Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Intestinal Fortitude: Menuderías de la Calle Puebla Pátzcuaro

Spice up your menudo with these chiles de árbol
Menudo: over the years, I've had an on again, off again relationship with this gutsy soup of tripe and other innards. I wrote about my history with the stuff in 2007, "Confronting Menudo". When out and about, and in the mood for a hot, spicy soup, I usually choose birria or consomé de cabeza. But once in a while, a bowl of menudo has appeal.

Until recently, I hadn't found a menudería that serves a menudo that truly satisfies. My usual spot has been a very friendly, well located spot, where I am known to the lady proprietress and her pretty daughters, located across from the Plaza F... in Pátzcuaro Centro. While the menudo there isn't bad, it can be underwhelming, at least until you punch up the flavor with several chiles, minced onion, orégano and other condiments. The thick, brown and toasty salsa macha is a real eye waterer, but delicious. The machine made tortillas are brought in, and serve mostly as edible blotting paper. Basically, I go there mostly because it's handily located and I like the people.

More recently, my eyes and palate were newly awakened by a large menudería, across the side street from the famed Tienda Don Chucho's in Lower Pátzcuaro. Menudería Licha's is but one of at least 5 menuderías in close proximity. I call that block "Menudo Row". I've now eaten twice at Licha's. Someday, I'll try the neighboring menudo spots. They look related, due in part that their outside tables are under the same, attractive, bright red canopy. There is another, simpler menudo joint around the corner, just off the main road. Look for the battered metal pots.

Menudería Lupita, Licha's neighbor

The Staff Meal, Under The Red Canopy
Low Overhead Means Low Prices
On my first visit to Licha's, last year, I sat inside in the ample but bare bones dining room. It resembles a bodega more than a dining room. This minimalist décor didn't bother me. It seemed incongruous that I was served by an English–speaking (if I recall correctly) waiter dressed in a chef's jacket uniform. I had the impression that there was a tablecloth on the table. (Surely not a white one? More likely oilcloth). At the end of my meal, the check was presented on a small, rectangular tray.

YES! White tablecloths!
These incongruities of "refinement" should not divert you from the essence of the place.

The first and most noticeably thing about Licha's menudo is the distinct although not overwhelming aroma of the menudo. It's a peculiar, gutsy scent, associated with livestock. Where I once would have found this repugnant, now it was a verification that this menudo was no namby-pamby, watered–down infusion, but the real stuff.

Yesterday, the amply figured proprietress waited on me personally. She asked me my preferences, in order to custom craft a great bowl of menudo. At her suggestion, I had a mix of tripas with a patita deshuesada.* The patita is what gives the soup body. It's fun to nibble on one. This time, it was cut off the bone, so I did not have to inelegantly pick it up with my fingers.

The food arrives quickly and a large orange juice, squeezed to order, not far behind.

The deep red, steaming hot caldo was loaded with chunks of tripes and tender morsels of the deboned cow's foot*. The variety of textures is a great part of the appeal. The caldo was well flavored, but there was also available an good assortment of chiles and condiments for further enhancement.

Menudo as it should be
The tortillas, hechas al comal, were superb, with substance and taste, slightly crisped edges, great with the menudo and great eaten alone, or dabbed with some of the zesty salsa roja de molcajete that lurked menacingly nearby.

Tortillas with character and TASTE
                                     Salsa roja de molcajete


Food: 7 (But only if you like menudo, of course.)

Service: 8. A simple menu means fast service.

Hygiene: Food is served hot, backup salsas are kept refrigerated; employees wear hair nets. Employees eat the stuff at the staff meal, so it must be good. Although I did see the tortillera lady eating a cup of flavored yogurt.

Ambience: Down home, South of the Border, with refined touches. Outside tables have benches. Inside, wooden chairs. Friendly. The young woman who made and brought my juice was pretty. That's always a plus in my estimation.

Cost: Bargain! Small bowl, $40 pesos, large, $50. With a large orange juice, my bill was $75 pesos. The café de olla is decent.

Location: Calle Puebla at corner of Carretera Federal 14. Across from Tienda Don Chucho's.

Parking: plenty of free street parking, across the highway, facing the newly opened Museo de la Ruta Don Vasco, or up Calle Puebla.

Hours: ¿Quien sabe?  Maybe 8:00 a.m. until 12:30-1:00 p.m. Get there sooner for the best parts. On the other hand, I contend that these long–simmering caldos get better with the hours.

UPDATE: There is some affiliation between Licha's and Lupita's, although their menudo has subtle differences, as eaten on separate occasions. I don't pretend to understand this.

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