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Friday, June 26, 2009

EL CHARRITO--AUTHENTIC MEXICAN FOOD IN TEXAS

I-35 running through the hill country of Texas cannot be mistaken for a rural New York road. Passing Georgetown's Del Webb's Sun City and other new subdivisions, it quickly becomes a road where cacti bloom on the fringe and arched entrances announce the names of the ranches they guard—Rancho Guadalupe for instance. Little towns like Florence, Texas reflect the Mexican influence on the area, and it is in Florence that Rob and I stop for lunch at El Charitto. El Charitto, we expect, will be true to its menu’s proclamation and offer authentic Mexican food.

Modestly decorated, El Charitto’s tables are filled with local diners—a good sign—for there are couples at some tables and cowboys at others. We are painfully obvious outsiders. This is definitely a land of cowboy boots, dusty jeans, western-cut shirts, and cowboy hats. I love it!

El Charitto's menu is expansive, and as the waiter brings orders to neighboring tables, we can see how tantalizing everything looks. We try to narrow down our selections—keeping away from the normal fare of a New York Mexican restaurant. As we choose, a massive bowl of fresh chips still warm from the making is brought with a bowl of tempting salsa—a tomato and spice mixture that packs a zing without the breath-stealing hotness. Delicious.

Rob and I are still discussing the possible choices when our waitress comes to take our order. She directs us to the back of the menu which lists the daily luncheon special, and in one minute, our choice is made; Thursday’s special is enchiladas tejanas—one of the possibilities we had already selected.

Enchiladas tejanas—two enchiladas, (choice of cheese, beef, or chicken) topped with homemade chili and shredded cheese. It is served with rice, refried beans, a chopped salad, and homemade guacamole. It arrives on a big, oval dish. It's beautiful.

The enchiladas are perfect. The chili is hearty and delicious. Surprisingly the chili does not overpower the taste of the enchiladas, and the blending of flavor offers a unique, robust dish. The enchiladas are not so thin that they fall apart under the influence of fillings and sauce nor are they so thick that they are tough. The Spanish rice is still moist with a hint of tomato and spice. Lovely. I haven't had refried beans in a while, but these are smooth and creamy. Exquisito. The guacamole is fresh and chunky. It was a bit too oniony for my taste, so I push some of the onion aside and enjoy it. The chopped salad, primarily a mixture of tomato, onion, and green pepper is delightfully flavored with cilantro—one of Rob's favorites. Again, a simple delicacy.

Sometime mid meal, a waiter brings another bowl of salsa, and we continue with it. It is delicious.

In fact, the service is excellent. Our water glasses are re-filled, and we are asked several times if there is anything else we wish.

I also like the decor—the walls, the pictures of the owner's sons in traditional Mexican dress, and the other suggestions of another culture. OK—I was into that Texas state of mind again. I love the fact that we are the only sedan in the parking lot; the rest of the vehicles are pickup trucks. I love the fact that the man walking past our table is wearing scuffed cowboy boots, dusty button down jeans, and a western cut shirt. He is carrying his cowboy hat. I love the fact that a group of men come in talking Spanish and all looking as if they just came off one of the ranches we passed on I-195.

Rob and I leave satisfied in many ways. Florence, Texas is a great little Texan town on a long, winding road. El Charrito mirrors the wonderful cultural mix that is Texas. Lunch was super! We are just beginning our visit. Certainly we are off to an auspicious start.

As a postscript let me add, that we timed our departure to Austin's airport so we could stop at El Charitto for lunch again. It was great the second time around!




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