Writers Note: This story was written a week before most of us were asked to “social distance” ourselves from well...everyone else! So unfortunately the menudo spot mentioned in this story (as of me writing this) is no longer serving the magical soup on Saturdays due to the COVID-19 crisis. But rest assured Long Beach, like everything else we loved a month ago, it shall return.
Like many of you, I LOVE menudo.
Now I know menudo is not for everyone. I have plenty of friends who love to remind me that I’m eating a cow's stomach and that it's gross! But of the holy trinity of latin soups (pozole, menudo and albondigas) I have so much love for that bowl of tripe-goodness.
Growing up in Long Beach, I remember going to plenty of menudo spots in the city. One in particular was the Brite Spot on Anaheim Street. “Vamos a las muchachas” my parents would say. That phrase roughly translated to “Let’s go to the ladies spot,” a moniker my parents gave the restaurant on account of all their servers being women.
The menudo served at Brite Spot was one of my favorite foods growing up. And of course it had to be consumed on a Sunday and usually before one of our many family outings. Brite Spot's menudo (for me) was king.
Even today, one of my favorite things to do (for a select few of my co-workers who don’t mind eating cow stomach, LOL) is to stop by a daily menudo restaurant and pick up three to-go cups of menudo for breakfast on Fridays at the office.
But finding that perfect bowl of that tripe goodness isn’t always easy. Some places serve it with hominy, some are a little too spicy and some (who will remain unnamed) serve it tasting a little too close to Juanitas, a famous canned brand of menudo that in a pinch does the job.
So when you find a good menudo spot, it’s like striking gold! But how, Jesse, did you find your best menudo in Long Beach? Well that’s where my Ham & Tater come in to play.
My mom, “Ham” (a nickname I gave her when I was younger based on the character from Tiny Toon Adventures, a cartoon show in the ’90s) and dad “Tater” (also a nickname I gave my dad on account of “papa” being the word for potato in Spanish and somehow that morphed into tater tot) have always been my “Zagat” guide to Mexican food in Long Beach. It’s not that I don’t trust food writers or influencers, but my Ham and Tater, well... they just know where all the good places are at!
On a recent visit, I mentioned to my Ham that the menudo place I frequent was getting a little too salty for my taste. Immediately Ham gave me that Mexican mom look of slight disappointment (that look of, you’re dumb but I still love you) and said I had to follow them to their new menudo spot... at a Mexican grocery store.
Without hesitation I made a date to return the following Saturday to be at their house at 8 a.m. so that I could learn of this new menudo spot they were both raving about.
Menudo Saturday? I thought Menudo was a Sunday thing? Well yes it is, but my Ham advised me that this new place was too busy for her liking on Sunday. So they go Saturdays instead.
According to Apple Maps the menudo is located at 449 W Anaheim St. But if you just pulled up to this address you might be fooled into thinking you had the wrong place.
Just look for the “carnicería market” sign off of Anaheim Street and head towards the doors below the “Ahorro Store” sign. You can’t miss it! I mean, I missed it, for years apparently! But not my Ham & Tater, they knew.
Once you enter the Mexican grocery store, walk towards the back by the carnicería (the butcher's) and there you’ll find a handwritten pink sign and large styrofoam bowl with the words MENUDO $6.50 + tax written on both. When you see those, you know you’ve made it!
So there I was, with my Ham (Tater was in the car sleeping because why not) standing in line with about six other people waiting for the Menudo man to start selling at 8:30 a.m.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, Jesse, there was a line? Yes and from what my mom tells me it’s triple the size on Sundays, so be prepared to wait in a long line (and my Ham’s Mexican mom looks of disappointment) if you go on Sunday.
As we approached the front of the line to order our GIANT cups of menudo goodness, my Ham made sure I knew that she would be ordering both cups with “pata” or pigs foot in them and that just so I knew, this menudo place did not serve their menudo with hominy. Probably a subject for another time but one that is very controversial, at least in my family.
Finally the menudo man was ready to sell his intoxicating elixir. We received our order along with a generous portion of chopped onions and some sliced limes (essentials in creating the perfect bowl of menudo).
Driving back to my parents' home, the distinctive smell of menudo began to engulf the air in my car. My excitement to taste this menudo only grew with each red light stop as more of the smell made its way towards the front of my car.
When we arrived home, Ham warmed up some tortillas, brought out the oregano (another optional ingredient that pairs well with menudo) and told me and Tater to take a seat at the table. She poured the containers of menudo into a pot to keep it warm and began to serve the both of us. Ham prepared three bowls, two with pata (for Ham and Tater) and the third for me, sans any pata but chock-full of tripe!
Now I’m a purist when it comes to menudo. The hangover soup must stand on its own for me with no additional accoutrements added until I’ve properly sampled the broth. The excitement in my taste buds were at maximum as I sank my spoon into the bowl and pulled out that golden tripe mixed with transparent red liquid.
You know that scene in Ratatouille towards the end of the Pixar flick where the curmudgeon old food critic is transported to his childhood at first bite of Remy the rat's delicious ratatouille dish? Well that was basically me. A wave of emotions hit my taste buds as I began to eat my new best menudo. The tripe was perfectly cooked and cut into the optimal proportion for maximum enjoyment. And that broth... Wow! Not too spicy, not too salty but as Goldilocks put it, it was juuuust right!
I was so enamored with the taste that I almost ate all of my bowl without putting a little lime in the bowl. Lucky Ham saw I was running low on the menudo and topped me off with more menudo goodness. And once again the broth shined even more with the addition of the citrus.
As I got to the bottom of the bowl I began to reflect on the meal I had just enjoyed. I thought about Jose the butcher, who was kind enough to make this beautiful menudo masterpiece. And I also thought about my parents. It’s not everyday you find your best Long Beach menudo and get to travel back in time with your Ham and Tater and enjoy one more menudo Sunday... minus “las muchachas” of course.
Watch the video of the search with Ham and Tater.