On Friday night, the fog returned to the City, and I returned to La Rondalla, the quintessential Mission “Mexican” restaurant.
Closed since 2007 and threatening to re-open every month since December 2011, the blessed event finally occurred Thursday night.
La Rondalla has been reborn.
In my party were two Scientists and my Editor. It was 8 p.m. “I’ve never really been here when it was still light outside,” said one of the Scientists, the smaller one.
In the late 80s, the Scientists and I conducted a series of experiments at La Rondalla. We asked: what are the chances of a heart attack if we drink two pitchers of margaritas, share the Botano and eat the La Rondalla Special at 2 a.m. and then play basketball six hours later?
If you’re looking for that La Rondalla – always dark, always vintage, always mariachi Christmas, with the mudflap Aztec princesses, velvet paintings and old family photos staring down at you from the walls – stay home and turn off the lights.
You won’t find it on 20th and Valencia. La Rondalla 2.0 is suburban chic: light, orange, clean, bright, smooth, loud, clean bathrooms, clean kitchen, clean floors. Bring shades and charge your phone. You’re better off texting than talking.
A mariachi band appeared, but was immediately gobbled up by the din. Bring your own mariachi playlist.
The margaritas tasted light. “It’s the alcohol,” said the Scientists. “You’ll get diabetes before you get a buzz,” one of them, the bigger one, said, alluding to the sugar content.
After much scientific jargon passed back and forth with chips and salsa, the Scientists stated their hypothesis: there was no tequila in the margarita.
The next time we saw our waitress, my Editor asked if she could taste any tequila. Looking grim, harassed, and yet sweet, the waitress whisked the pitcher into the kitchen for testing.
When she returned, she was laughing. “Of course there’s tequila.” She was right.
And the reviews?
Strong said the Scientists. And tasty.
Chips, Salsa and La Rondalla Botano
The chips were not as fat and greasy as my memory. More like Paplote’s. The salsas, green and red, were weak, light, uninspired. They tasted almost – healthy.
We were getting worried. Seriously.
Saved by the old Botano! Of course it wasn’t the old Botano, but the newer version of the old Botano. Kind of a super nacho with carne asada, carnitas, avocado, cilantro and sour cream piled on the thinner, no doubt healthier, chips. And fresher ingredients, said the Scientists.
The portion was big, but not humongous.
But something seemed missing. What?
La Rondalla Asado Special (carne asada especial)
Even from across the table, my Editor could see the cut of meat used was more than an old salty slice of hide ripped off as the herd wandered down Valencia Street. To what may dismay purists, both Scientists, after moments of thoughtful chewing, agreed it tasted like steak – good steak.
This dish, a skirt steak smothered with sauteed fries, onions and tomatoes, reprised the theme of fresh(er) and high(er) quality ingredients. Like the Botano, it was more than plenty but not too much.
Ghost Tacos with Virtual Beans
Unencumbered by the ghosts of La Rondalla past, my Editor ordered the Tacos de Tinga. Pickier than most local diners after a pitcher of margaritas (with tequila), my Editor fact checked her order when it arrived. She discovered that beef had been substituted for chicken and refried beans for black beans.
When our waitress passed by again, she expressed her personal anguish, and whisked (yes, whisked!) away the tacos promising they would return, correctly, ya mismo. Or was it en seguida?
The tacos, true or false, didn’t reappear.
My Editor was happy picking at everyone else’s plate. Some say that’s an editor’s job.
The Missing Ingredient
It may still be in the mix, but the microbes in my intestines tell me if so, the chef is using a lot less.
The Scientists brought back a sample of the sauteed fries to their lab and I promise a full report on their findings.
The Secret Ingredient
Don’t expect express.
They never rushed you at La Rondalla. A tradition 2.0 hasn’t lost.
And something else. Whether your margaritas come with tequila or black beans, or your tacos never come back at all, the staff could not be more delightful. Despite the crowds and the opening week chaos, the owners and the workers seem to have recaptured the spirit of the place: they seemed to be having fun – even if they were running here and there.
When we walked back into the fog, I felt the past alive in the present. My Editor said I was just feeling full.
The Scientists, always careful to distinguish satisfaction from fact, decided that to know — to really know — we would have to come back to La Rondalla after midnight.