense of home will want the most authentic experience possible. Typically these restaurants are also inexpensive. Cool.
I recently attended the TED conference in Monterey, California. Last year it became clear quickly that the little patch of Monterey we occupied was filled with horrible restaurants. I admit I haven’t tried every one, but every one I tried was more mediocre than the next. (Can something be more mediocre?) Any Monterey experts who know of great food there feel free to comment angrily now.
This year I dutifully tried more restaurants only to find more disappointment. What killed me the most was that this part of Northern California is not only filled with high quality ingredients, but with a strong Mexican immigrant population. Agriculture is a major foundation for the whole region. And yet, I was eating at crappy restaurants in Monterey. I knew of great Mexican food in Watsonville but it was slightly too far away to make it for lunch. Leaving Monterey I had to hurry to San Francisco and was feeling down about another year without some good local food.
And then it occured to me that there must be more than one good Mexican restaurant serving the local population. (I know, I’m a little slow on the uptake.) Sure enough, the next exit was for Castroville (Artichoke capital of California). I turned off and started looking for the smallest, most untouristy looking Mexican restaurant I could find. And then I found it and it wasn’t a restaurant at all. It was the Michoacan Meat Market. A butcher/grocer/video shop with a taqueria in the back. I’d struck gold.
Much as you’d expect the Michoacan market was packed to the brim with all manner of products. There even seemed to be a clothing store jammed in the back in its own separate room. It was like a tiny Tokyo department store with a Mexican bent. I sat down at the bar and ordered one pork and one steak taco. Juicy, savory, spicy, and delicious were all present in copious amounts. I heaped on crema fresca, lime juice, and green hot sauce to round out the flavors. No disappointment there. There was also a bowl full of what was described to me as Mexican oregano. I tried a bit and it was great too.
Testing out my own advice of seeking the small authentic restaurants that serve the local population has proven again to be a relatively reliable mechanism for getting a delicious meal and a memorable experience. And next time you’re in Castroville, California (or driving by) now you don’t even have to make that search yourself as the Michoacan Meat Market will be there to make you something delicious.