El Rio's fry bread guy mends romantic hunger
CHEAP EATS I had a coffee date after work in Alameda. He wasn't feeling well and wondered about chicken soup. I knew exactly what to tell him, and he invited me to come along, but got it to go.
"Do you want a drink?" he said, while we were waiting.
I liked the guy alright, but don't drink before dinner.
When his soup came, he walked me to my bike and gave me a hug.
"Let me know what you think of the soup," I said. The place was La Piñata, but it said something else on it. It still said La Piñata, but it just also said I-forget-what. Some other name. So maybe it was La Piñata, and maybe not. But, hey, I get sick too, and what if my favorite bowl of chicken soup in Alameda is not what it used to be?
These were the thoughts I was thinking. Honestly, I knew I wasn't going to see the guy again, datewise. I just wanted to know about the soup. In retrospect, of course I should have just ordered a bowl, to stay, and sent him packing.
I remember why I didn't. I had to get to Deevee's house in downtown Oakland to pick up/borrow my/her pink cowboy hat before she went to sleep. This was important because I was going camping the next day, and Deevee goes to sleep early. So no matter how hungry I was (very very), I had to suck it up, bike to BART, BART to downtown Oakland, bike to Deevee's, and bike back toward BART on an empty stomach.
All for the sake of a pink cowboy hat. What can I say? I have a huge fucking head, and this is one of only two hats I have found in my life that fits it. It's good to have a cowboy hat when you go camping. Keeps the sun off your ears, the rain out of your eyes, and the pine needles out of your hair — and if it's pink it might even make you popular with park rangers.
Just a thought.
Thinking which, I forsook a bowl of sit-down soup to get to Deevee's before bedtime (hers). Then, on my way back to BART, I thought I would duck into the first restaurant I saw for a quick little bite of something-or-other.
Binh Minh Quan. Vietnamese. Downtown Oakland just a couple blocks shy of BART on 12th Street. It was after 9 p.m. so the place was more than half-empty.
Me, I rarely want to eat in a hurry, but I do, on occasion, have low blood sugar meltdowns that — as many of my friends will attest — can get a little dicey. Usually I manage to keep the dice in my head. I just quietly go crazy, lose my sense of self and direction, then, glazed and psychotic, stagger to the nearest refrigerator and eat every single thing in it in 30 seconds or less. Blink, everything's okay again, give or take a little heartburn.
I've learned to stave off these attacks by eating five meals a day and snacking in between. But sometimes when I'm at work, dating over coffee, or on an urgent hat-related mission — not to mention all three back-to-back — shit happens.
Wouldn't you know it? The cute little staff of Binh Minh Quan, on this particular evening, was entirely overwhelmed by a party of seven. It took them almost 15 minutes to take my order, and another 20 or so to bring me my bun. Meanwhile, I tried to distract myself by talking local politics to my hat in a Cookie Monster voice, but under my breath.
Finally! The bun was of course great, but no way is this my New Favorite Restaurant. No. My New Favorite Restaurant is the guy at El Rio who makes fry bread, or Indian tacos, on Monday nights. His name is Rocky, he recently transplanted himself here from Arizona, and I think he might be Apache or else maybe I got that wrong.
Any case, I've run into him twice, once on the sidewalk and once on the El Rio patio, and both times he made my day. His savory fry bread, stacked with beans, cheese, and onions, transports me back to Delta's Depression Dough, and breakfast.
And that's a great place to start.
ROCKY THE FRY BREAD GUY @ EL RIO
Mon. 8 p.m. until he runs out of dough
3158 Mission, SF