I’m standing staring out to sea along with maybe fifty people here where the Del segues into beach. We’re on the brink of sunset. And what a sunset. For sure, it’s the wildfires causing it. Horizon clouds are backlit by the sun. Sun’s like an orange lozenge. Everybody’s transfixed.
Guy in front of me has been holding his taco, about to take a chomp, for five minutes, I swear. Just can’t take his eyes off the horizon.
“Where did you get that?” I ask.
He doesn’t want to turn away, miss the last moments of Huey. Points with his thumb over his shoulder. “Taco shack.”
I give up my potential membership in the Green Flash Club and look around. Oh wow. Right here, we’ve got a little sugar shack, in the sand, palm fronds licking over its roof, folks in beach gear sitting on stools around it. And beyond, more rough tables and stools in the sand of the actual beach. Sort of beach patio. Frank Sinatra’s crooning “That’s Life!” And there’s a line for service. Behind, the red towers of the Grand Old Lady herself.
But this Beach Shack is strictly drinks. Steven, one of two guys working here, says the tacos come from the even smaller Taco Shack behind. “Better hurry,” he says. “They close at sunset.”
I notice the post they have with arrows pointing in all different directions to places like Swami’s (38 miles), Jeffery’s Bay (10,253 miles), or hey: “Tacos,” just an arrow-point away.
I follow the sign’s direction to behind the Beach Shack, and a new, smaller hut has Dutch doors with the top half still open.
“Just in time,” says David, the cashier.
“Close at sunset,” warns Ernesto the chef.
So okay, I know this is the Hotel Del, shack or no shack. We’re not gonna get no $1.99 tacos here. Still, $7.50? That’s what the menu board is saying.
“This is a resort. These are resort prices,” says David.
Choice is shrimp taco or yellowtail tuna taco. That’s it. No burritos, tortas, burgers, whatever. Just these two offerings.
“But they are to die for,” says this gal in her bikini, Rachel. She’s coming away with four of them. “The shrimp taco is awesome. Such big shrimp,” she says.
I ask Ernesto what’s in this Hotel Del take on the mighty taco.
“Corn tortilla,” he says, “white cheddar cheese, shrimps with salt, a chipotle cream sauce, cabbage, and lime crema. Other days, we have carnitas, pollo asado, a dozen different choices we’re rotating. But we’re new. We’ve only been open a couple of weeks. So we’re still experimenting with what works.”
Whatever, need a brewski to wash down the taco. I head back to the Beach Shack. Even for a beer, I know this is going to cost, but may as well go the Full Monty.
The other bar guy comes up. “What can I get you?”
Name’s Jeffrey (“Call me Red Eye”).
“Draft beer?” I ask.
They seem to favor mostly liquor and cocktails, but they do have a Saint Archer IPA. Cost? Eleven bucks.
“Location, location,” says Red Eye.
And a moment later, I kinda get it: what we’re really paying for. I take the taco and IPA to the plank facing the ocean. Hitch up onto a stool. Oh man. Location is right. The post-sunset is going from great to glorious. Flaming rosy-orange clouds. Little boats on the horizon are starting to light up and twinkle. The crescent moon, high over the ocean, shines like a movie prop. In the cool, everybody’s cocooning, murmuring, hugging, talking, toasting, sharing.
I chomp into my taco. Oh yes. Really big, squelchy shrimp. Garlicky, cheesy, nice lime overlay, and a little kick from the chipotle cream. Most of all, it’s filling. Could I have downed a tuna taco too? For sure. Yet I don’t feel deprived. Besides, now I’m too busy yakking. Rob and Meghan DeBolt, right next to me, turn out to be down from Washington. He was cable man in a Coast Guard chopper that hoisted crew from the sinking fishing ship Alaska Ranger, 180 miles west of Dutch Harbor in the Bering Sea, back in ‘08. He’s a bona fide hero. It was the largest cold-water rescue in Coast Guard history.
And next night, I’m crazy enough to come back, just to try the tuna taco. But I get here after five, dammit, and more importantly, just after Huey has set. No more tacos. (Note to self: Every Taco Tuesday, they are open till seven, and have live music.) On the other hand, the hotel is just setting up to show Some Like It Hot on the beach. Hey hey! My fave comedy. I rush back inside the hotel to their 24-hour coffee shop, grab a blueberry muffin. It’s the only thing in range. Even it costs six bucks. “Coffee?” says the gal. Uh, no. It’s eight bucks.
I head back to the beach, and settle in to watch. Turns out this is part of the Coronado Film Festival. Turns out (after everybody just about freezes their tails off, but stays because it’s such a great movie, and is being shown exactly where the Marilyn beach scenes were shot), that the three people sitting in front of me are Jack Lemmon’s grandkids. Wow! Kinda star-struck. There’s Chris (works for Tesla), Sydney (she’s an actress and producer), and Jon (a writer. Looks most like Jack). As our teeth chatter and limbs uncrack, they tell me how grandpa Jack would come downstairs in the morning, and always do something ridiculous to make them laugh.
So yeah. Del’s Taco Shack? Not cheap. On the other hand, what rewards! And looking at this café in the sand, I realize: For the first time, Coronado actually has a bona fide on-the-beach café. A cafe where you see the sea while you chomp and guzzle cerveza and nuzzle your tootsies in the sand.
You have to wonder: what took Coronado so long?