Friday, March 29, 2013

International Dining comes to Banamichi

The first sign of variety!
The gas station that houses the new Chinese Restaurant
As we drove into town after a long absence (think recovery from a hip replacement), the first thing I noticed was a neon yellow sign with the words Restaurant de Comida China. Huh? Chinese food in Banámichi? That seemed really odd and immediately memories of a dreadful faux-Chinese meal in a strip mall next to Home Depot in Hermosillo came to mind. I grimaced with the memory and was immediately skeptical about the promise of this new establishment. I didn't notice on that first pass-by that the restaurant was located in the gas station!

The dining-out situation in Banámichi has been very limited, as it would be in any small town anywhere on planet Earth. The nicest restaurant in town is located in the Posada del Rio Sonora Hotel. It offers top quality ingredients and is well received by the many people who eat there. The other choices in town have been more basic and these are the focus of this post.

On the side street next to La Posada is MacVer, otherwise known as "El Hamburguesa." I once and only once made the mistake of actually ordering a hamburger there. It was about as thick as a sheet of cardboard and had the same consistency - more breading than burger. Some of their other offerings are more credible..a decent chicken sandwich, and once some fairly nice grilled fish. I admit to being a bit of a "gourmet-mouth," so this has never been a choice dining opportunity for me, even though it has a cute front and a spruced-up interior.

Martín grilling carne asada

Around the corner and up the street from the Los Arcos Hotel, there is a place known very simply as "Los Tacos." No translation needed. Here, Martín presides over the grill turning out excellent carne asada (grilled beef) tacos....the only item on the menu. Sometimes he has grilled green onions with the tacos. The food is inexpensive and very tasty, if limited in scope.

Then there is "Pollos Nito" (Nito's Chicken.) Hardly more than a stand on Avenida Constitución, it specializes in fried chicken and tortas...sandwiches on large fluffy rolls. The tortas are quite good, and I especially like the big jar of pickled jalapenos they offer to every table.

So other than an occasional weekend hot dog or fish taco stand, that has been it for Banámichi.

Soon after we arrived. Tom and some of his guests braved the new Chinese place. The report was that it was  OK, possibly even good. So last night Dan and I decided to give it a try. I have to say that we are both very spoiled when it comes to Chinese food. We taught English together in China for 4 years, and Dan continues this summer into his 10th year. We have had the best of the best from state banquets with the American Ambassador down to homemade dumplings in someone's home in Rizhao. Real Chinese food is nothing like American Chinese food. It is so much better..beautifully presented, fresh, bright flavors, and no gloppy sweet sauces. After eating in China, I  don't much care for American Chinese food any more. I particularly dislike the now ubiquitous Chinese buffets where everything tastes the same to me. Whatever happened to the small mom and pop Chinese places where you could order a real meal?

Inside the gas station restaurant
Anyway, so we went to the Chinese place in the gas station last night. Dan's enthusiasm for anything vaguely Chinese carried me through my skepticism.. It turned out to be a pleasant room painted brightly in orange and yellow with clean white tablecloths with orange toppers. Each table had soy sauce and a bottle of Sriracha sauce. OK, any place with Sriracha can't be all bad. There was a steam table with bins of 5-6 dishes: beef and broccoli, orange chicken, red pork with vegetables, sweet and sour chicken, chop suey, and a huge bin of fried rice. The woman behind the counter was Mexican... a sweet young person who was very friendly. She claimed no Chinese ancestry. Behind the window in the kitchen I noticed an equally fresh-faced young man who looked like he might have had some Chinese ancestry a few generations ago. Word around town has it that they are from Magdalena across the mountains to the west of Banámichi.

Some of the food available
Unfortunately many of the bins were almost empty. They must be doing a reasonable business. The cook was just finishing up making more fried rice and orange chicken, so we waited. I tried the two entree plate with the orange chicken and the remnants of the beef with broccoli. The latter was excellent - lean and tasty and I wished there had been more of it. The orange chicken was very sweet, as is to the taste of the local population more than to mine. Still, it was hot, crunchy, fresh and tasty...definitely better than the equivalent at an American style buffet that has been sitting on the steam table for hours.

We would happily recommend the place as a long-awaited change from tacos, tortas and poor imitations of hamburgers. We are very pleased that these folks have chosen  Banámichi to start their business. We'll definitely go back, as much to support them and the culinary variety in town as  for the food itself. We wish them the very best and hope that their business is wildly successful!