Only have a minute? Listen instead
BROWNSVILLE – There’s a hot stretch of road along a less traveled part of the city where a small restaurant grabs my attention with its bright yellow facade and colorful signs.
It’s easy to miss Mexican Bites on Central Boulevard, nestled as it is next to a motel and a line-up of independently-owned cafes, but something about the bright yellow with signs offering menudo, pozole, tacos and birria compels me to stop and investigate.
Inside I find a sprawling dining room filled with calm and refreshing silences and aromas of all manner of food lingering after the noon rush hour, and I choose a table against a far wall.
A waitress immediately greets me; waiters and waitresses in such places always come directly to my table with a smile and an attentive manner I always appreciate. She brings me a menu and a tall glass of water.
I look over the menu and see that, true to the name of this charming place, all sorts of delightful “Mexican Bites” await my discovery: chile relleno, mole con pollo (my favorite Mexican dish), panchos, nopalitos con carne.
It’s all very enticing, and I can’t make up my mind. I ask the waitress what kind of specials are available, and she describes a plate I can’t remember later except it is very good. The plate comes with two enchiladas and generous morsels of meat and refried beans and corn tortillas which I consume slowly to savor every bite.
Although the rush hour for lunch has passed, customers still occupy several tables. A woman and her mother enjoy their meal and their quiet conversation, and three men wearing red “Bill Tipton” shirts talk over their meals. There’s the clamorous clashing of plates and the hum of ventilation; the ceiling fans cause the papel picado hanging from a beam to do a slow and bucolic afternoon dance.
I welcome this calm and the coolness and the colorful ceramic butterflies sweeping up a wall next to a widescreen TV where the feverish vitality of a Mexican soap opera plays uninterrupted, and it’s not so loud that it breaks the calmness and the silences but it is loud enough to have its subtle and invigorating effect. Calm and invigoration are a fine pairing when in their right proportions.
I appreciate this fine refuge from the heat, and I also appreciate the renewal of my senses and the return of my culinary explorations. As anyone who has experienced COVID can agree, it’s a nasty disease that can pack a punch and put all plans and responsibilities on an indefinite hold while you languish in bed for days and perhaps weeks or even months waiting for it to end.
In my case I had to wait only a little more than a week for my tortures to pass, but it was most devastating for a time as I wondered what would happen and how long it would last. And now I’m here in this fine place enjoying good food and good company. I don’t know anyone here, but anytime I’m in a restaurant with people at their tables enjoying a fine meal, I consider them my company. There are few things more desolate than an empty restaurant after the rush hour has finished.
I say the rush hour has finished but yet tables are occupied, and customers keep arriving while others leave. At first I think it’s because of the motel but really these are local people familiar with the place and the food and the staff.
I generally don’t like to head off to an assignment in the early hours of the day, but the following morning I’m exciting to grab my notepad and my backpack and head off to Brownsville for breakfast.
This morning one of the specials is a “guayin.” I’ve never heard of a guayin, and the waitress explains it’s “kind of an omelet” beans and ham. That’s my order this morning, and a few minutes later I’m devouring my “guayin” with eager zest as I wrap morsels in warm corn tortillas.
The guayin still seems more like an omelet to me, but guayin or omelet, it’s all very good and a fine way to start my day.