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Show of hands, please: how many of you were first introduced to Mexican food by Taco Bell (en-chi-REE-toe,TAH-co)? And how many of you were shocked to learn that Taco Bell is not actually Mexican food as served in Mexico?
Ooops. Sorry. Femme de Joie just realized that she may have committed the culinary equivalent of saying there’s no Santa Claus. Well, as long as she’s busily destroying fondly-held beliefs, Chipotle isn’t Mexican either. Neither is that place you had lunch at on the cruise excursion at Cabo. And neither is… well, pretty much any Mexican restaurant that commits any of these sins. That doesn’t mean the food doesn’t taste good, but don’t call it authentic. (See this article for another take on authenticity.)
Mostly what we get here in NorCal is a pan-TexMex-California take on Mexican food. That’s not a bad thing – cuisine evolves with available ingredients and changing tastes. But we do tend to pile on every available ingredient until a simple taco morphs into a promiscuous behemoth, unrecognizable except by name and inevitably topped with Brobdingnagian mounds of shredded processed yellow cheese.
So it’s refreshing to find a small unpresuming restaurant that serves simple, tasty food with a minimum of excess and little acknowledgment of trends. Las Dos Marias has been serving their simple Mexican dishes in a tiny space on Bechelli Lane that was once home to Bartels Burgers. You can go inside to order at the counter and have a seat at one of the five or six small tables, or avail yourself of their drive-up window. The menu is not elaborate – the usual combination plates, burritos, quesadillas, etc. Service is fast and cheerful.
Salsa and chips, $1.99
The prices are low and portion size reflects that: if you want chips and salsa – usually included with an order in Mexican restaurants – you have to order them separately. M. de Joie liked the chips but the salsa was bland and watery, as though it had been in the freezer and lost its punch.
Chile verde burrito, $7.99
Looks plain and is plain, but the ingredients were top-notch. Creamy refried beans meshed with the tangy tomatillo-based verde sauce and bites of pork to make a satisfying burrito filling.
Carnitas enchiladas, $7.75
M. de Joie liked that the simple grilled carnitas taste didn’t get smothered with too much melty whatever goop. Just enough sauce and a feathery dusting of cheese was all the adornment the enchiladas needed. The rice was a bit dry but with savory, almost smoky flavor; more of those homemade refried beans on the side rounded out the plate.
Small chicken tortilla soup, $2.99
This was a special not offered on the regular menu, but it hit the spot on a cold day. A tomato-chili enhanced chicken broth with carrots, onions, celery and crisp tortilla chips was lighter than it looks and made a terrific lunch starter.
Combination plate of tamale and a carnitas taco, $8.00
It wasn’t listed on the menu board, but Las Dos Marias was happy to create this combination by request. A carnitas taco was one of the best tacos M. de Joie has had in a very long time – very juicy with tender pork, pico de gallo, and a dollop of guacamole on warm flour tortillas. Tamales are a house specialty – you can order them by the dozen – and this one was excellent, a generous amount of pork filling inside the masa case and slathered with a warm-ish red chili sauce.
Femme de Joie doesn’t cruise down Bechelli Lane much, but she’d be willing to make a detour for a lunch at Las Dos Marias. Inexpensive and well-prepared food with clean, unadulterated tastes is sometimes just what the doctor ordered, and this small unpretentious place fills the bill. Give it a try.
Las Dos Marias, 2640 Bechelli Lane, Redding, CA 96002. 530-226-8011. Open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM. Closed Sunday. Cards and cash, no checks. Vegetarian options. No alcohol. Parking lot. Drive-through window. Website at LasDosMarias.org or follow them on Facebook.