Oct. 7—SAN BENITO — It's late afternoon.
The mood at Calaca's Tacos and Beer is quiet and refreshing.
The simplicity and novelty of this new place, with its playful color schemes and the flavors emanating from the kitchen and the nearby tables, fills me with anticipation.
The menu offers ribeye and chicken chipotle and ceviche bandera and choriqueso, but my eyes land on the Baja tacos. I know immediately that's what I came here for, and I know that's what I've been needing for a long time.
I get the feeling of being in some little outdoor café on the Sea of Cortez or Cabo San Lucas or a little diner right on the beach on the coast of Michoacán, where there are no walls or windows, just the salty wind blowing in.
And it's a moment of rejuvenation for me.
When the food arrives, I'm delighted to find a plate of four tacos bulging with fish and vegetables and a fine sauce to give it just enough to kick to make it authentic.
This is some good Mexican seafood with a San Benito twist.
I clean up the plate and give the attentive waiter a fine tip for his service.
The following day I come in for lunch, looking forward to having the "gringa" quesadilla upon the recommendation of a dear friend.
Only two steps through the door and already a young waitress is attending to me.
"I'm gonna sit outside," I say as I make my way through the indoor dining area which is already filling with the lunch crowd.
"Just one?" she asks again.
I say yes and step outside, where I take a seat at a small square table with the outline of a comical skull spreads over the colorful patterns.
The resaca spreads out before me and clouds cast shadows across its surface.
Immediately the young waitress is at my table with a menu, but I already know what I want: the gringa. It's a quesadilla located at the top of a small list.
"All the way?" she says, to which I reply, "As long as all the way doesn't include jalapenos."
"No," she says with a turn of the head.
I place my order and recall why I'm so frightened of jalapenos.
I'm right back in Patzcuaro sitting down to a fine lunch with a local family, and it's all glorious, warm and priceless until I bite into something that spreads it's terror through my mouth and then throughout my body.
I'm convulsing my way to the sink, where I consume copious amounts of water to extinguish what feels like millions of fire ants.
And I feel silly that after all this time I still can't handle hot chiles, and the food and the experience is still grand as ever even with the train wreck in my mouth.
Then it happened again a few weeks later at a workshop outside Morelia, where I'm interviewing artisans carving images out of cantera stone.
I bite into something again, and everyone laughs and someone says I don't have enough callouses on my tongue and that's what I tell people now to dodge the embarrassment of a frail mouth: "No tengo bastanta callos en mi lengua."
Now I'm back at the table, and I have my "gringa" before me and there's nothing devastating about it. What it does have, wrapped in a warm tortilla, is pork marinated in spices and chiles, onions, cilantro, and — pineapple!
What a marvelous concoction.
"Everything OK?" The waitress asks every few minutes and of course it is.
This simple but delicious marriage of flavors reminds me of the torta Hawaiianas I enjoy in Morelia at a popular place called "Super Homero Torta."
But I don't have to travel all the way to Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico, for this fine moment. It's right here at Calaca's Tacos and Beer in San Benito.