Chow, Baby: Wednesday, October 17, 2002
La Sorpresa del Norte

Chancing to be on the Far North Side with an hour to kill, Chow, Baby decided to indulge in a favorite pastime: trying to name all the flavors in Los Molcajetes’ simple bean soup ($2.85). Beans, sure, and onions, garlic, cilantro — whoops, all gone! This is some seriously greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts soup, but then everything about Los Molcajetes is a pleasant surprise.

The dark, solemn room, in a strip mall at Western Center and Beach, is decorated in upscale Pancho’s Mexican Buffet, yet any resemblance to the commonplace ends at the two lush salsas — a smoky red and a tingling green — set on the table with crispy tostadas. It’s good to have such sustenance, as choosing an entrée can take a while. Los Molcajetes does wonders with Mexican-style quail ($8.99), split, roasted, and served with guajillo pepper sauce. The kitchen has a nice touch with seafood, too, especially the especial del mar ($12.99), garlicky sautéed fish and shrimp. Platillos (plates) come overfilled with enchiladas or tacos or tamales or some of everything (lunch $5.35-$6.45; dinner $7.25-$8.99).

On this particular day Chow, Baby had a hankering for some beef fajitas ($9.45) — the real thing, hunks of tough flank steak marinated into tenderness but with some fight left in them, like a gangster on the witness stand. They came sizzling with onions and peppers, frisky pico de gallo, fresh tortillas, and more fabulous frijoles. Rich, creamy flan ($2.95) finished the meal nicely, but Chow, Baby, who fortunately lives alone, dreamed of those beans all night long.

Queen of the $6 Dinner

Say you’re in the mood to go out for a steak dinner with all the trimmings. (Since Chow, Baby gets this craving several times a week, it assumes everybody does.) Further assume that your pocket contains a single ten-spot to last until what your employer laughingly calls payday. (Again, Chow, Baby speaks from personal experience.) Longtime Fort Worthers know what that means: The Rig.

For the benefit of newbies, the Rig is at 6308 South Freeway (I-35), just south of I-20. You’ve probably seen it. Next to the two-stories-tall rusty metal oil rig? The one sporting “The Rig” in yellow and purple neon script? That’s the place. Don’t be scared off by the karaoke noises wafting from the front bar. Head for the barnlike restaurant in back, follow the worn-out waitress to a worn-out booth, and open the grease-dappled menu. Boom, there it is: Ribeye, 8 oz, $5.95. Like all dinners — steaks, chicken, seafood — Chow, Baby’s included choice of fries or rice or potato, plus dinner rolls, plus salad bar. Now that’s a meal deal!

Notice Chow, Baby isn’t saying this was a particularly good meal. The salad bar Jell-O could be eaten with a fork, and the baked potato was about the size of Chow, Baby’s big toe, if less hairy. And maybe Chow, Baby’s steak was 8 ounces, and maybe it was a ribeye, and maybe Chow, Baby is Queen of the Rodeo. Immaterial. It’s $5.95!

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