A Cheap Mexican Takeout Feast from Garcia's
The cavernous dining hall of Garcia's rings with the din of with families in the early evening and revelers late at night. Its waitstaff serves them all alike from a cheap, basic, but expansive Mexican menu that covers every base, from crowd favorites like tacos, fajitas and near-to-bursting burritos to traditional dishes like menudo, pozole (weekends only) and carne asada with nopalitos.
Garcia's also does a tidy takeout business through a separate, Western Avenue-facing entrance. The echoing rowdiness of the dining experience there usually has me ducking in here to grab a few bags to go for one of those quiet nights spent on the couch with Netflix. It's nothing fancy, and that's precisely the point. This is everything you'll ever want or expect in takeout food: it's prepped fast (everything you see here was ready in less than 15 minutes); it's cheap, plentiful, and easy to share.
Dig around for the extra sour cream; it was destined for this quesadilla with puerco (appetizer, $8.25). It's a straight take on the most simple of Mexican dishes, with a thin layer of shredded cheese and mild-tasting pork folded into a corn tortilla and lightly pan-fried. For more flavor and spice, ask for chorizo instead. This was a good snack, along with the chips and salsa ($3.50), while we dug everything else out of the takeout bags.
Last year Tribune "cheap eater" Kevin Pang called this his favorite chicken tortilla soup ($7) in the city, and I'm tempted to agree. A huge portion is packed into a tall plastic tub floating with wide strips of fresh corn tortilla, bites of avocado, sweet corn, chunks of white-meat chicken, and cubes of slightly congealed chihuahua cheese ready to re-melt upon a return to the stove pot (this is takeout, after all). Even without all of those add-ins, the chicken broth alone—herbal, earthy, salty—hits all the right notes.
One flaky bite into the chimichanga with carne asada ($8.50) unleashes a small avalanche of steak and—meat-lovers celebrate!—very little else. Imagine an entire 16-ounce spice-rubbed steak grilled to somewhere between well and very well done, chopped into charred pieces, packed down into a giant flour tortilla, and deep-fried' till flaky. That's exactly what this is. You won't find rice, vegetables, or really anything except a slick of refried beans on bottom.
Mole is a wonderfully rich, complex sauce when done attentively. When you get it on the cheap it's more of a functionally thick, pasty dark sauce to mop other stuff in. So don't expect a fully developed house mole when you get the pollo en mole ($13.50), but it worked for me as ingredients for little DIY mole tacos: I pulled the chicken from the bones, laid it into a corn tortilla with refried beans and extra mole sauce, and added a spoonful of salsa for brightness and some jalapeno spice.
These fajitas vegetarianas ($11) should win a prize for the sheer variety of vegetables Garcia's packs in. Vegetarians who have become inured to a limp pile of greasy vegetables as the token veggie option will be happy to tuck into this massive pile of broccoli, carrots, squash, bell peppers, potatoes, sweet corn, onions, and mushrooms. And rather than oil-slicked, they're all cooked down in a tomato ranchero sauce.