Stop looking at the menu and order the carne asada burrito.
Now and then, you may see a faraway look in the eyes of those of us without Frumboldt stickers on our cars, who hail from elsewhere but were lured here by Humboldt's verdant charms (or perhaps the charms of a Humboldter). We long for the food of our homelands. You may wave a hand in our faces but we are far away, spirited back by memory to remembered barbecue shacks, deli counters, dim sum joints and pubs, ordering our usual.
Your San Diegan friend is likely dreaming of Roberto's, the 50-year-old gold standard for the city's signature carne asada burrito. And in a real desire to help, you may have taken him or her to your favorite spot only to see a perfectly fine burrito met with a sad smile and that distant look again.
Don't give up. That funny log cabin-looking building near the courthouse has been hastily painted over yellow and converted into Raliberto's Taco Shop (1039 Fourth St., Eureka), an outpost of the franchise rumored to have been started by a relative of the Roberto's dynasty. Right by the courthouse. Takeout is not a bad idea.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
The sandwich version with lettuce for health nuts.
The Journal's token San Diegan was pleased. The carne asada burrito ($5.95) is a slightly too chewy flour tortilla stuffed with fistfuls of marinated chopped beef, pico de gallo and guacamole. That's it. No rice, no beans, no cheese. Between bites its SoCal minimalism drew sounds of happy surprise from northerners, too, as did its torta cousin ($5.95) on a soft bun with the addition of a little shredded lettuce. Much of the credit goes to the green and red salsas, little shot cups with no lumps and plenty of heat.
Early evening at Five Eleven, with its azure concrete floor and shining glass tile bar, is a bit like relaxing in rather than beside a very chic swimming pool. On a recent night, adjacent tables were stocked with flat-billed hats, toddlers picking at fancy pizza and older patrons discussed the fine line between appetizers and small plates — all of us likely wishing we were as flatteringly lit as the bottles behind the bar.
By 6 p.m., there were only three orders of the special appetizer left: roasted beef marrow bones served with micro greens and black tobiko caviar ($16). And with good reason. Halves of the split bone, like a pair of dug-out canoes, are filled with melting marrow salted only by the briny caviar. Coax a mouthful out of its hollow with a spoon and onto your char-striped bread, and the roasted marrow's deep meat flavor emerges. Suddenly the theory about early humans surviving off scavenged marrow sounds like the kind of Paleo diet you can get behind (assuming the availability of bruschetta).
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
Low down on the regular menu, the duck confit mac and cheese ($19) speaks to the sometimes conflicting urges toward comfort and swank. The sauce, an already luxurious melding of mozzarella and parmesan, is further enriched with duck fat, cream, herbs and truffles, as well as buried shreds of duck. The whole thing is crowned with a crisp sprinkling of fried shallots and duck skin cracklings. It is rich enough that you may have to share — if not out of generosity, then self preservation.
Some of us leap flip-flop first into summer at the first hiss of lawn sprinklers. For the rest of us, zipping up our hoodies in vampiric fear of the sun and denial over the year whizzing by, a little incentive is required. A slice of Key lime pie will help.
There is patio seating at Café Nooner (409 Opera Alley, Eureka) for those who are ready for it — otherwise, take the baby step of snagging a window table. The Key lime pie looks like a tall, slick wedge of cheesecake ($4). At the bottom is a pinky-thick graham cracker crust, sandy and salty-caramelized against the sweet and tart, dense filling. It speaks to the kind of beachy pleasures that don't require exercise, more Hemingway-esqe boating around the Florida Keys with a cigar than oceanside yoga in Malibu.
Come out of hibernation, friends. There's pie out here.
Tucked back from the street, its fence camouflaged with peeling fliers, La Chiquita (1021 I St., Arcata), brick-and-mortar counterpart to the taco truck of the same name, is easily missed on the walk past Los Bagels and Wildwood Music. Luckily, there is the smell of steamy tortillas and carnitas to turn your head.
A news editor who prefers to remain anonymous claims that the beans, rice and homemade flour tortillas are so good that he can be content with a simple bean burrito. But if you want to go past contentment, he suggests the pastor burrito ($6.90).
"Burrito? Yeah. Good choice," says a deeply relaxed customer as we pick up our foil-wrapped bundles at the counter. "You gotta get the hot sauce."
Out in the sunshine at a battered picnic table, taking the first bite into the pliant layers of warm, translucent flour tortilla at the top, we were feeling a little relaxed, too. Inside, the rice and beans are as promised — the coral-colored rice being fluffy and flavorful, and the beans being a well-seasoned mix of black and pinto, half mashed and half whole. And the hunks of pork inside have the juicy richness of fatty, fall-apart carnitas with a red-orange sheen of the chili sauce that gives it a little tang and heat. Bite. Groan. Repeat.
"How was it?" calls our fellow diner, who's pleased to get a thumbs up. As we head out, another patron making the turn onto the patio and up La Chiquita's steps catches his eye. "Yeah," he cheers from his table. "Another good decision."
The Crabs get most of the local press, but the summer sun shines on Bomber Field, too. The Humboldt B-52s haven't got a live band yet but the snack shack platoon is performing this season (Redwood Acres, Eureka). Pay for your entry stamp at the folding table and hook right once inside and find yourself immersed in the sounds of the season: the crack of the bat, applause from the crowd and the surf-like shhhh of the deep fryer.
On a recent evening the concessions counter was staffed by a pair of towering players, who shrugged and grinned as they relayed orders to the pros in the back, a couple of women pivoting in the narrow galley between tubs of shredded lettuce and patties on the hissing grill. As a customer went into a mild panic upon receiving her satellite dish of a quesadilla, we ordered the Bomber Burger with grilled onions ($8).
Your debate over whether the hamburger is a sandwich is rendered irrelevant by this cheese-topped beef patty with lettuce, tomatoes and onions (grilled or raw), all of which is held together by a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches instead of a bun. It's a gimmick that works. The flattened sandwiches are both sturdier and tastier than a standard white bun — also weirdly not as painfully filling as one would imagine eating a cheeseburger and two grilled cheese sandwiches to be. And as you listen to the chosen walk-up music of the next batter, Will Smith's "Wild Wild West," it's a reminder that anything goes in the summer. Well, almost.
Back row: Strawberry, chocolate orange, Mexican coffee, pineapple orange. Front row: Coco rose, salted pistachio, green tea, chocolate banana.
Unfortunate fact of physics: A standard ice cream cone can only hold two flavors before things get sloppy and end in tears. If you’re not already married to a flavor, the wait at Living the Dream Ice Cream (1 F St., Eureka) culminates with a scramble to pick from more than a dozen rotating flavors. And even if you get two scoops, does mango habanero go with Dirty Monkey? Sure, you can get a sample but there are limits, both of decorum and the patience of the toddler behind you who wants a scoop of vanilla cake batter now.
Enter the ice cream flight: eight 1-ounce scoops nestled in a custom wooden tray that someone should get going on marketing ($8.25). And unlike oenophiles and beer aficionados, you needn’t follow any particular order. Order a couple of flavors outside your comfort zone and expand your palate. Nibble the salted pistachio and chase it with chocolate orange. A bite of chocolate banana ice cream paired with the light and milky strawberry is an instant banana split. Spend a little time on the complex green tea (fresh, earthy-smoky), then go back to chocolate orange by way of the aromatic Mexican chocolate. Cleanse your palate with the floral and dairy-free Coco Rose. And digging into two rows of scoops does not make you a glutton; you’re a connoisseur.
It's Tuesday so it must be Southern fried chicken.
Tuesdays are press days at the Journal, a cruel constant that has thus far kept us from following a lead on the Tuesday night Southern fried chicken special ($20) at Six Rivers Brewery (1300 Central Ave., McKinleyville). But this week, we put the issue to bed and called ahead to secure one of four remaining orders. By the time we hopped a stool, our neighbors at the bar were already loosened up and the Warriors were taking a beating on the flatscreens.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
Juicy inside, crunchy outside and gravy everywhere.
Those same neighbors nodded knowingly when the huge square plate arrived covered in cream gravy, with a biscuit teetering on its edge. Instead of a hands-on leg and breast, this is a flattened, boneless full breast —resembling a deep-fried Pangaea — with a peppery, audibly crunchy crust that holds up under an avalanche of gravy. The coating is, as Elvis' cook used to say, "seasoned pretty high" and the marinated meat inside is juicy enough to make you forget about dark meat for a moment. Asked about the ingredients (is that cornmeal?) the cook replied, "just flour and egg wash." Lies. But we're not even mad. You will need your fork and the oversized knife — to cut, to share or to warn off the envious latecomers who didn't snap up those other three orders. Keep looking under that snowdrift spotted with cracked pepper and you'll find mashed potatoes (jackets on) and green beans slicked with butter. The homemade biscuit, though dwarfed by the tectonic plate of chicken, comes with a very southern foil-wrapped pat of butter and packet of honey so it doesn't forget where it came from.
Even if you don't, carnitas and pastor tacos deserve homemade tortillas.
We are not so much spoiled for choices as crushed by the never-ending waves of them. It never occurred to me as a child, for example, that I would one day find myself behind on watching TV. It is with the same Netflix-esque overwhelm that you sometimes open a Mexican menu, fold after fold, until the accordion of choices sends you seeking the refuge of your usual burrito.
So the one-page, laminated menu at Taqueria Rosales (312 W. Washington St., Eureka), which has lately opened up behind Liu's, is a relief. There are still choices to be made about fillings for the half dozen regular items and the specials. The carnitas taco is little but mighty, with a homemade corn tortilla — oh, the softness — cilantro and onion ($2). Sure, you could go with a packaged tortilla for $.50 less, but is that who you are? Is that how you'd treat a friend, much less the salty, pan-crisped shreds of pork your server's mother made for this taco? Who hurt you?
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
Tangy, spicy short rib chile verde.
Even plusher corn tortillas came wrapped in foil alongside the day's one and only special, short ribs stewed in a bright, tangy chile verde with a side of beans and rice ($10). Yes, short ribs — another little upgrade to treat yourself. The meat needs only a little coaxing to leave the bone and the seedy tomatillo and green chili sauce has just enough heat to give you some color.
There are two factions of polenta lovers: those who want to dip their spoons into a bowl of golden creaminess and those who want to angle a fork through the browned, cheesy edges. Isn't our nation divided enough?
The polenta lasagna ($17) at Brick and Fire (1630 F St.) is a unifying force. True, it's not an actual lasagna — two seared rectangles of Parmesan-rich polenta sandwich roasted peppers, eggplant and mushrooms — and the roasted tomato compote is more intense than a traditional sauce, but go with it. Because the polenta, topped with shavings of still more Parmesan and a smattering of balsamic, is so very soft, enough to win over the spoon lobby without alienating the crust constituency.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
You're going to need another reason not to share.
The kitchen staff is also uniting us on the chocolate cake vs. cheesecake front. The chocolate marscarpone cheesecake is a narrow wedge of the rich stuff ($7). It's milder than the straight cream cheese variety, with less of the distracting tang and all of the fluffiness. The balsamic glaze on the menu turns out to be but a streak, so if it puts you off, relax; if you want more, ask. There, a nation united, if only at lunch.
Entering the vermillion and yellow interior of Ethiopian International Café (210 Fourth St., Eureka) is like being wrapped in a flag at a soccer match. On a recent rainy afternoon, following a tip about the restaurant's outpost at the Arcata Farmers Market, we grabbed a random-couch-adjacent window table at the brick and mortar location and scanned the menu while Björk keened in the background.