For the longest time when someone would ask me what my favorite food is I would have probably said that is was something Asian – I even claimed plain white rice as one of my favorite foods and it was served in a gigantic bowl at my high school graduation party along with Pop-Tarts and a six-foot long tuna and bacon sandwich from Subway – Damn that was a good party. If you were to ask me the question of favorite food today I would emphatically say that Mexican food, specifically items packed into corn tortillas, is right where I am at. Living where I do in the northeast there isn’t always the variety and quality of authentic Mexican cooking that one could find south and west of here but if you look in the right spots you will find what you’re looking for.
For four years I was working as an archaeologist out of an office in Olneyville, a largely Hispanic neighborhood of Providence, RI. The neighborhood consists of a lot of old converted mills and workers housing and has a feeling of being a tight community mixed in with straight up street toughness, which gives it a bit of an edge – an edge that makes you quicken your step if you’re caught down there in the evening time. While working in the office in the old converted mill we often got carry-out lunch for our small crew and we would usually get it from the Chinese place around the way or from some specialty shop on Federal Hill or even from the Olneyville New York System Hot Dogs (really good dogs, really good), but one time we were talked into getting tacos from the place pictured below by the then new woman in the office, Alisa.
Upon pulling into this place, which is called Taqueria El Taconazo (Taco Lady to us) and is sitting in the parking lot of a flea market behind the American Locomotive Works, I was thinking that maybe we should go somewhere else that doesn’t require a tetanus shot or possibly a concealed weapon and I soon voiced those very concerns but was goaded in by Alisa with promises of good food mixed in with admonitions regarding my startling close-mindedness. When we walked into the little eating area I was immediately confronted with the fact that we were just standing in a little lean-to attached to an old round-ended travel trailer that hasn’t done any travelling in a very long time. The main compartment of the travel trailer contains the kitchen – a flat top grill, some refrigerators, a small counter, and a small brisk woman named Angelina Villanueva who doesn’t speak much English but is obviously a food wizard. Now even though the place looks a bit ramshackle it is actually quite clean and decorated with Catholic idols and funny Mexican tourist knickknacks. I was pleased to see that it also had all of the appropriate health inspection certificates up to date and on display just inside the little door at which you give your order. Interestingly enough, the trailer that contains this little eatery will never again be road-worthy but it is still considered a food truck/cart and is inspected and certified as such.On that first visit I ordered two tacos, a quesadilla, and a mandarin Jarritos and retreated back to the office armed with my food as well as some other items for my fellow workers. We all ate in near silence except for the occasional yummy sound or lamentation about the green salsa being friggin’ hot but once we all finished we agreed that we would have to make a habit of eating there on a regular basis.
Let’s skip ahead to just a few weeks ago – I no longer work in Providence but I needed to run down and buy some cold cuts and cheese from Constantino’s Venda Ravioli (I will post another time about this place but for now I can tell you that it’s just heaven) for a getting-to-know-a-baby party. I figured since I was there I might as well stop and get some goods from the Taco Lady. I arrived after the lunch rush had died down and put in my order – enchiladas rojas.
Look at that stuff up there – look at it! I know the picture looks a little wonky and that is because it is a cellphone pic but it doesn’t take much away from that beautiful plate of yum. The Taco Lady’s enchiladas aren’t like the ones some folks make at home with the bland canned sauce, flour tortillas, and bean and rice filling – nope, these little monsters are filled with seasoned beef, (beef, pork, chicken available) peppers, and onions then topped with queso blanco and a few drizzles of Mexican crema. A small salad and some spicy fried potatoes make a great addition to the meal and if you’re like me you will eat a little of each item in every bite. I have no idea what spices she uses on the beef nor can I imagine how she creates her enchilada sauce, but what I do know is that she can make some huge flavors come out of a very small work space. Oh, I almost forgot, that meal pictured above, which is made to order with super fresh ingredients, only costs $10.10 and comes with all manner of fresh salsas and additions.
Since I have been going to see the Taco Lady I have tried every flavor of taco, quesadilla, enchilada and even tried her seasonal ceviche – I haven’t been disappointed yet – I cannot say that about too many other restaurants. So, dear reader, the next time you gird your loins and venture to the Providence area take a friend and drive on over to Valley Street Place at 500 Valley Street. Order as much as you can and share the goodness – don’t forget to let me know how you feel about your visit and if you know of other such culinary pearls please feel free to share it with me and the other reader(s).
**author’s note: If you arrive at lunch time you will have to wait for a little while – my suggestion is to arrive at 11:00 or after 13:00
*** This is not a vegetarian restaurant – not anywhere near it. Meat is neat!