Moving is a drag. Besides the actual grunt work of packing, hauling and unpacking, there's the tricky business of acclimating to a new environment and making new friends. Personally, I must also contend with an ornery stomach that demands I find new eateries to sate its boundless cravings.
This aspect of my last move proceeded smoothly with one surprising exception. Nowhere in the Springs could I find enchiladas as satisfying as those I'd enjoyed beneath the Santa Barbara, Calif., sun. Regional differences in Mexican cuisine and among Mexican-American chefs certainly contribute to the crisis. Yet the search for scrumptious enchiladas has entered its fifth year. At least I'm not a quitter.
My latest quest found me working backward from my favorite taco truck, or lonchera, which parks on the east side of Union Boulevard between Palmer Park and Constitution, to its home base, La Flor de Jalisco in Security. It's a humble, family-operated restaurant in an unassuming space furnished with a few booths and a long table. Velvet paintings, including one of a toreador impaling a bull, and a fantastic Pancho Villa poster alone punctuate the bare white walls.
Arriving almost immediately, a basket of chips and a ramekin of excellent salsa took our minds off the dcor. Built on a foundation of tomatillos, the salsa struck a perfect balance between tang and heat. The chips disappeared almost immediately.
The sparse menu offers most everything as a full plate with rice and beans, or a la carte. Sadly, the enchiladas ($4.99) that had drawn us southward didn't bring the arduous search to a dramatic conclusion. Stuffed with a generous helping of cheese, they need more sauce and stronger flavors to complement the gooeyness.
La Flor de Jalisco's other dishes work pretty well. Carne asada ($7.99), an intact slab of skirt steak topped with onions and peppers, expressed the smoky char of an open flame. Unlike the enchiladas, a generous serving of tangy sauce and the embedded chiles' heat offset the preponderance of cheese in the chiles rellenos ($4.99). Shrimp ceviche ($3) represents the menu's lighter side, with its refreshing mix of chopped shrimp, onions and hot pepper cured in lime juice.
Without question, birria de res ($8.99) is the flower of La Flor de Jalisco. The dish itself meat stewed in a broth built around fragrant and pungent dried red chiles hails from Jalisco, where it has been cooked for hundreds of years, especially on festive occasions. This version substitutes beef for the more traditional goat, and arrives with tortillas, cilantro, lime wedges and spicy ground dried chiles on the side. Season the sumptuous broth to taste (go slowly), drop some meat chunks in a tortilla, zap them with some lime and cilantro, then dip the assembly in the soup broth to experience the full range of rich, sweet and spicy flavors.
La Flor de Jalisco is a good option for those living on the south side of town. There's also a solid selection of Mexican beers ($3.25) and premium tequilas ($6) to amplify the experience for grown-ups. It may not be much to look at, but the birria will surely keep you warm as the days and nights turn cool.
La Flor de Jalisco
5520 S. Hwy. 85/87, Security, 392-4571
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.