Thursday, January 14, 1999
When Rosa Sanchez came to live in California in 1986, she and her husband immediately began looking for their kind of Mexican food. Coming from the lovely coastal area of Nayarit, where long, sandy beaches line the shore in the state of Jalisco, Rosa missed the sort of bold, spicy cuisine that she grew up with. "We most wanted to find that flavor," Rosa recalled. "Finally, I said to my husband, ''Why look for our kind of Mexican food, when I know how to cook?''"
After working for seven years in Carmel as a waitress, Rosa was ready to take on the right opportunity when it presented itself. She opened La Villa Taqueria in July 1996, and smiles with the satisfaction that she has, at first single-handedly, developed a steady business. "It''s been good since the beginning," she attests. "At first there were many 18-hour days, but now I have help, and business is good."
The little caf sits just off the busy intersection of Del Monte Boulevard and Broadway Avenue in Seaside, its brightly colored exterior and south-of-the-border jukebox strains signaling a cozy invitation. Rosa enthusiastically lifts the lids for a peek into all of her several sturdy pots, simmering away on the stove. "This is birria," she explains. "I use tri-tip because it''s nice and tender." Inside, chunks of beef gently braise under an enticing layer of fresh chiles, tomatoes, onions and garlic. "Over here are tamales," she motions, the aroma that escapes bringing with it the sweet essence of corn from the masa, filled with shredded pork. "And here is the pork, al pastor," a heady blend of fresh California chiles, oregano, bay leaves, and cloves promises good things to come, after the meat is barbequed.
The realization that the gringo perception of Mexican food is limited, at best, is the pervasive certainty when Rosa''s kitchen tour is complete. While chile rellenos (made from scratch, from fresh chiles) enchiladas, tacos and quesadillas might all be familiar fare, trying out one of the daily specials offers a great introduction to try something new, like the pepian chicken, cooked in a sauce of pumpkin seeds and peppers. "The suegra is also popular," Rosa laughs. "In Spanish, it means ''mother-in-law,'' because it''s fat and spicy." Handmade gorditas are griddled and filled with beans, smoky hot salsa, chunks of pork, nopales and cheese.
Sopes are similar to gorditas, but are deep-fried, and at La Villa they receive a pork filling with tomatoes, onions, hot salsa and a crust of Parmesan cheese. "The cheese we use in Mexico is very similar to Parmesan cheese that we get here," says Rosa. And it''s okay to bring an appetite, since the menu promises that an order of sopes ''is (enough) for two macho men.'' "You should see sometimes on weekends," she confides. "I have a lady that comes to make fresh tortillas, and the men can''t get enough of them!"
Also on Saturdays and Sundays, the legendary cure-in-a-bowl for the excesses of the night before, menudo is a preferred dish when La Villa opens early for breakfast. Fresh seafood is also on the weekend menu, with oysters served on the half shell with lime, and shrimp Nayarit, a spicy, Mexican-style scampi.
Several cervezas and sangria are available, but don''t miss out on the house beverage, a delicious juiced cantaloupe concoction with a twist of lime, and a refreshing complement to the authentic, spicy flavors that Rosa Sanchez brought with her from Jalisco. cw