Chow, Baby: Wednesday, August 20, 2008
On the Road to Izquierda

In most Spanish-immersion situations, Chow, Baby gets by just fine with a jolly ¡Hola!, Gracias, and Por favor, show me donde I am en el mapa. (Verbs is hard.) Still, sometimes it’d be nice to know a bit more. Like on that Mexico roadtrip a few years back when Chow, Baby got stuck on the I-820-size loop around Monterrey looking for a salida (exit) into the city, but all the zooming-by exit signs were for someplace called Izquierda. There goes Salida Izquierda Plaza — exit for Iz-town’s center plaza, don’t need Berlitz to figure that one out — then Salida Izquierda Basilica, Salida Izquierda Museo de Arte, on and on and on; but not a single Salida Monterrey anything. Round and round and round, wondering why everybody else is exiting to Izquierda, a town that isn’t even on Chow, Baby’s stupid mapa. See, it would have been nice to know then that izquierda means “left,” as in Exit Left.
Vocabulary déjà vu flickered as Chow, Baby hung an izquierda into the parking lot of El Gabacho (2408 W. Abram St., Arlington). Gabacho? Chow, Baby has heard that word before, and at great volume — it’s a kind offer of assistance to a mapa-wrestling gringo slowing up traffic on a busy Mexican highway. Or more likely, given the accompanying sign language, it’s a really rude nationality-based insult. In polite company, the “g-word.” But nobody was yelling anything in this tranquil, upscalish Tex-Mex grill, a brick-wall-and-exposed-rafters bistro whose décor pays homage to iconic gringo John Wayne. (You could call him El Gabacho, the supreme gringo, but that doesn’t seem like a compliment.) Instead, kind servers offered warm chips and gently tingly salsa (free); guac that was pretty good but could have used a pinch more salt, lime, and made-to-order freshness (grande $4.99); and fantastic queso (chico $3, should have gotten a grande).
Chow, Baby’s easy fluency in Mexican menu words wasn’t necessary for El G-word’s specials, as everything is subtitled in gringo. Specialties include camarones al mojo de ajo (“big juicy shrimp sautéed in garlic butter,” $15.99), chile relleno (“poblano pepper stuffed with beef or chicken,” $9.99), and carne asada (“tenderized beef steak with grilled onions and peppers,” $11.99). There are also combination plates (most $6.99), plus larger “favoritos” plates named for Mexican cities like Puebla, Cholula, San Antonio, and … oh boy! Was this meant to be, or what? Chow, Baby has always regretted that it never got to eat in Monterrey (when it finally decided to go with the traffic flow to Izquierda, it somehow wound up in Zacatecas). All it knows about Monterrey dishes comes from — forgive the short detour here — the wonderful Nuevo Leon (1544 Ellis St.), one of whose house specialties is Monterrey’s traditional dish of cabrito al pastor (roasted goat, $20 platter, plenty for two people). Man, it’s tasty.
Back on the main road now: Aw, no cabrito in El G-word’s Monterrey plate. For a second, Chow, Baby though it had accidentally ordered an Old El Paso: hard taco shells stuffed with seasoned ground beef, with bright side-piles of shredded lettuce, tomato, and yellow cheese. But this was no gringo suburban mom’s attempt at world cuisine — everything was wonderfully fresh, and the juicy-not-greasy beef was expertly spiced. Very muy bueno. Gabacho may not be a nice word in some circles, but feel free to call Chow, Baby a Gabacho-lover.

Contact Chow, Baby at

El Gabacho (2408 W. Abram St., Arlington, 817-276-8160. Upscale Tex-Mex. $$

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