1669 Palm Avenue, Imperial Beach
The hoof stares me in the face. “Eat me!” it says. Oh, Lordy. But this is what I came for. It’s Sunday. Feeling a little hung over, truth to tell.
“You sure this works?” I said to Berta when I first came in to Jalisco’s. It’s known as the go-to clinic for folks suffering from la cruda. And the medicine? Menudo, natch, Mexico’s gift to Sunday-morning repentants everywhere. Berta knows. She’s been serving the tripe-and-hominy soup for years, like most of the crew here. Heck, the place has been up and running since 1940, 75 years, exactly. Should have a party.
Uh, no. Let’s not mention the “P” word right now.
“Of course it does,” says Berta, answering my question. “But you had better hurry. We always run out of it on Saturday and Sunday.”
That puts ants in my pants. I mean, there’s lots of bone-broth soups around the world that they say do the trick. But none has the aura of menudo. I see they have the red and the white, the large and the small. Large bowl’s $8.29, small’s $6.99. They come with two flour or three corn tortillas. But bottom line is my stomach’s really not sure about this. Like, couldn’t we pick a better time to start experimenting with cow’s stomach soup?
I found out a lot about it on my way here, aboard the 933 bus. “You know the old saying,” says Chuey, guy next to me. ‘If your stomach’s giving you problems, eat more stomach… Cow’s stomach.” He busts out laughing. “No, but if you want good menudo you’ve gotta have good tripe. If they don’t cook it long enough, you’re eating old boots. And if the age of the animal isn’t right, you’ll suffer. Cow must be middle aged. Too old: stomach-lining’s too hard. Too young: too soft. Disintegrates. And if you really want results, you’ve got to go the whole hog, right?”
“The whole hog?”
“You’ve got to eat some of the hooves and tendons,” he said. “They should always have some cooking in the soup. I love those patas. They help. They bring fat. Fat helps la cruda. Patas make menudo the mother of all hangover soups.”
Wow. Quite a speech.
So, guess I’ll have to try. I jump off at Thermal and head back to a little brown stucco palace with a faux tile roof front and benches on this traffic-wasted street. Seat-polished benches tell you the lines of people they get.
But no crowds now. I go in, sit up to the counter at the back near the kitchen, and start chomping on chips and salsa.
“So, do you have any menudo left?” I ask Berta when she comes with the menu. Half hoping she’ll say they’ve run out, let me off the hook.
“Just a little. Maybe one bowl. People started coming at seven this morning.”
“And, uh, do you have hooves and tendons left?”
“Let me check, please.”
She comes back. “Yes, we do. You’re lucky.”
Shucks. Because they do have plenty of easier-to-face breakfast stuff: two eggs any style with hotcakes or hash browns and toast for $5.99; a three-egg cheese omelet, $8.79; cactus strips and three eggs $8.79; chilaquiles (crispy tortilla strips) with three eggs and beans, $8.29; machaca, with three eggs and shredded beef, $6.49. And for lunch, carne asada with beans, rice, guac, tortillas, $12.99; steak sandwich, $8.99; T-bone for $14.99; pork tenderloin in green sauce, cheese, $6.49.
But, no. Gut says menudo. I say “Let’s go for it, with patas.”
While I’m waiting I look around the walls. Main mural shows a vaquero grabbing a steer by the tail, sending ducks and hens flying. This place is definitely old-school. I decide to check alternative hangover cures online. Man. Zillion out there: flat Coca-Cola, bananas, Pedialyte, milk thistle, pickle juice, peanut butter honey and banana sandwiches, sushi, Jamba Juice wheat grass…
But, too late. Here comes mine. Big bowl of golden, steaming soup loaded with shivery reefs of honeycombed meat, cheese, hominy, and those shiny, fist-shaped pinky-white bits floating on top. Have to be the hooves. The inside of hooves.
I mean, why do we gringos have such a problem with the squishier parts of an animal? Why do I avoid everything on my first mouthful except the hominy? (Hominy? Corn that’s been soaked in alkaline. Mexicans, Guatemalans have been doing that to corn for about 4000 years, soaking it in water mixed with wood ash to make it easier to eat.) And why do I have to douse it all in salsa picante and lime? And have my corn tortilla rolled and ready to chomp, before I go for my first flap of stomach lining?
I finally dive in. First the tripe, then this dainty, steaming pink hoof.
It’s squishy, slippery all right, but surprisingly tender. And not all bad, so long as I don’t breathe in the kinda hoof/glue miasma you detect with it. After half a dozen slurps and actual attempts to chew the hoof interior, I start to get it. You’ve got to watch the little round bones, but the rest is pretty tender.
And then, at some point, your head starts to ache less, your stomach starts to relax. Something is happening. You don’t even mind chomping into the tickly tripe, you actually enjoying the slippery squish of it all.
Kinda. There’s still that slight hoofy thing going on. But, small price to pay if it does the job.
Maybe next time, pozole. Easier to love: it comes with pork meat, not stomach lining.
Of course, next time, better not have no hangover.
The Place: http://www.jalisc...">Jalisco Café, 1669 Palm Avenue, Imperial Beach, 619-575-4955 (also 4026 Bonita Road, 619-267-7855).
Prices: Menudo, $8.29 (large bowl), $6.99 (small); pozole, $8.29 (large bowl), $6.99 (small); 2 eggs, hotcakes or hash browns and toast, $5.99; 3-egg cheese omelet, $8.79; cactus strips, 3 eggs, $8.79; chilaquiles (crispy tortilla strips), 3 eggs, beans, $8.29; machaca, 3 eggs, shredded beef, $6.49; carne asada, beans, rice, guacamole, tortillas, $12.99; steak sandwich, $8.99; T-bone steak, $14.99
Hours: 7:00 a.m.–9:30 p.m. daily (till 10:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday)
Buses: 933, 934
Nearest bus stop: Palm Avenue at Thermal (934, eastbound); Palm Avenue at Saturn (933, westbound)