Baca Boys in the Barrio
Lost and found in Burque’s Downtown
In that state of hunger—where becoming economically as well as gastronomically satiated is de rigueur—some streets seem to bend back upon themselves surreally or just lurch and loom near the ruins of foggy restaurants vaguely remembered but no longer extant. Though I sometimes end up hangry and disconsolate after such excursions, the whole dang thing works out once in a while, just like I am about to tell you.
I am constantly in search of a decent, budget-priced meal in Downtown. I’m tired of having to let a Hamilton fly blithely out of my pocket every time I stop for a sandwich, burrito or Styrofoam-bound order of Chinese chicken in the area bounded by Lomas and Central and First and Sixth Street. Due to this thrifty inclination, you might have seen me recently as I tried to carry back a load of those pre-boxed, over-cooked pizza slices from 7-Eleven—known to those in my clique as ambrosia—back to the office for further inspection. At $1.39 a slice, it’s a helluva treasure to tromp back to Alibi Headquarters with, and it fills the gut nicely, too.
Anywho, the mall is gone, the street that replaced it is busy and business has crept into the area. A vape shop, an art gallery and a number of diners have arrived to scrape up feria from those who pass by, whether lost or determined, to engage the local market.
Baca Boys Café happened to appear practically out of nowhere. It turns out, says owner Susie Baca, to have manifested itself about two and half months ago. That’s when the ZS & T’s Diner, near San Mateo and Menaul, pulled up stakes and headed for a more promising parcel in the middle of all that action happening Downtown. With a slew of local businesses and hungry employees in the immediate area, Baca felt it was a good move.
I certainly didn’t argue her point the first time through the doors; instead, I lavished love and attention on the handheld breakfast burrito ($4) Baca served up to me—hot and fresh—minutes after I ordered it. Stuffed with a heady and wholesome combination of farm-fresh scrambled eggs, red chile that was piquant but slightly sweet and sage-inflected sausage that added heft, texture and taste to the half-pound tortilla-wrapped concoction, I savored not only the deliciousness of that feisty burro, but also its totally awesome and affordable price.
Smiling and satisfied, I told Susie I’d be back to review the joint. The next Monday, company credit card and press credentials in hand, I ambled about a block and a half, nodded to the management and sat down to give the place a thorough going over.
I started off with chips and salsa, as the quality therein can serve as an accurate gauge of what’s to come, vittles-wise. Though the chips seemed of the store-bought variety, the salsa was very tasty, with just the right amount of oregano and garlic added to give the sauce a kick that caused me to dip chip after chip into it with a voracious, heat-seaking passion.
For lunch I ordered an old favorite of my father’s: steak and enchiladas ($10.95), a rancher’s meal if there ever was one. I chose calabacitas as a side dish, knowing full well of the rarity of such an offering; sautéed squash, onions and corn may be alluring to traditionalists and native New Mexicans but I don’t think it plays well with turistas or the Nuevo Mexicano-naïve. They’ll always choose rice because it’s safer.
Complemented with freshly-made, whole pinto beans and an ample but not overwhelming amount of cheese—with a small garnish of fresh tomatoes and lettuce on the side, which is how it should be, damn it—the steak was a perfect combination of buttery texture and smoky flavor.
And the calabacitas? It totally rocked. Cut into smaller bits than my family’s own iteration, it was firm, pleasantly chewy and balanced in flavor between a distinct green vegetable essence and the subtle, earthy taste of sautéed onions.
I do have to report that the tortillas could use some improving upon. Small, tasty and grilled is good but big and fresh is better; that’s something I’d like to tell the otherwise outstanding kitchen staff.
The other thing I have to report is the diners at the next table. And their fajitas. They ordered two fajita plates ($12.95 ea.). When all that sizzling and spicy smelling meat arrived at their table, I could not believe what an epicurean turn-on the aroma evoked in me. I was literally beside myself after all that happened. And before I was served, the woman who ordered the beef fajitas looked over at me lasciviously just as she dug in to her lonche. Serio.
So, after I had sated myself, after I no longer felt lost in the city and was comfortable, I had dessert, of course. Natillas ($3.95) and flan ($3.95) are homemade at Baca Boys Café. I chose natillas; it was impressive. The traditional pudding was served in a gratefully over-large bowl, garnished with a sliced strawberry (damn good) and a rabbit-shaped biscocho (yow!). The dessert was tremendous, with cinnamon and vanilla flavors abounding. The pudding was a perfect summation of an overwhelmingly positive gastronomic adventure.
Afterwards, I slithered out the front door, toward the next building or calle or club, an aging and well fed reptile muttering over and over to himself, “Not all who wander are lost, not all who wander are lost…”
102 Fourth Street NW
Hours: Mon-Fri, 7am-4pm, Sat-Sun 8am-4pm
Vibe: Don’t wait a minute more, go Downtown!
Alibi Recommends: Handheld breakfast burrito, steak and enchiladas, Beef fajitas, natillas