The stretch of Eureka's Fourth Street between T and R streets is broad-daylight sketchy. And yet two restaurants have built cult followings there: Tandoori Bites, with its lunch buffet of curries, and La Patria Mariscos and Grill (1718 Fourth St.), just a samosa's throw across the street.
A couple of years ago, Adrian and Cici Ayala took over the latter (formerly La Patria Solis), changing up the menu to include more seafood than we've seen on a local Mexican menu, which is to say it's brimming with ceviche, octopus and lots of shrimp. This raises the question: How are we not eating more Mexican seafood? Look at Mexico, already. It's surrounded by water. Some would say big water. Ocean water.
The shrimp Botanero ($15.99) is a good way to dive in. The platter of more than a dozen garlicky head-on shrimp with charred Serrano peppers over a bed of grilled onions is edged with lime wedges, avocado, tomatoes and cucumber (for which you'll be grateful if you go all-in on the peppers). To peel or not to peel? The shrimp are cooked tender enough to go full Daryl Hannah in Splash if you want to enjoy the crunch and every bit of savory seasoning. And I'll take your heads if you aren't going to take advantage of the creamy concentration of flavor therein. The tomatillo and avocado sauce is a cool, tart accompaniment and, if you are ready for it, the side of dark, oily dried chili sauce brings more heat. Proceed with caution.
Another draw is the availability of consomme birria ($6.99 small, $9.99 large) all week long instead of just weekends. Not since Black Philip has goat been so tempting. The glorious, velvety brick-red broth and long-stewed pulled goat seasoned with adobo and dried chilis are deeply flavorful and enlivened with a squeeze of lime, a pinch of cilantro and onion. It's messy work but the warm, homemade corn tortillas are grilled to stand up to holding a scoop of meat. Don't punk out if you encounter a knob of bone — just be grateful to enjoy the real thing.
Let us not fall into the tribal factions and false dichotomy of pie vs. cake. Really, given the fact that Boston cream pie is really cake and cheesecake — with its graham cracker crust — is more of a pie, are we not already living in a post pie-vs.-cake society? (Drag me in the comments if you want. I said what I said.)
Open your mind and embrace the dessert-fluid lemon meringue cake at Cafe Brio, 791 G St. in Arcata.
Somewhere in the cumulus cloud of toasted Swiss meringue — a creamier and less foamy version of the mile-high stuff of diner pies, reminiscent of a well-browned marshmallow — are layers of surprisingly dense lemon chiffon cake with lemon syrup, caramel and lemon cream. The 4-inch cake ($14) goes further than you might think, serving at least four reasonable people or one person with an enviably open schedule for the rest of the day, while the tall 6-inch cake serves eight ($30).
And once you are made instantly happy by eating this cake — reaching, in your joy, across the pie/cake divide — we can all unite to reclaim pudding and gelatin, restoring them to their rightful glory. That's right. I said what I said.
There are those who roll their eyes at the mention of another Mexican restaurant opening in Humboldt. And fine, I just did a quick count of around 60. Whatever. The cuisine of Mexico contains multitudes and we have merely scraped its surface here.
The vibe at Tuyas (553 Main St., Ferndale) is modern and a little swanky, with rough-hewn meta-beams suspended from the ceiling, Andrei Hedstrom's rainbow-jubilant paintings and a feast-ready redwood table with benches. Chef Gillermo Dominguez's take on mole enchiladas is good enough to steal your attention from all that ($14). On a recent rainy afternoon, we went with the adobada pork filling, which was juicy, charred here and there, and lightened with warm chunks of pineapple. The freshly made corn tortillas, fried to a crepe-like chewiness, were cloaked in smooth, nutty chocolate sauce and a scattering of queso fresco. The dark sauce is just warmed with chilis and more creamy than smoky or bitter. It's the kind of labor-intensive dish that makes one a little sentimental: It reminds you that someone stood at a stove and cooked for you for as long as it took.
Sidebar: If you feel $14 is too much for a plate of mole enchiladas without a belly-distending side of beans and rice, reconsider. That is, think about what it costs to get good pork, spices — sweet Jesus, the price of chocolate — and the hours of labor that go into making mole and then think about what you'd pay for a French meal that takes six hours to make. We are generally paying too little for Mexican food and giving too little respect to its cooks. Keep it in mind and tip generously the next time you get a burrito.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or Jennifer@northcoastjournal.com Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.