I learned new words while researching my review of Masa. I quote the waitress phonetically: “Oh-ha-can.”
Flashing back to a bygone brick burrito bistro in San Francisco named WAH-HA-KAH, after Oaxaca, the southwest Mexican state of that pronunciation, helped me understand: She was referring to Oaxacan cheese.
My Mexican buddy Gil fed me another new word while dining at Masa: gringotine, combining Masa’s yanqui fusion fumbles with the Argentine accents that Masa’s owners carry off much better across Sixth Avenue at Asado.
Meanwhile, across cultural and economic borders in Tacoma’s McKinley neighborhood — where the Mexican restaurants look and taste like they’ve emigrated straight out of the tough side of Tucson — I’ve been tucking into tacos, tortas and tasty carnitas at Taqueria El Antojo, which opened in February.
Forget taco trucks: Park your coche in front of El Antojo’s fabulous feast of five fine finger-foods for $5.70, with soda. I ordered tender tongue tacos, but there’s also steak, chicken, pork and beef head. There was a lot of meat on those twinned-up mini-corn tortillas, along with chopped white onion and cilantro. The crowning grace, however, was a small grilled onion and a whole roasted jalapeno. Did I mention that the taco platter cost $5.70, with soda?
The $3.99 chopped-meat torta was a better sandwich than the $4.99 grilled steak torta, as the over-cooked steak wouldn’t yield, spilling avocado, salsa and jalapenos out of the grilled bun with every attempted bite.
Carnitas ($6.49) was mostly shreds, but they, along with a handful of pork chunks, were toasty, tender and intensely tasty.
The salsa bar requires an awkward reach, but among the goodies worth reaching for: limey cabbage slaw and chili-marinated onions.
The restaurant, located across from the old engine house at 38th and McKinley, is big and bright. Some tables are crammed too close together, but El Antojo is a grande step up for the neighborhood.