There’s not much that pleases us more than finding a little, family-run restaurant that serves good ethnic food. And we’ve found just such a spot on Cherokee Street. There’s not much decor beyond some freshly painted walls in warm, pleasing colors. And the smile from one of the teenaged daughters who tells you to sit anywhere you like is even warmer. It’s a very simple spot, a neighborhood sort of place, but they seem comfortable with visitors like us. It’s casual to the point of a serve-yourself table for the three salsas, all obviously homemade. Which of the three was the hottest? That varied from visit to visit, but we liked both the one made with roasted peppers and the one with lots of cilantro.
The menu is fairly short, without much emphasis on the tacos and burritos that some such places have. They’re there, of course. We had a soft taco with barbecue, or barbacoa, lovely shredded beef full of juice and flavor, and a chicken tostada–they were out of the seafood on the menu–with beans and avocado as well as the expected lettuce and tomato. Gorditas are made from fat tortillas that always make us wonder if they were hand-patted, about half as thick as an English muffin and about that diameter. The tortilla is split and stuffed with a variety of fillings, including our choice, chiccharones. Most of the time, one thinks of chiccharones as "cracklin’s," the crispy bits of fried-up pork fat that serve as a snack or appetizer. But that’s not the case here, where the small pieces of fat are stewed in a savory sauce. They’re just a little chewy, but tasty; the impression was not of greasiness but of richness. In fact, it may have been the single richest thing we’ve ever tasted in a Mexican restaurant. It’s not difficult to see it as a dish to help someone through a long, hard day’s work.
Birria (below) at the House of the Turtle is certainly slow-cooked, beef that’s falling-apart tender, with a pleasant but not overwhelming degree of hotness. The refried beans alongside were a little different in that they were a lighter color than usual; we think it may have been part white beans and part pinto, since the flavor was not as earthy as pinto usually is. Menudo, served with chopped white onion, oregano and minced chiles to be added as desired, was very traditional, its clear broth deeply flavored from the tripe. Interestingly, there was no posole, or hominy, the first time we’ve seen that. Good, but not as good as that birria.
Also a winner, and a real surprise was the enchiladas Michoacan style. The plate arrives with a leg quarter of a chicken sitting alongside a tangle of lettuce, tomatoes and a drizzle of crema, Mexican sour cream atop the enchiladas. The chicken had miraculously crisp skin and a very tender interior. If it had been duck, we’d have thought it was confit. The enchiladas were filled with cheese, topped with an excellent sauce showing a medium amount of heat. The real surprise was a showering of potatoes, diced, sauteed and seasoned with something that left them the color of carrots, over the enchiladas. The combination was swell.
Dessert is flan or tres leches cake. The latter certainly tasted homemade, the milk-soaked cake cool and surprisingly unsweet except for a thin layer of strawberry jam spread across the yellow cake, the kind of Mom touch that epitomizes this sweet little spot.
2817 Cherokee St.
Lunch & Dinner Thurs.-Tues.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair