La Hacienda a grand portrait of flavor and experience in San Benito

La Hacienda has been a popular destination for years and the food and service are fabulous.

SAN BENITO — I’ve been out driving throughout the day, my trips taking me several times through the center of the city.

After several passes, I notice La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant sitting right on the curb of Sam Houston Boulevard. I am struck by its character, the colors and textures of its portrait. Someone has created a fine presentation to the passing motorists and pedestrians, and this first visual impression of La Hacienda is certainly a good one.

I determined at that moment that I must discover the substance behind this surface, and return in the evening of that same day. It’s dark now, and as I travel the streets amid all the slowing down and decelerating and the cooling down of things I observe many restaurants on this Sunday night have already closed.

I wonder for a moment if I will meet La Hacienda tonight, and upon arrival a bright light announces its availability while a man leaves with a carryout box, and cars in the broad parking lot tell me I won’t eat alone. I don’t like eating alone as I used to. I look forward to a room of people which had texture and realization to a restaurant’s portrait and personality.

La Hacienda menu from La Hacienda in San Benito. (Travis M. Whitehead | Valley Morning Star)

As I walk toward the restaurant, airborne flavors send their declarations on the night breezes and pull me through the doors. I take a table next to the wall and observe the people in their casual demeanor, the caps and T-shirts and worn work clothes and the tired faces seeking to savor the last moments of the passing weekend, avoiding an awareness of the approaching week.

The time of leisure will end soon, but here in La Hacienda everyone can savor a quiet moment without thoughts of tomorrow. They enjoy a time glorious in its simplicity when they can savor passionate flavors while conversing and with friends and strangers about nothing in particular. This is the finest kind of conversation, the kind that needs no direction or justification, the kind that serves the greater vitality of camaraderie and connection and validation of life.

I order the fajita nachos with the avocado slices, the melted cheese and chips, and a few minutes later a plate stocked with food arrives in front of me. I enjoy this fine meal and continue enjoying it the following day after bringing it home in a box.

Later in the week I come in for lunch. I’m surprised it isn’t packed — only a few diners eat while lost in the dreamier places of silence and reflection. La Hacienda has been a popular destination for years and the food and service are fabulous. I obviously have missed the lunch crowd — and I do wish I hadn’t missed it, as I’ve found lately that the clientele of a place reveals its personality. In absence of that, I have time and quietness to absorb and ponder the place on my own terms which of course brings a new kind of experience.

I order the alambre asado and listen to the playful conjunto and the squeeze box and the vocals. The waitress brings me chips and iced water (they don’t serve coffee) and a waiter brings a bowl of beans which are very good.

The Mexican scenes along the wall against a backdrop of canary yellow take me to the towns and villages I’ve explored, and I see the cathedrals and the papel picado and the gardens and some of them are unmistakably Guanajuato.

The photos send me back to that fine week I spent in that enchanting city years ago, the festivities of a religious holiday and the feathered Aztec dancers and the serpentine tunnels and the woman selling chicharrones.

Fajita plate from La Hacienda in San Benito. (Travis M. Whitehead | Valley Morning Star)

I remember the bougainvillea cascading over balconies and the famous Callejon del Beso and wishing for a moment that I had someone with whom to share it, and then switching gears to the legend of the young prince leaning across to kiss his beloved, only to have her father appear in a rage and end their lives. At least that’s one version. Certainly there are many.

The story says the ghosts of those two lovers still wander through the “Streets of Guanajuato.” I think of Lola Beltran’s eloquent performance of the song of that name. I remember during my time there the fascination of the cobblestone streets and thinking it wonderful that I was walking on the same cobblestones as the Spaniards and silver miners of long ago, only to discover sometime later that those cobblestones are periodically replaced to keep the city nice and “historic” looking.

I think of the juxtaposition of two very different places, a San Benito restaurant with the Streets of Guanajuato, two personalities with different life stories and demeanors facing off not in competition but in camaraderie. They’re both part of the same tapestry of existence, and here I am having lunch with both of them.

The meal is delicious, with hot corn tortillas and fresh fajita meat, it’s a great way to meet up with an old friend, Guanajuato, while getting acquainted with La Hacienda in San Benito.

La Hacienda is located at 485 S. Sam Houston Blvd. in San Benito and opens from 11 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.