RESTAURANT REVIEW LA SUPER-RICA : Mex to the Max : Although the atmosphere is unassuming, there is nothing humble about the eatery's tacoesque concoctions.


You don't have to dress up, make a reservation or leave the kids at home, and of all the restaurants in Santa Barbara this funky little taqueria on Milpas Street may be the most deserving of a drive up the coast.

There's no sign outside to mark the location, and often the easiest way to spot it is by the line of people spilling out onto the sidewalk.

At any given moment, the line may consist of a mixture of construction workers, Latino families, rock stars, bankers, artists and ladies-who-lunch.

With a mixture of patience and eagerness, they wait to put in their orders at the window where owner Isidoro Gonzalez has a knack for making each feel welcome.

La Super-Rica Taqueria is a place where I find myself bringing my out-of-town friends and introducing them proudly to Gonzalez. He has been entrancing people for almost 12 years, ever since he decided to give up teaching college Spanish and bring to Santa Barbara a kind of Mexican food it had never tasted before. He based it on the tradition of charbroiled tacos-- tacos al carbon --from Mexico City.

The menu at La Super-Rica is written on a blackboard near the ordering window. The backbone of the cuisine is the hot, homemade corn tortillas, smaller, thicker and far more delicious than the commercial variety. You can watch them being made by a woman at the grill, doing a hand dance with fluid dexterity.

The tacos made with these tortillas may have the utter simplicity of plain grilled chicken, strips of charbroiled steak ($2.10), marinated pork or the perennial children's favorite--melted cheese quesadilla ($1.30).

Working their way up the food chain, the tacos evolve into alambra de pilette ($4.60), consisting of grilled tri-tip with bell peppers, onions and bacon, or the intensely satisfying Super-Rica especial, with spicy roasted chile pasilla, cheese and charbroiled marinated pork.

You can temper the flavors with mild, smooth guacamole or plain red beans. Then spice it up with three kinds of homemade hot sauce, including a wonderful one made from finely chopped fresh tomatoes and green chilies that is more like a salad than a salsa.

It's easy to overlook the board beyond the order window and miss the surprising and superb specials. Gonzalez makes several trips to Mexico each year to discover new recipes, and this is where you can sample the ones he is testing.

Chilaquilas, which are positively addicting, consist of lightly fried tortilla strips served in a spicy-sweet tomato sauce, peppered with bits of goat cheese, avocado and whole grilled green onions.

Another wonderful dish is sopes-- crispy little cups made from tortilla dough filled with chicken and melted cheese, and topped with avocado and radish slices.

After ordering, customers find a table at an outdoor patio that has slowly evolved into a canvas-covered enclosure, made cozy with space heaters and walls of plants. My only complaint about the place is the throwaway paper plates and utensils. But they do recycle the bottles and cans.

The time to eat at La Super-Rica is now, because its days are numbered. At this moment, Gonzalez is plotting and planning a more upscale, "real" restaurant. La Super-Rica Taqueria will become a takeout stand specializing in tamales, enchiladas and chile rellenos .

We know both places will be good, but it's also a sure bet that La Super-Rica as we love it today will all too soon become a precious memory in a town that cherishes its past.


La Super-Rica Taqueria, 622 N. Milpas St., Santa Barbara, (805) 963-4940. Lunch and dinner, Sunday though Thursday 11 a.m-9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Cash only. Beer only. Lunch or dinner for one, $2-$8.

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