Lunch in the ‘hood

For a few months now I have wanted to eat at a Mexican restaurant only a block or so from our church because I have read really good reviews. It’s a hole-in-the-wall place where the owner also does the waitstaff and cooking duties. It’s attached to an old, run-down motel that gets sketchy trade in a neighborhood that is known for crime. This was once prime city real estate but the good days are long gone. The buildings and parking lots are well worn. The people who live in the area are there because they are on some sort of government program, many on the first step out of homelessness.

Today, after a funeral at our church, Terry and I made our way to La Enchilada for lunch. There were a number of people already eating there. The phone was ringing. People were picking up orders to go. We had to wait a bit to get menus and the owner/waiter/cook explained that it would be awhile before our food would be served as it was very busy. We told him we weren’t in any hurry as we had no where else to be today. The luxury of retirement. I could not have said that five years ago when every minute of my weekend was filled with chores.

It was over a half hour before our meals came out of the kitchen where one other cook was working. While waiting we watched homeless people shuffle by with all they owned stuffed in plastic bags. We saw prostitutes coming and going from the motel in their skin-tight clothing, ridiculously high heeled shoes, and painted faces. We occasionally saw the very poor who are living in the motel come out and set off on foot, looking worn out before even getting started.

Terry and I had both ordered burritos. Mine with carnitas; Terry’s made with carne asada. They were stuffed with beans, avocado, tomato, cilantro, sour cream, and in Terry’s, rice. I couldn’t eat all of mine so Terry finished it off and left about 1/3 of his to take home. A big family of grandparents, parents, and three children came in to fill a corner booth as the waiter/owner/cook brought our ticket and explained how he had deducted half the price of one burrito because we had to wait so long. Terry and I were incredulous.

As I waited, money in hand, at the cash register, to pay our bill and get some foil for Terry’s leftovers, I perused the wall behind the counter. The owner runs tabs for people. They pay when they can. He notes all of this by hand. When he was finally able to get to me, I handed him the money and told him I didn’t need change and to use the remainder to pay for someone else’s meal.

I pointed towards that wall of chits and said, “I gather you get hungry people in here who can’t pay.”

He nodded, shyly, and said, “yes, but you shouldn’t leave that much.”

Oh yes, I should. I’m grateful for people like this man who feeds the neighborhood where many are afraid to tread. I’m hoping we can return soon for another burrito.

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8 responses to “Lunch in the ‘hood

  1. You told this story so well! You expressed your feelings so that I could be there, too. You did the right thing for that wonderful man. Thanks for the uplifting story.

  2. What a win-win. You got a delicious meal AND a chance to do a good deed.

  3. what a wonderful story, love this!

  4. Ditto. What a loving story.

  5. Thanks for dropping by my blog. Lovely to get a comment from a new name.

    I loved this post—I spent my first three years in the States in Los Angeles and it didn’t take me long to get to love Mexican food.

  6. Great story. Those hole in the wall eateries have some of the best Mexican food I’ve happened upon.

  7. I have been away from blogging for a number of days and have enjoyed catching up a bit on your posts. This one is a welcomed glance at how not so ordinary folks quietly make a difference..

  8. Here’s where the “leaping tall buildings” part of your “About.me” comes in. Together, that restaurant owner and patrons such as you are leaping tall buildings, making a difference.

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