Gringos in Heaven at El Pueblito
By Teri Bayus
When my kids were little, I was terrified of them becoming capitalist pigs (now that I’m one, I don’t know what the fuss was about).
I hated that Christmas had become a toy bacchanal and no matter how much money Santa spent, it was never good enough.
When they were still young and impressionable, I decided to change our Christmas traditions. Each Dec. 1 we would pack up everyone in a motorhome, attach a trailer filled with toys, bicycles, kayaks, jet skis, and motorcycles and head out on a road trip.
We only knew the direction (usually south to Mexico), not the destination, as we meandered and stopped at the places that intrigued us and flew past the ones that did not.
I felt the best thing I was giving my children for Christmas was my time and attention and the pleasure of traveling. This was a wonderful idea and we loved every minute. Now that I have grandbabies, we’re doing the same thing, replacing the “have-tos” with bucket list items.
We just spent Thanksgiving being the pit crew for Mr. Bayus, as he road his Enduro dirt bike 500 miles through the Mojave Desert.
Since most of our family Christmas vacations were spent driving through Mexico, I know Mexican food. I was chastised and challenged to find one, truly authentic Mexican food restaurant in the area. So I headed to Santa Maria, to see if such a thing existed.
I found my authentic treasure — El Pueblito Restaurant — on the corner of Blosser and Main.
It’s always a good sign when you walk in the door and the special is “Tostada De Ceviche.” This is one of my favorite dishes, and I have yet to find anyone in America who does it correctly.
The dish consists of raw, white fish and scallops marinated in lime juice and served on a freshly made corn tostada with pico de gallo and half a fresh avocado. It was perfect, it was Heaven, and it was as if I was in Mexico again!
The cafeteria style of the restaurant and the barely-speaking-English waitress bolstered my confidence and I ordered one of my favorite dishes, Cameron a la Diablo.
The eight huge shrimp that were flawlessly cooked and swimming in a sea of red Diablo sauce with a hint of molè, were Heavenly. Gary thought the sauce was so good he wanted to try it on ice cream, but that did not translate and the waitress shrugged and walked away mumbling something about crazy gringos.
El Pueblito was so good that we grabbed friends and went back the next night. This time I ordered the Cielo Mar y Tierra that consisted of quail, steak and shrimp all grilled together in another sauce that was sweet, spicy, and superb.
In fact, they offer 15 different kinds of steak dishes and I plan to try them all. Gary ordered the catfish (pescado dorado) dinner, it was impeccably cooked, and so flavorful he talked about it all night long.
The dozen oysters on the half shell for only $12.50, were a bargain and delicious. The chile rellenos was a hot, huge pablano chile stuffed with cheese and deep-fried in an egg batter and smothered in an almost caramel tasting sauce. The combination of hot and sweet was exemplary.
The whole experience was fantastic; the restaurant is clean and the servers are nice to us gringos; and the food is outstanding. If you want real Mexican food without crossing the border, just drive to Santa Maria. El Pueblito Restaurant is located at 603 Blosser Rd., call them at (805) 349-1088 (you may need a translator, so just show up).
‘Coco’ A Delightful Film From Beginning to End
Another trip to Mexico is the film “Coco.” The brilliantly original and beautifully emotional film is exactly what makes Mexico and Pixar so great.
Not only is it an enormously fun and enjoyable family adventure, but it’s a film with unbelievable visuals, a characterful and memorable soundtrack, as well as a whole lot of pure, heartfelt emotion that put me right on the edge of tears on more than one occasion.
This isn’t so much of a sad tearjerker, but what it does bring is a truly deep and genuine sense of familial love, which plays the central role of pretty much everything that happens in the film.
You may have seen the “family is important” message before, but Coco does it in such an elegant and genuine way that you won’t be able to resist feeling so closely connected to the central family here, which makes the film’s plot so much more powerful and uplifting to follow.
Alongside the beautiful emotion that the film manages to bring about, it’s also a fantastically captivating look at the festival of “The Day of the Dead.” Although undoubtedly well known around the world, Coco is a film that allows you to go in knowing pretty much nothing about the festival, and explains not only its customs, but also its real importance in both simple and riveting terms.
It’s not something I expected to gain from the film, but I really found the film’s vibrant and genuine depiction of the festival and the meaning to the people who celebrate it absolutely fascinating.
Pixar Studios knows how to make jaw-droopingly beautiful animation, and Coco is yet another example of their brilliance. Above all, it’s the depiction of the Land of the Dead that makes this film really sing, as the film goes about portraying the afterlife in the most colorful and energetic fashion, filling the screen from start to finish with vibrant locations and characters that all make it an absolute joy to watch.
And then beyond even that, there’s the soundtrack. Pixar has never really managed to pull off musicals in the same way that Disney’s had enormous success with, and although this isn’t a musical, it’s a film with music as close to its heart as family and tradition, but it’s yet another element that makes for an even more vibrant and delightful watch.
Along with all of its hugely impressive emotional depth, cultural insight, visual thrills and musical brilliance, Coco is still a kids’ movie, and an excellent one at that. Although I will say its opening 20 minutes do feel a little bit too much like a generic Disney movie, once we see the change of setting to the Land of the Dead, the film bursts into life, and in tandem with its beautiful emotion, it’s a fun, exciting and even unpredictable adventure that will surely entertain kids to the full from beginning to end.