Jane and Michael Stern, those chroniclers of true American food, wrote in their 1986 travelogue-cum-cookbook “Real American Food” of the Southern phenomena of combining food and unrelated commerce: “Drive along a country road in the Mississippi Delta and you will come across Upholstery Repair-Catfish Parlors, Flats Fixed-Barbecues, and Seamstress-Tamale Stands.” In “American Fried,” journalist Calvin Trillin described interrogating a Muskogee, Oklahoma resident about a local barbecue joint – “They have plates there?” Trillin asked suspiciously. In the end he wrangled directions to a highway diner where the proprietor flapped down butcher paper topped with wax paper topped with first-rate barbecue.
Somewhere along the way west, cuisine became sanitized. Not to mock food safety laws (well, perhaps a little), but we do tend to fear food that isn’t served in a regulation restaurant setting. Whether it’s a Roach Coach or Pilot Death Dogs or a Gut Bomb, people seem to get a little nervous about eating food served in unfamiliar territory.
There’s probably no business more ubiquitous to California than gas stations, almost all of which now have some form of mini-mart inside. Suppose all that room devoted to prepackaged junk food was converted into small cafes?
That’s what happened at the Valero Station on Churn Creek Road, where El Delicioso Burrito lives. Yes, you can still get your candy bars and Zig-Zag papers at the cashier, but look just a little further back and you’ll see a small dining room. Walk back and you’ll see the menu above the counter. Order and have a seat – it never takes very long. Service is friendly and fast.
Carne asada burrito. $5.99
The first time Femme de Joie visited, she went through the drive-though. There was a bit of confusion and she wasn’t sure what she would wind up actually getting, since the disembodied speaker voice doesn’t seem to have a firm command of English, and M. de Joie’s Spanish is limited to “comer el lapiz” and “es muy puerta.” It was confusing, and not in a hilarity-ensues kind of way.
But the burrito delivered was a good one; filled with a generous scoop of slightly crispy beef kernels mixed with tomato, onion, guacamole, and cilantro, it was savory, not greasy, and a good value. Salsa verde on the side was indifferent.
Fish tacos with rice and beans, $7.99
Fish tacos are one of those items on a menu that could go either way – like the little girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead, when they’re good they are very very good, but when they are bad they are horrid. Fortunately, these were the good ones, crunchy and fresh out of the deep fryer, each wrapped in two corn tortillas in a futile attempt to keep the taco from splitting and the filling tumbling out. Toppings were fresh as well; the pico de gallo available at the serve-yourself salsa bar was particularly good on these. Femme de Joie was less crazy about the rice and beans on the side, dry and tired; M. de Joie couldn’t bring herself to finish either one.
Beef enchiladas, $7.99
Enchiladas were surprisingly light and non-greasy, filled with cubelets of braised beef and topped very lightly with cheese and shredded lettuce. The hot salsa at the salsa bar was not flamethrower hot and worked well on these. The refried beans and rice were much improved with this combo plate.
If you’re feeling peckish out in Big Box Land, it isn’t always easy to find something to eat. El Delicioso Burrito isn’t a place to sit for hours savoring your meal, nor is it comparable to a place like La Cabana, but that isn’t really its goal. It’s fast food – but it didn’t come packaged frozen in a corporate portion-controlled box from Cleveland. It’s all prepared to order in the tiny kitchen. While Femme de Joie wouldn’t make a special trip to eat there, she certainly wouldn’t spurn it if she was out shopping for a solar-powered hairbrush at Megastore R Us and needed some lunch. Inexpensive, quick, flavorful, open early to late – consider stopping in.
El Delicioso Burrito, 1275 Churn Creek Road inside the Valero gas station (at Old Alturas), Redding, CA 96003. 530-222-2921. Open daily, 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM. Small dining room and drive-though. No alcohol. Vegetarian and vegan options. Parking lot. Cash and cards; no checks. Follow them on Facebook.
Femme de Joie’s first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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