Chow, Baby: Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Making Plans for Lanny

Chow, Baby’s been thinking more on that brilliant idea it had a couple of weeks ago, the one about Lanny Lancarte, honcho of the haute Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana, opening a taqueria on the side. (Other wildly improbable doings arise in this fantasy, too, but we’ll save that for the next meeting of the chef-pants-fetishists club.) Come on, it’s a natural: We’ve already got star chefs slumming in the burgers, wings, and Frito pie categories, giving us great casual food with occasional gourmet (quail egg) touches at Chow, Baby-friendly price points. Clearly the next typical-Texan-lunch market to be tapped is tacos. Lanny, who has spent his life fancying up Mexican food, is overdue to bring it back down to us masses. (Taco Diner doesn’t count. Us masses don’t want to pay $9.45 for a taco plate.)
Knowing, or at least having read about, what a pain it is to open a new restaurant, helpful Chow, Baby even knows of a hole-in-the-wall taqueria that Lanny could take over and work his magia on. Except for the “Mexican Tacos” sign in the window, this eatery doesn’t even have a name; it’s just stuck in the corner of a Texaco station (763 W. Lamar Blvd. at Collins Street, Arlington). Now, Mexican Tacos is already great just as it is, possibly even the best gas-station Mexican food Chow, Baby has ever had. The carne asada and grilled chicken are nicely spicy; the carnitas (roasted pork) is super-juicy; and the barbacoa has that lush, intense flavor that can only come from — you have to say this in a zombie voice — braaaains ... braaaains ... . Or maybe it was just slow-cooked cow-cheek meat. (Chow, Baby never inquires into barbacoa-ingredient details, because it doesn’t really want to know.) These are value meals, too: A three-taco plate ($4.89) comes with rice, silky beans, a pile of grilled onions, and a whole grilled jalapeño. And one great thing about eating in a gas station convenience store: You have no end of drink options (Izze Sparkling Pomegranate [mostly watered-down grape juice], $1.99).
But imagine these humble handhelds with a star-chef touch. Imagine Mexican Tacos’ barbacoa gordita ($1.99) with Lanny’s mint chimichurri. Or the pollo torta ($3.99) with molé colorado. A breakfast burrito ($1.49) with chipotle aioli. And for dessert, raspberry goat-cheese cheesecake with praline sauce ($12 at Lanny’s, but surely he could create a $2 version). Chow, Baby’s imagining it, and it tastes gooood.

Soba Shop of the Week
Akita Express (1006-A N. Collins St., Arlington) is one of those fast-Asian strip-mall diners where the only decorating attempts are backlit photos of gardens in which the pond water appears to be moving. You wouldn’t expect to get fancy Japanese-steakhouse food here, and indeed you don’t. Mainly what you get is yakisoba ($4-8), a simple yet hearty stir-fry of vegetables, meat or seafood, and ramen noodles. (You can get rice instead of noodles, but don’t; the “fried” rice is the frozen-peas-and-carrots kind.) Chow, Baby, who has never gotten the hang of kitchen timing, is always amazed when disparate ingredients come out perfectly cooked: Here in one bowl were al dente mushrooms, firm scallops, still-juicy pork slices, melt-in-the-mouth onions, and just-tender zucchini. How do they do it? Chow, Baby will sit here sipping its perky-fresh soursop smoothie ($2.50) while it waits for enlightenment.
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