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Open with Mariachi 

A pair of Mexican restaurants tune up

click to enlarge Tecoman street fries with carne asada.

Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Tecoman street fries with carne asada.

Bright Spot on the Hill

Under a cloudless sky, a five-piece Mexican band played to the side of the parking lot at the October grand opening of Taqueria Tecoman (2003 Eich Road, Eureka). The speakers were cranked high enough to cause ripples in your horchata. Things have quieted down since.

After nearly three decades of working in restaurants from Rita's to Chapalas to Jalisco's, owner Enrique Perez, ready for a business of his own, took the lease at the Tecoman spot in 2020. In the dearth of restaurant options on Humboldt Hill, he saw an opportunity. His hope was to set up a taqueria like the ones in his hometown of Mexico City. "You know, you eat on the street," he says, noting the importance of the house-made beans and tortillas, as well as al pastor cooked on a trompo, or vertical spit.

For now, the lineup includes basic soft tacos, as well as mulitas — queso blanco, whole beans, salsa and meat grilled between two corn tortillas, their surfaces pebbled and browned. The larger sincronizadas on grilled homemade flour tortillas are lighter and less cheese-centric than their quesadilla cousins, with meat, whole beans, tomatoes and grilled onions balancing out the queso blanco. Both are served with the simplest guacamole for which fresh jalapeño is chopped fine as salt. Consider trying them with the al pastor pork, deep ochre with seasoning and flavored with pineapple, cilantro and onion.

The Tecoman street fries are chunky, slathered in nacho cheese sauce (a controversial move but the only truly fair way to distribute cheese) and topped with meat, pico de gallo, crema Mexicana and spears of pickled jalapeño. Proceed slowly. Same advice goes for Enrique's Bomba Tecoman, a burrito with everything and all three available meats: grilled chicken (deceptively pale but well marinated), chopped grilled beef and the aforementioned al pastor.

Check behind the counter for the day's agua fresca offerings. The mango variety, rimmed with chamoy, is bright and sweet, and the horchata is mild and maybe just what you need if you went hard on the fresh salsas.

Locha's Legacy

In the heyday of Fortuna's Sushi Boat Buffet, pairs of California rolls and Hamachi nigiri floated down a winding stainless steel canal on little black and red boats, like a miniature Disneyland ride, to waiting diners. There was a Chinese menu, too, though without the fancy delivery system. The cavernous space has lately been taken over by Locha's Mexican Restaurant (751 S. Fortuna Blvd.), which opened with similar mariachi fanfare to Taqueria Tecoman in mid-November, though indoors.

The classic Chinese restaurant fountain in the entrance remains, though now dotted with tiny painted alebrije, Mexican figurines of turtles, tigers and birds. And while a rainbow of papel picado decorations now festoon it, the sushi canal still takes up the front half of the dining room under a glittering chandelier. Ana Cortez, who co-owns Locha's with her seven siblings, says the restaurant is focusing on sit-down service for now but you never know — you might see flan and colorful gelatins floating along someday.

In the meantime, you can enjoy the conventionally served recipes from Cortez's late mother, Eloisa Garcia, nicknamed "Locha," for whom the restaurant is named. "We felt the best way to [pay tribute to] her was opening the restaurant because she taught us to cook and always be united," says Cortez. No small feat for a woman with eight children, though neither was cooking birria, barbacoa and beans and rice for quinceaneras and other family celebrations in a family with 28 nieces and nephews.

From the family's roots in Oaxaca, there are picadas, thick circles of soft masa painted with tart green or red salsa and sprinkled with queso fresco — a family breakfast staple. The huaraches and gorditas, too, are Locha's signature dishes, along with a mole that takes days to cook. "She sun dried her chiles," says Cortez. From the family's time in Mexico City before immigrating to the U.S., there are tacos de canasta, which Cortez describes as a "poor man's meal," small folded corn tortillas stuffed and fried, sold on the bustling streets by women on bicycles with huge baskets. At Locha's, the tacos, which travel well for takeout as the "basket" in the name suggests, come stuffed with red sauced chicharrones, beans or potato.

Show up on the weekend and there's the cure-all menudo, as well as goat birria and barbacoa, favorites of both Cortez and her mother. On a weekday, you might not get your goat, but the juicy quesabirria, filled with cheese and flavorful beef birria, is fine consolation.

Share your tips about What's Good with Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her), arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or jennifer@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.

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About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Bio:
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal.

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