Lucia's Family Restaurant serves a good hamburger. The bread is soft, the lettuce and tomato are crisp and wet, and the half-pound of juicy beef is from Ranch Foods Direct. At $6.75, with hand-cut French fries, it's cheap and served in a small restaurant that provides thoughtful service, even to-go: Andrea Ruby, daughter of owners Paul and Jo-Etta Prada, went so far as to ask whether I'd like the condiments pre-added to the burger, or included in the bag. I went with the bag, and enjoyed my lunch back at the office.
Lucia's also serves a good green chili ($6.75, with two corn or flour tortillas). Though the big chunks of pork are fatty, and a thin film of grease quickly tops a resting bowl, the stew is almost as hot as King's Chef Diner's, with more flavor and, forgive the pretension, structure, as the tomatoes and onions create a space for the green chilies to burn in.
I just wish the good hamburger and good green chili didn't show up almost everywhere.
For instance, the standard huevos rancheros ($7.75), with its two eggs, homemade beans and tortilla, mostly provides a vehicle for the green chili. It's part of the breakfast menu, which also includes a decent burrito ($5) with eggs, so-so sausage crumbles and more of those hand-cut potatoes in the form of scorched hashbrowns — plus optional red or green chili.
Then there's the half-pound beef burrito ($7.25): Beans and beef wrapped in a tortilla and covered in your choice of chili, cheese, lettuce, onion and optional sour cream should be a can't-miss. But maybe I've just been eating too much 24-hour Mexican food, because I am expecting carne asada, and by the end of the burrito, I am wishing for carne asada. The hamburger meat's texture and flavor just doesn't work when combined with the pork of the green chili, and it doesn't really work on its own — too much subconscious brain power spent wondering where the bun is.
In the same vein, the red chili enchiladas ($7.25) live in a tangy red sauce, and are definitely decent, but are ultimately undone by the hamburger-meat weirdness.
Other items suffer from similar discordant notes. Also from Ranch Foods Direct comes the Laughing Lab bratwurst ($4.75 with French fries), but it arrives plain, with bottles of Heinz ketchup and French's mustard. It's a simplistic approach to a food that's built to handle potentially infinite combinations, and one that the well-meaning hole-in-the-wall next to the old Rocket Room seems to apply to all its dishes.
Even with the rock club bringing people next-door, this forlorn corner swallowed two restaurants in 2010 without batting a window shade. Now, without that neighborhood draw, you're left with a place that's not on the way to anything, and with a parking lot that's a pain in the ass to navigate if you do happen to go there. The restaurant does offer free delivery, but it's delivering food I can get almost anywhere, and often for less money.
Lucia's is fighting an uphill battle. The Pradas knew this going in, and to open anyway shows heaping helpings of optimism and tenacity. Unfortunately, I can't eat those things for lunch.
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