At Mexican restaurants it is common to hear, and then smell, the fajitas passing by, sputtering and smoking in their cast iron pan. Who invented these meaty morsels may be in dispute, but from humble beginnings the dish has evolved into numerous delicious entrées.
It is said that vaqueros conceived the recipe in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. These Mexican cowboys would be partially paid with less desirable cuts of meat, including skirt steak, or faja which translates as "belt". These tough little belts were tenderized at length in acids such as lime juice, and cooked over a camp fire. In northern Mexico, a similar dish is called arracheras.
Fajitas became a Tex-Mex original in the 1970s. A decade later a German chef introduced "Sizzling Fajitas" at the Hyatt Regency in Austin, and the recipe spread throughout the chain. With such widespread popularity, and just eight pounds of skirt steak per animal, other marinated meats were added to the skillet.
Last week I enjoyed lunch at Tampico Kitchen and Lounge. My grandparents introduced me to Tampico as a teenager, and I would later bring college friends to what was then a tiny, dark room. Today, colorful murals grace the walls in both the restaurant and lounge.
Scanning the menu, I hoped the Chicken Fajita Tostada ($10.95) would make a light, nutritious lunch. Served on a large oval platter, the tender, steaming, grill-marked chicken strips were arranged on the slopes of a large hill of romaine lettuce, topped with chunky guacamole made with tomatoes, and pico de gallo with crunchy white onions. Freshly sliced mushrooms, red bells, strips of crisp jicama, and diced oranges were lightly dressed with vinaigrette. As I dug farther down, black beans, cheese and a blue corn tortilla added even more tasty substance.
Tampico Kitchen and Lounge, 822 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 458-0234. Full bar. Open weekdays at 11 a.m., weekends at 9 a.m. Serving dinner until 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Visit tampicokitchen.net/
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