|The Substation and Mexican Grill: A 5-Star Harrisonburg joint (photo:Reed)|
Our favorite kind of restaurant is what we call a good joint. These are small, unpretentious places, where the food is actually cooked from scratch in the kitchen and the decor doesn't look as though it's done by a professional decorator. Eating out, to Charlie and me, is about good chow eaten in non-cookie cutter places, where we can wear our jeans.
The first restaurant Charlie and I tried in Harrisonburg was a small, colorful taquería. There it was, bright yellow and beckoning, drawing us in like a couple of ants to chocolate cake. Charlie ordered goat meat tacos, settled back in his mismatched chair and announced, "I think I'm going to like this town!"
We went back to that taqueria often enough to get to know some of the folks who worked there. Manuel we learned was José's brother; Lourdes was José's wife. We also learned that the place was owned by an absentee landlord who didn't pay very much, demanded astonishingly long hours, and kept tips that had not been placed directly in the hand of an employee. This meant that gratuity put on a credit card, left on the table, or put in the tip jar went directly to that never-seen owner!
Naturally this dimmed our enthusiasm for the place. We feel strongly that hard work deserves fair wages!
|Lourdes Minero (photo by Judy Dilts)|
We went, we ate, we loved the food!
José cooks it, Lourdes serves it to us. They are working, she says, 14-hour days, and, yes, she is tired. But they are working for themselves, and that makes all the difference. Their young daughter hangs out in the back. Manuel, who works construction in Northern Virginia, comes in on the weekends to help out. And other family members and friends pitch in as well.
The old Waffle House has been transformed into a bright, cheerful, colorful, welcoming place.
As a former professional cook, I can only give the food at The Substation and Mexican Grill two enthusiastic thumbs up. Everything on the menu is made from scratch. If you order chips, that's when they go back and cook the chips. The guacamole is fresh with what looks like a whiff of pico de gallo mixed in to lighten it a bit. My current favorite entrée is a Tilapia BLT -- two flour tortillas, filled with grilled chunks of fish, bacon, and grilled vegetables. Served with sour cream and salsa.
|Dalila (a friend of Lourdes), Andres (Manuel's son), Georgina (Lourdes and Jose's daughter) , Lourdes, and Jose (photo by Judy Dilts)|
I makes me feel encouraged just to hang out at the Substation and Mexican Grill, eat, and have a chat with whomever's working.
Anyone want to join me there for lunch one day?