Saturday, March 19, 2005

Don Jose Tienda Mexicana

Melina and I went by this restaurant on Wednesday. Its mouthwatering food and eccentric decorating scheme made me so happy I actually had to go out and buy a camera so I could go back today and take these pictures to share with you.

This is not a restaurant review because I'm not qualified to wax over details. Everything was muy rico, that's all you need to know. You can't go wrong.

By the way, I haven't tried reading my camera manual yet, I'm just up to the "quick start" page, so don't expect anything fancy.

Anyway, I've lived in this area for a long time, so I remember when this storefront housed a Greek restaurant, the "Marathon." As you see from the shot below, taken from the parking lot, the Greek themed mural on the outside wall is still in excellent condition. It has been addended somewhat to suit the current restaurant.

Here, on the right, you see more Greek lads, this time on the inside of the store. The Marathon-era mariners are co-existing with a lot of piñatas.

I used to be afraid of restaurants that looked like this. But since my trips to Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, where by necessity I ate in places that looked much darker and funkier than this but served great food, I take more chances.

Gloria and Miguel Valdez, the owners, came here from San Antonio. At first they were just offering corner store staples like flour, spices, coconut milk, dried shrimp in plastic bags, etc., and customers could also send money to Mexico. But the big kitchen was there, calling to them, so they started cooking. At lunch the place is usually packed.

The only menu is the one you see below. It's written on cardboard and hung above the kitchen door. Read it and drool. Everything we've tried has been absolutely fresh and delicious.

The most spectacular thing in the store is this tortilla machine. They spent $40,000 on it, which was a breath-takingly brave thing to do. When Melina and I arrived, Miguel Valdez was feeding the masa (corn-flour) dough into the top of the machine. The cutter rotated and tortillas went down the conveyor belt and Gloria stacked them in a big cooler.

There's nothing like a tortilla hot off this machine. I am particularly addicted to the asada (roast meat) tacos - they roll each taco in TWO of their soft, hot, aromatic tortillas. There's a condiment bar with several kinds of salsa, guacamole, onions, etc. They also make their own bread for the tortas, which are huge and full of any delicious things you ask for. There are also brightly-colored dessert pastries which we didn't try.

To continue with the tour - after the Greek restaurant closed, there was at least one other restaurant. Maybe there were two. What I remember: some sort of Orient Express mix, hmm, Turkish Lebanese Israeli Middle-European? I don't remember the restaurant's name but the food was good. There was frequently a belly dancer. I think these benches, each with the name of two European cities, date from that era. On this bench, Dublin and Berlin.

I will finish my tour with perhaps the only wall in the world where a Sponge Bob piñata is hung cheek to cheek with the Virgin Mary.

Mom and Pop stores have become so terribly rare. Whenever you see one, you should immediately walk in and give them a couple bucks just to encourage them to stay in business.

If you're local, go right over there and eat some flautas. If you live far away - call me from the airport and I'll come get you and we'll go eat tacos.

Don Jose Tienda Mexicana
708 W. Rosemary Street
Carrboro, NC 275140

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At 7:05 AM, Anonymous Silver Lining said...

Wow! What mouth wateringly gorgeous pictures! Reminds me that it's lunchtime and I didn't eat breakfast! I'll be on the next plane :)

Hi, Michele sent me!

At 7:13 AM, Blogger Waterfall said...

Thanks for the great tour! If I'm ever in your neck of the woods (I live in Asheville) I'll be sure to check this place out.

Great tour!

At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

Well thank you for a tour of a local hot spot. I hope the new owners fair well for years to come. Mmm, mexican, best mexican was a dive in Cancun for me when I broke away from the tourist locations. Oh man, and I worked at the Sundance Saloon, a westernized Mexican eatery that came with its own nests of roaches, it was fantastic :) I am craving some good Mexican and here in Canada pickings are slim to say the least. Last good Mexican meal was in Lansing Michigan when checking out a buddy of mine :).

Glad to see you jumping into the world of digital photography. Now get a 20$ tripod to go with that new camera and learn is manual setting options and you will be taking some breat photos! :) Oh.. and thanks for stopping by, boy am I wordy today!



At 10:06 AM, Blogger alex said...

Cool, thanks for sharing this. We ate at Marathon a few times, but I didn't realize the new owners started serving food. We'll have to check it out.


At 10:46 AM, Blogger Jude Nagurney Camwell said...

I will finish my tour with perhaps the only wall in the world where a Sponge Bob piñata is hung cheek to cheek with the Virgin Mary

That photo's way too cool.
Great piece, Jane.

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Mamacita said...

Michele sent me, but I hope you know that I come here all the time anyway. Your blog is always fascinating to me, and now I'm hungry, as well.

At 12:55 PM, Anonymous terrilynn said...

Spongebob was just the right touch for ending that post. Thanks for the tour!

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Badaunt said...

Your comment about the Mom and Pop places is spot on, and applies here as well. I make a point of NOT drinking coffee at chain coffee shops, but look out for the old mom and pop coffee shops instead. It would be a shame to lose them. Around here we've had three old coffee shops close in the last few years, since a new building went up and a chain store coffee shop opened. It's a real shame.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Kimberly said...

Hooray on the camera purchase! The photos are great.

I'm with you on mom and pop stores; I go out of my way to support them rather than chains. You've made this Texas ex-pat really hungry for Mexican food, which isn't the easiest thing to find in Seattle. Hmmmm... it's a bit late for a flight to NC today, but Malena's isn't too far, and it'll be lunchtime soon.

At 10:03 PM, Anonymous Pearl said...

Wonderful tour. If I ever make it to North Carolina, I'll have to stop by.

It was interesting to see the tag for the machine. I've seen one of those Tortilla machines at a Lone Star restaurant. Huge cost for a small family business tho.

At 12:44 AM, Blogger Ron Hudson said...

Thank you for sharing. On my next visit to Carrboro, I will give this place a try.

I used to have a close friend in DC who took me to a Thai/Mexican restaurant on 6th St. SE. It was literally split down the middle, with Thai decorations on one side and Mexican on the other! You could have a great Margarita with your Pad Thai! The common denominator between the 2 sides seemed to be chiles!


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