The place looks like any other Southern California restaurant, with its airy interiors, wide picture windows with frames of sparkling aquamarine, and shiny wooden tables flanked by equally shiny wooden chairs. Outside, mature trees with sturdy trunks and leafy branches bask in the golden California sunshine.
Its unpretentious appearance notwithstanding, La Super-Rica Taqueria is actually a culinary shrine worthy of a pilgrimage. On any given day, there’s a long line of customers stretching from the restaurant to the street round the corner. After all, this is the restaurant that was named by the legendary Julia Child as her favorite taco place in the beachside town of Santa Barbara.
Like numerous others, we wanted to taste what Julie Child had tasted, to like what she had liked. And so, after a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles, we made La Super-Rica our first stop.
We didn’t have any problem waiting in the queue to give our orders. The menu, written on a board in clear, white letters, was visible even from the outside, so we used the waiting time to ponder on what we would order. And there were many possibilities. Should we go for the taco de chuleta (grilled pork served on two corn tortillas) or the taco de rajas (sautéed strips of chile pasilla, onions and cheese served on two tortillas)?
Or maybe we should be more adventurous and try the less familiar lomitos (grilled marinated pork with melted cheese between two corn tortillas) and the Frijol Super-Rica (pinto beans cooked with chorizo, bacon and chile).
Then there was the tempting Super-Rica Especial (roasted chile pasilla, cheese and marinated pork on three tortillas) and the Tocino Especial (cheese fondue with bacon and corn tortillas). Decisions, decisions.
While waiting we also amused ourselves by watching the crew in the open kitchen prepare the ingredients. Some were busy rolling out tortillas, others were grilling, slicing, sautéing. And then there was the sound of rhythmic chopping audible even from the dining tables. If ever there was a restaurant with chopping as a soundtrack, this was it.
Finally when it was our turn, a white-haired gentleman with courtly manners patiently wrote down our orders. My daughter Pia and I settled for the taco de bistek, two soft corn tortillas generously laden with grilled strips of beef.
The beef was tender and flavorful, seasoned delicately with just enough spices to give it some kick. I smothered the tortilla with my favorite sauces, an unlimited supply of which customers could scoop up from a bin on the counter: pico de gallo (chopped fresh tomatoes, onions and cilantro) and guacamole (mashed avocados seasoned with lime, salt, pepper and chilies).
It was heavenly, a far cry from the pedestrian ground-beef taco served in fast food stalls. Although it was filling enough, I wasn’t about to pass up on the queso de cazuela, melted, gooey cheese served with homemade tomato sauce and fresh tortillas.
My other daughter Lisa ordered the adobado (grilled marinated pork), while my husband Toti had the taco de chorizo (the chorizo was slightly spicier than the Spanish ones we’re used to). Both were served with soft, chewy tortillas freshly rolled by the busy crew in the open kitchen.
As satisfying as the food was, we made sure to order cold drinks, too. It was a must—to quench the thirst sparked by the spicy tacos. Luckily there were several drinks available, from lemon ice tea to Snapple and kiwi strawberry, from Mexican coke to Budweiser beer. After some thought we asked for watermelon juice, which was delightful and refreshing.
This may not be the plush Mexican restaurant with the elegant ambiance food snobs would expect, but it serves honest, hearty dishes—and at reasonable prices, too. Tacos were $2.95 per order, the quezo de casuela $4.95 and the chorizo especial $5.95. About the most expensive was the Super Rica Especial, which was $8.90.
Good old Julia Child. It was just like her to choose a place that makes good food accessible to everyone. And if it was good enough for Julia, it was certainly good enough for us, too. Thank you, Julia. Your rich culinary legacy lives on.
Pico de Gallo
A friend gave me the recipe for this tangy salsa several years ago. I have since tweaked it a little—by adding a bit of sugar to the mix. The sugar balances the heat of the chili and the pungent taste of the onion. For those who love cilantro, you can use as much of it as you like.
- 6 medium-size ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1 medium-size onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro (wansoy) leaves (or more, if desired)
- 1 small bird’s-eye chili (siling labuyo), cut into small pieces (remove seeds for less heat)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Juice of one lime or lemon
In a medium-size bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, chili and garlic. Stir to mix well. Sprinkle in the sugar then season with salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze in the juice of one lime. Mix well. Chill before serving.
La Super-Rica Taqueria is at 622 N. Milpas Street, Santa Barbara, California, USA.