La Cocina de Mama Greta is the type of place that you don’t see coming off of the main road, or the side road, or even the alley that you have to drive down to get there. It’s almost a mythical place that you can only reach if your guide is the keeper of the keys to Hogwarts. Tucked away behind thrift shops and accounting firms that advertise being armed, you can make the journey through fire and ice to reach the door steps of Mama Greta if you so dare. I myself have found my way here twice and I hope no one makes me go back.
The two times that I went, I was happy to be with my girlfriend who is an adventurous eater, more so than me at least, meaning: when she sees “Salvadorean” on a sign, she wants to go. If I see Italian, Mexican, a picture of a dragon, or a little old lady holding up biscuits or pancakes, that’s my call to arms, my family’s crest, my dinner bell, but my girlfriend has her ear on the train tracks; she is listening for doors to open and vernacular English to vanish entirely. She has knocked it out of the park a couple of times and finding authentic food in your little town is one of life’s most wonderful surprises and it inspires you to initiate the uninitiated. The being said, we have eaten glorious pho, pig belly, udon, and chicken masala together, but La Cocina de Mama Greta is the biggest tease of them all.
When you walk in, no, when you see the sign for this place, it smells good. The menu is extensive and you will not hear anyone (employee or diner) speak English until you do. The first time we went, I was caught off guard walking to our booth by a bowl (more like a cauldron) of soup with 1/2 a crab hanging out of it. All of the tables around me were loud with platters of steak and chicken that made picking a single meal from their vast menu impossible. But it was not long before my guard was up.
I can tell if I am going to like a Mexican restaurant by how much I like their chips and salsa and the salsa coming out of Mama’s kitchen is a joke. It has the consistency of a bloody Mary and it tastes like a peppery armpit. This is normally when I pay for my sweet tea and head to the door, but my girlfriend gets mad when I complain and furious when I bring up the idea of leaving a place after we have been seated, so we wait it out.
On our first visit, my girlfriend ordered the carne asada and I got the stuffed peppers. We ate our food begrudgingly, jealous of the sights and smells around us. Sadly, I don’t think high hopes got in the way of our meal, it just wasn’t that good. The words uninspired, dull, one note, and stupefy come to mind. We left certain that it was not the restaurant’s fault, but our own. Clearly we ordered the wrong thing. Shaking our fists in rage, we vowed to return.
When we apparated to mama’s a second time, my girlfriend got the soup that we had not stopped talking about since our first visit and I decided to order a burrito, because if you can’t make a decent burrito and it is on your menu, you are no good to me. I will start with the soup. It is served in a bowl that could house a box of cereal. I mean it is a TON of soup and we could not finish it. Did we not finish it because of the portions, unlikely. Instead, the broth was very salty and towards the bottom of the bowl, all of the marrow from the bones was waiting, so trying to slurp the broth around hard kernels was not a chore that either of us were willing to invest in a dentist visit in. The soup was good, but my girlfriend and I both felt confident that we could make it and we are not great cooks. The recipe: chicken broth, beef, carrots, cabbage, seasoning…I hope I don’t get in trouble for revealing their recipe.
My burrito was a good burrito. The chicken was crunchy from the grill, the beans and rice were not lacking flavor, and the burrito was pressed so even the tortilla had the welcoming crunch of a grilled cheese sandwich. That being said, the burrito was very pedestrian and I would not be complaining if it were not for the higher price point on it. If I’m going to shell out a few extra dollars for a burrito, make it more filing, unique, or give me some plantains or something as a side, because if I get another plate with bland guacamole and sour cream on a bed of iceberg lettuce as my only side item, it’s avada kedavra time.
What tips the scale of my low rating of this restaurant is not the serviceable food but the service in general. I am not one to time how long things take, but it happened that my girlfriend got a text right around the time we ordered, so I can say with one hand over my heart and the other over a bible with an American flag bookmark that it took over 30 minutes for a burrito and soup to touchdown on our table and even once it came, we had problems: missing silverware, empty drinks, and a lonely chip basket and if the restaurant were even slightly busy, I would mention it, but there were only 10 other people in the place and two of them were watching TV.
I hate to be the muggle of bad news, but this place aint got nothin’ in its spellbook that Chipotle, Taco Bell, or those little frozen beef tortilla things are jealous of. If I go back, I’m pointing at what my neighbor is eating and pulling the old accio spell.