Everyone’s Taste is Not Your Own

Photo by the author

The past has flavor. It tastes like cherry popsicles melting red down your arm on a hot summer day. It might taste like Saturday night at home, watching the movie of the week and eating pepperoni pizza. The kind from a box kit, with tiny circles of spicy pepperoni swirled into the sauce. Sometimes it tastes like love and joy, like Friday night dinner out with your family – tacos and enchiladas and queso and salsa and chips hot from the fryer.

Photo by the author

We drove up to Wichita Falls one Saturday, to explore the downtown and see if we could find something interesting in the antique shops. Along the way we stopped in Muenster at Fischer’s, a small grocery stocked with local products inspired by the town’s German heritage. I bought spaetzle and pickles and chow-chow relish. My mouth watered in anticipation of the tang of vinegar. Then, as we made our way to the cashiers at the front of the store, I spotted a box of Chef Boyardee pepperoni pizza mix. I hadn’t seen this product in the Dallas area in ages. I scooped up the last two boxes. This pizza had been a staple of my childhood and teenage years.

Photo by the author – Downtown Wichita Falls

In Wichita Falls, we trooped through dusty shops and searched for bargains, climbed creaking stairs in hopes of discovering treasure. We had left our drinks in the car, parked two blocks away. As the hot afternoon wore on, I dreamed of a cold glass of iced tea. After wandering through a maze of shelves stocked with foggy glassware, yellowed magazines, and toys with missing parts – Andrew and I decided it was time for an early dinner.

Photo by the author – Miss Kim judges your taste

Photo by the author – the seamstress

I had picked the restaurant based on the Yelp reviews. The place had been in business for decades and had racked up a reassuring 4.5 stars out of 5. Their specialty was something called a “red taco.” I couldn’t wait to try it.

“I don’t know,” Andrew said. “It might be too busy. If there’s a wait we can come back later.”

I agreed, but secretly vowed to suffer the wait. I’d dreamed of that taco the whole time we circled through stacks of broken typewriters and piles of musty books.

Photo by the author

When we arrived at the restaurant, I was thrilled when the smiling cashier told us to sit wherever we wanted. We squeezed into a narrow booth. A waitress popped by to take our order. Andrew decided on enchiladas and asked for queso in place of chili. I had a combination plate – a cheese enchilada and the long anticipated red taco. We added a bowl of queso to start.

When the waitress dropped off our chips and queso, I thought there had been some mistake and we’d been served biscuits instead. Each piece was at least a quarter inch thick and weighed enough to raise a decent welt if I chunked it at someone. The queso sported a suspicious pink tinge, as though the antacid were already blended into the sauce. A pudding-like consistency, it clung to the chips and quivered.

Andrew gave me a stricken look. “I added queso to my enchiladas.”

“Maybe they will mess up the order.”

However, our main meal arrived quickly and was just as we had requested. The famous taco was certainly red. A vivid, siren screaming red that could only come from a lifetime allotment of red dye number 40. The taco shell was thick like the chips, and possibly made from the same tortillas. Where had they come from? I’d never seen anything like that, unless you count the time I attempted to roll out my own corn tortillas at home. The refried beans were lumpy and unseasoned. My cheese enchilada was good, but there wasn’t nearly enough of it to justify the price on the menu.

I pulled up the Yelp app and read through the reviews. Had we stumbled into some alternate universe, one where everyone else thought this tasted fine? Like that Twilight Zone episode where everyone has a pig face except this one girl who believes she’s the ugliest person alive?

This time, I searched for the 1 star opinions. As I read through the ratings, one theme appeared throughout – puzzlement. Then I sorted the positive reviews. Most had one thing in common – memory.

“I’ve been going here since I was a child.”

“I always stop in Wichita Falls for a red taco.”

All around us there were smiling people dining on the chips, dipping into the queso. It must be tradition. So many restaurants closed during Covid. I can count on one hand the stores that are still open that also existed when I was young. How reassuring it must be to have one constant in your life, one place you can go and say you’ve been there for years? The food must taste better when flavored by memory.

Photo by the author

7 thoughts on “Everyone’s Taste is Not Your Own

    1. We were very surprised by the food – it wasn’t at all what we expected lol. Reading the Yelp and Trip Advisor reviews was hilarious – people either loved or hated the place. When we got home the next day we went to our favorite Tex Mex place – Taco Joint!

      Liked by 1 person

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