Monday, May 18, 2015

A Headbangers Day Out: Metal Mark explores South 6th Avenue!

“What’s the big deal,” you might ask. “Lots of people go to south 6th avenue all the time. So what if you did? Big whoop. This article is lame. The stupid Homeskillet should have stayed dead. Nice work Metal Mark!”

Okay, the big deal for me travelling out for a day to explore the eateries and fooderies of south 6th avenue is thus: I honestly don’t get out much. For realizes. If I’m not on some assignment or am meeting someone or have to get my leg amputated at a specific location that is out of my, say, 2 or 3 mile comfort zone, you can usually find me somewhere midtown Tucson hiding at home or in a neighborhood bar. That’s it. My day job is within a 15 minute walking distance from home, my wife’s job is the same, our friend’s bar is up the street; there are good burgers and tacos within spitting distance and downtown Tucson just bores and annoys me.  So why leave?

Well, after much razzing from friends and coworkers asking me if I had been to this taqueria on 6th or have you been to this place on 6th or did you get a cake at so and so on 6th or can you drive my grandpa to this brothel on 6th because it’s his birthday and Shelly (the one with the red hair and gout) only works Thursday afternoons so can you do me a solid?, I just decided to hop into our trusty hooptie one day in search of the perfect taco and see what all the fuss was all about. On south 6th avenue. But it’s so far away!
Alright fine….I’ll do it.

Okay, first order on hand was to get things in order. I mapped out my route that would thrust me into the depths of Mexican food heaven, according to various pals and reviews on Yelp and Urbanspoon, then made sure I had enough cash, picked out which pair of black hightop Vans I would wear (I chose the slightly older ones with scuff marks from a recent DRI show at The Rock because I knew I was going into some possible questionable territory or at least an area that I assumed was “Tucson casual”) and got in the car.

My first stop was a well-received food truck called Taco Fish (corner of Grant and 6th on a dirt lot across the street from some used tool depot) mainly because I really hated the name so much. I mean….Taco Fish? Maybe I’ll start my own roach coach and call it Burger Beef or Pizza Cheese or something dumb like that. But relying on the raves from random Yelpers I just had to find out for myself what all the talk was about. So I did what I always do to a new place: I ordered the signature dish.

A beautiful day for some deep fried fish tacos!

“Two tacos de pescado please!” Um, that would be the fish tacos if you don’t speak en espanol. Not long after my order did I receive a heavy cardboard bowl crammed with two fish tacos piled high with slaw. I added some heat from the salsa bar in the center of the cafeteria area and dug in.

So cheap. So good...

Oh. Oh yeah. I see what you guys on food review sites are talking about. The fish, pacific cod, was deep fried to absolute perfection, breaded and seasoned simply and fantastically with a bright vinegar slaw that brought it all together. It was right then and there that I felt bad for hating on the food cart’s name so much and decided that I would be a forever devotee to all things Taco Fish.

I could have eaten like 12 of these things...

The tacos were so good I really wanted to eat the second one, but knowing I still had a full day of sampling south 6th avenue food ahead of me and the fact that sharing means caring, I wrapped the other one up and delivered it to my wife She-Ra up at Old Chicago on Campbell Ave. She was busy and would have to eat it later, which made me feel bad because something this fresh and divinely fried should be eaten immediately. So I scampered off, back onto 6th avenue, driving toward my next destination.

(An hour later I would get a text that read “OMG. Even after an hour this taco is the shit!” There just might be a little magic in that old fish taco after all…)

A few miles down the 6th avenue stretch, I finally came to Taqueria Pico de Gallo (2618 South 6th Ave) and was very excited to sample their goods. Now this place has been embedded in me that the food here is amazing. Over and over folks have convinced me that the tacos at Pico de Gallo were some of the best in Tucson, if not Arizona. Reliable sources mind you, not just some Johnny come dorkly who thinks Hot Pockets are “kind of like tacos….if you think about it”, but those who know food and know how to eat it. So I went in, ordered three tacos (pork, chicken and beef) and waited patiently yet with a flutter of giddy anticipation.

Okay. Looks promising...

First off, Pico de Gallo is a fairly unassuming place. The exterior basically matches the interior: no non-sense, down home, utilitarian yet kind of funky. What was immediately arresting upon entering was the comeliness of the girl behind the counter who took my order. It seemed that the low tech atmosphere of the place did no service to the product which has to be quite fiscally abundant in order to attract someone that was, well, that attractive. I’ve only seen girls that structurally “hot” in busy corporate sports bars or  cafes next to a Latina modelling agency. I felt like an old perv at times when I caught a glimpse of her, so I tried to divert my attention by looking around or pretending to check my phone.

The tacos finally arrived, I grabbed a table and went for it. The first bite of the chicken taco wasn’t….bad, but it wasn’t great. So I bit into the beef taco. Okay. Nothing to write my mom about using a quill and parchment paper to be sent by carrier bird, but okay. Then the pork. Kind of the same. Each had a distinct flavor, of course, seeing as they are all different proteins, but there wasn’t a real sock to the jaw and tongue pizazz that I was sort of expecting. They tasted like tacos. Just tacos. The salsa was decent pico de gallo and the tortillas were nice, but that was really about it.

Should've had those 12 fish tacos instead...

Was I full of preamble hype about the food at Pico de Gallo, enough for me to make assumptions that, no matter what, the tacos here are mind blowing and will encourage me to get on a bended knee, propose to the (much too young for me) pretty girl on the other side of the counter and risk getting murdered by She-Ra because the flavor is just that fantastic? Maybe. But I also think that some kids out there like their tacos like this: good and safe. Perhaps I came on an off day, one where the chef was like “You know what I hate doing? Making tacos. So instead of pouring my heart into the construction of the perfect taco, I’m serving up straight bullshit today.”

And the bullshit was pretty good. It just wasn’t great. Sorry Pico de Gallo, especially you la chica picante counter mujer. If you’re reading this, don’t tell my wife.

Now, if any of you know me, you might know that I have a serious love for Food City. For those that don’t know, Food City is an Arizona chain of supermarkets with the Latino community as their focus, with great deals, awesome produce and specialty products you probably will not find at major corporate markets. Like Fud. Do you know what Fud is? It’s a brand of cotija cheese. Wait, do you know what cotija cheese is? Than why are you reading this silly blog? Go to Food City, get some Fud and sprinkle that stuff all over your tacos and enchiladas. Trust me here. The Homeskillet will still be here when you’re done.


Thing is, Food City sells their own brand of tortillas, ones that I have been eating regularly since moving to Tucson ten years ago from California, and there is only one place where they make it. Can you guess where it is? Don’t you love reading dumb blogs that ask even dumber questions? Like I’m here writing this, asking the question and then waiting to get your answer as if the internet and my laptop have some kind of time portal connection and I hear you answer “Huh?” like that book Harry Potter wrote in to talk to Tom Riddle. Wait, where is this going? Ah yes.

That’s right; it’s the big Food City on South 6th Avenue (2950 S. 6th Avenue)! For me, coming to the main store in Tucson was like visiting the holy temple of hot peppers and deep fried pork skin, aka chicharrones. It was like I was home. A big home blasting Tejano music where sketchy banditos were buying cheap cases of Tecate, unattended children ran rampant eating bags of gummy chili sprinkled candy and this old bent woman was singing some Spanish song loudly to a woman who was bagging up bunches of cilantro. You don’t get action like this at Safeway or Albertsons. To me, Food City is like a Piggly Wiggly gone mad on tequila, who knocked up your sister then decided to serve up reasonable products at a reasonable rate while jamming to Los Tigres del Norte.

Excuse me....are you hiring?

There’s nothing big to report here. I just like Food City and watching the tortillas being made right before me just got me to thinking: I will be eating you soon my flat round little buddies. Oh yes. Soon. Maybe I’ll just climb over the wall here, grab a few then… Oh hello mister security guard. Me? Nope. Just taking some pictures of the tortillas. And then moving along…

Marinated pollo el Food City? Si por favor!

Here’s the thing. I have a bunch of Latino pals and those that know and appreciate my affection for Food City hipped me to an even greater mecca on south 6th: El Super.

“You’ve never been to El Super?”, my buddy asked, sounding confused. “Dude, if you like Food City so much, you need to make a pilgrimage to El Super homes. It’s like a ghetto AJ’s (a very upscale expensive supermarket with sushi chefs and sommeliers running around in ambient light) but instead of a fancy wine list you can get like bags of pigs feet for a dollar.”

Why did I not know about this place?

A ghetto AJ’s? Pigs feet for a dollar? Sir….you had me at El.

And he wasn’t kidding! El Super (3372 S, 6th Ave) is indeed a bustling haven for Mexican food, products, produce and people. Literally, I was the only Caucasian there and that alone made me feel at ease knowing I was in for an authentic treat. The meat and fish counter were sprawling and glistening, hot pork rinds simmered under ancient heat lamps, rows and rows of pickled and bottled who knows what the heck that is and a produce section that rivals any Food City I’ve ever been to. Sorry Food City, I still love you and all but…El Super has a cheese lady doling out free samples of queso so, please don’t take it too personal.

Come to papi...

El Super actually reminded me of a Latino version of HEB (, this incredible supermarket in Texas that I dream about when I am away from, which is quite often sadly enough. HEB has food demos going at all hours, have their own sushi counter (but not as stuck up as whack ass AJ’s) and just plumes with a certain life that can only come from a store so packed with endless possibilities one wonders if the dream ever come to an end. I certainly hope not. El Super is just that kind of radness which is why I felt so welcome there.

Landscape of tomatillos...
When were these baked? Last week? I'll take the lot...

So I left, exhilarated, enlightened, alive yet still a bit grumbly in the tumbly which brings me to my final stop on my day exploring south 6th Avenue.

 I’ll let you in on a little secret of mine. Alright, it’s not really a secret, it’s more of a preference. Even with all of my food obsession; cooking it, eating it and writing about it, I really don’t have much of a sweet tooth. Honestly, I never really did. When I was a kid and all of my friends were spending allowance money on Now and Laters, Whatchamacallits and Ding Dongs, I was spending my hard earned kid cash at the local deli, sucking down pastrami sandwiches and canoodling with dill pickles the size of my face.

Sweets just aren’t my bag so when Le Cave’s Bakery (1219 South 6th Ave) was recommended to me I was hesitant. Le Cave’s has a serious following and a big history, first opening up in 1935, so I decided to give my nearly nonexistent sweet tooth a workout and see what all the hype was about.
When I first walked in I was struck with a feeling of antiquity. The space is sparse; just a counter with donuts and baked goods behind glass and an area in the back to create such items. Yet it had the look and feel, and smell, of a bakery that has seen its fair share of varied customers throughout the years and an aura of something you’d notice in a 1950’s postcard advertising the place with the note “You don’t need a lot of ‘dough’ to eat at La Cave’s” scrawled on the front.

Bakery? Psssh! Metal Mark is a deli man I tell you...

It was empty except for me and the girl behind the counter. Knowing this place has been around for almost a century, I had to ask if it even gets busy here.

“Oh yeah,” assured the girl. “If you get here at 6am, when we open, there is always a line. Some people wait an hour to get a donut.”

With that said, I asked what I should get, seeing as it was my first time there. She didn’t hesitate to recommend the glazed donuts.

“Just came out of the oven,” the girl added. She then went back to a sheet rack where dozens of the fluffy little guys sat waiting to be eaten, grabbed one and handed it over. “First one is always free,” she said. “This one’s on the house.”

Let me tell you. After that one bite I knew right then and there why there are people lining up around the block to get one of these. It was the best donut I have had in a very long time, if ever. Melted right on the tongue as the sticky glaze stuck to my lips while the light and airy goodness just permeated all of my senses. Unbelievably  tasty and instantly addicting.

Um. Nevermind. I just wept a little when I ate this.

“Guess what,” she asked. “Our donuts are one hundred percent vegan. Always have been. Isn’t that crazy?”

Apparently it’s true. She ran me down the baking process without giving away any big secrets. Le Cave’s have been using vegetable shortening and baking egg free since the 30’s. This place has been hip before the hipsters were hip and going vegan and gluten free because apparently if you have an ironic beard and tattoos on your neck and drink PBR from a mason jar, suddenly you have celiac disease. Whatever. She sold me on the donut so I purchased a bunch of fruity filled empanadas they had on display which were equally as tempting and delicious so now I guess I have a sweet tooth of sorts. Thanks Le Cave’s. It’s not like I’m pudgy enough, now thanks to you I’ll be spending money on gas, standing in line at 6am like a chump, eating donuts like a stoned beat cop and hating you for it but not really because I love you and see you tomorrow.

Is this all you got? Crap. Alright. Give 'em to me...

After a long day on south 6th avenue, I went home, plopped down on the couch, full and filled with gladness. It was nice to get out of my comfort zone and I was really pleased that I had a day filled with tacos, donuts, crazy supermarkets and even crazier people, ones that I normally don’t see on a regular basis. I mean, there are plenty of nutjobs and taco joints here in midtown, the south side though takes it to a new level. But in a good way.

That said I emailed my El Super pal about my adventures on south 6th only for him to respond back: “South 6th? Naw man, you need to drive around South 4th! Now that’s where the good stuff is…”

Are you kidding me? I just got back into my comfort zone.

Okay. Let’s go…

Metal Song inspiration:
Fu ManchuKing of the Road
(Not super Metal but….you get the idea)

Listen to it here:

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