In two days, Nicole and I leave for our first vacation in a long time. We'll spend my spring break in sunny Arizona, and take quick trips to Mexico and southern California. Visiting the southwest sounds attractive right now primarily because 1) we can't wait to visit our friends Mark and AJ and Hung and Ann, and 2) we've had NO RELIEF from icy sidewalks and single-digit temps in motown.
But food is a close number three in terms of Arizona's appeal. When I think about the four years I lived in Tucson, I get nostalgic (and hungry) for the many Mexican restaurants that dot the city. July, 1998, I moved to Tucson to start the Ph.D program at Arizona. I got there the day the WPA conference--held in Tucson that year--began. During the weeks leading up to the conference (and my 2,000-mile trek), a discussion on the wpa listserv centered on where to get the best Mexican food in town. So I got there with a pretty good list of resources!
South Tucson in particular boasts countless mom-and-pop restaurants and tortillerias. Homemade tortillas of south Tucson? Nothing better. My favorite place by far is El Torero. The proverbial hole in the wall. Except at El Torero, the hole is covered with an enormous stuffed swordfish, apopos, best I can tell, of nothing. Yes, a huge swordfish hangs on the wall. If the place wasn't pink, it would be hard to find. Tucked on quiet 26th Street, the joint always looks like it's closed. I remember eating lunch there with Bob Connors (and, as I recall, a motley assortment of our faculty and grad students) the day he visited our writing program, a few months before his untimely death. I remember my graduation party there, the night before commencement, the surreal experience of my parents and my dissertation committee around the same table. I remember taking my pal Mark there for lunch; he had never eaten at El Torero before and when his wife later told him that she had on several occasions, he was pissed off at her for never having shared its joys.
What to eat at El Torero. The topopo (a huge salad shaped like a volcano)? One of the dishes they top with mole sauce? Naah, go for the tacos and save the fancy stuff for Mi Nidito or one of the joints back in the university district. Tacos at El Torero forego the ground beef in favor of thin slices of bistek, the always fresh taste of queso fresco, and shredded cabbage. If I ever visit Arizona and don't go back to El Torero, do me a favor and slap me.
Moving across the country by myself was a challenge--especially moving to a city whose hot climate, bilingualism, and residents perpetually clad in sandals marked it as completely unfamiliar. Taking a grad seminar in community literacy and service learning (taught by Tilly Warnock: best. teacher. ever) during my first term served as a nice intro to Tucson life. So did being in the know about El Torero.
Arizona, here we come.