Food to Die For
Once around the block and just like magic, a parking place appears where there was none a mere moment ago. A good sign, I’m thinking.
The sidewalk glistens in that dull, wet cement sort of way, courtesy of the streetlights and a mid-February drizzle. I make my way up the street, scanning the numbers on the doors. In less than 50 paces I find 5905 Airport Way, just another Georgetown storefront, with nothing to distinguish it from its neighbors but a glaring lack of anything luminescent, fluorescent or otherwise visually loud. Except for a waist-high, lace curtain of multi-colored paper cut-outs, cavorting muertos encircling the expanse of plate glass facing the street. The cast of animated, grinning skeletons goes about “life” with a unbridled mirth that the living seldom muster. On the glass door, a hand-painted sign modestly states “Fonda la Catrina.” Not quite your basic beer neons. I’m getting a good feeling.
Reaching for the door, eyes sidestepping the reflections in the glass, I see that the place is packed with living, breathing, eating, drinking people who seem to be having nearly as much fun as the dead dancing by the windows. Hmm. So far so good.
I open the door, step inside, inhale. Oh, my. This is good. Who knew that heaven could smell so fine? So deliciously…earthy? We’re talking tortillas, real tortillas. And spices, chiles, limes -- maybe a little spilled beer and a drop or two of quality tequila. No wonder the muertos seem so damned happy.
The menu and the list of potables are concise but so lusciously appealing from top to bottom that I want one of everything. A wise person recently told me: “You can have everything, just not all at once.” So much the better. I can already envision becoming a “regular” here. So I order an IPA (thinking later that perhaps a Carta Blanca might’ve been just a tad better, but …) and start at the top of the menu with the Sopa de Garbanzos. It’s delicious, a heady whirl of tomatoes, coriander, ancho and pasilla chiles making a bright complement to the garbanzos. Next to me at the bar, plates of enchiladas verdes and an array of tacos arrive, followed by exclamations, oohs and aaahs of satisfaction.
Though my restraint is severely tested, the aromas permit me to taste vicariously. While these dishes have the vibrancy of Oaxacan cuisine, there’s a subtler interplay of flavors, a nuanced sort of richness that’s probably been simmering for millennia. Beyond that, there’s no fuss, no fancy-pants, self-aggrandizing bs about this food. It’s the kind of food that’s meant to sustain life, while turning the daily, necessary act of sustenance into a celebration. It’s the kind of food that makes a person damned glad to be alive to eat, to share with friend over a beer, a glass of wine and maybe a drop of mezcal or three. It’s real.
The prospect of tomorrow’s early alarm bolsters my resolve to be moderate. I’m out the door and into the heart of Saturday night, knowing full well that I can’t long resist the call of Alambre or Cochinita Pibil tacos, or Pollo Enchilado, Puerco en Salsa Verde or Rajas con Crema Y Papas. I’ll be back, that’s for sure. This is food to die for.
Fonda La Catrina
5905 Airport Way S.