May 17, 2005 (PT)
By The Salmon
Boca de Rio
326 North Milpas Street
There is a television suspended above my head on a platform loosely engineered with plywood and drywall screws. The mono speaker screeches at full volume with the delight of a Mexican soap opera. Across the table from me is a man known as “The Coyote.” He has recently been electrocuted, and it shows. He orders a Pacifico, and stares silently at the drama, nibbling lightly on a tortilla chip.
Behind him, an overweight man in a greasy Hanes V-neck cradles an entire catfish in his arms, as if about to release it back into the local pond, only this “pond” is a burbling deep fryer. You can hear the eyeballs “pop” when the fish reaches the right temperature, the “chef” tells us. Kind of like a Butterball.
Boca de Rio (not “Boca del,” as my high-school Spanish tells me should be the case) literally translates as “mouth of the river,” which is apparently where the best seafood is found in Latin America. What I recall about river mouths is that they are generally quite brackish and a depository for DDT, heavy metals, and other nefarious pollutants; but then again, I’ve never been south of Los Cabos.
We’ve stumbled into this Milpas taco shack seeking the solace and anonymity of the crowd these dives attract—the worker bees. They don’t talk much about themselves, they don’t get their Audis washed in 45 minutes, and they certainly don’t want to spend more than six bucks for a lunch hearty enough to power them through the rest of the day.
The Coyote and I have been digging trenches and bustin’ concrete all morning, and our dirty fingernails were the price of admission. Our old friend, the Manta sauntered in and ordered up a round of seafood nachos without consulting the menu. He is a regular here, and proud of having been present the day the menu photos were taken.
The photographs make Boca de Rio an excellent destination for foreigners, or anyone with illiterate friends visiting from out of town. Every item on the menu features a handy thumbnail image and, just in case they have never used the words “Coke” or “Budweiser,” there is a full-color gallery of the beverage options.
These same Ansel Adams-like images are also hung in large format on the walls, somewhat askew and close together. They all have the same soft lighting found in donut shops and cheap pornography, ultimately making them indistinguishable - which they might as well be, given the disappointing blandness of our respective selections.
We all chose from the lunch combination menu that has more caveats than the Balkans Peace Accord. You can get the #2, but not with fritas. The #5, #6, and #8 are only available with one option, not two like the rest. I called my attorney and he said to offer them three hundred to settle.
The fish tacos arrived steaming and salty, but that was about it for accessories. A carrot peel was draped over the plate, seemingly to offer protection during the journey from the kitchen to the table. The Giant Shrimp Tacos were a let down when we discovered that the giant part was just the tortilla, not the actual shrimp. Each dish featured a little ice-cream scoop of potato salad that was great when filled with 3 or 4 ounces of Tapatillo sauce, like a little volcano. About the only bright spot was the ceviche tostada, which came with the disclaimer “ONLY FISH”, in case you are accustomed to manatee and baby harp seal pieces steeped in lime.
The soap opera changed to Spanish-Japanese anime and everyone agreed that the place really got the Diet Coke down pat. It was cold, carbonated and, if you asked nicely, accompanied by a straw. Nice touch. If you’re looking for more than that, stay on the other side of the river.