Taqueria El Castillito

Today a temp asked me if he gets tomorrow off for Thanksgiving. “Nope,” I said with a straight face, “we’ve all got to work.” He seemed skeptical, but any indignity is possible when you’re temping, so I had to confess that I was kidding.

“We get Thursday off, sure, but then we have to come in on Saturday to make up the time.” I think he believed me, but I’ll straighten him out on Friday, if I remember.

Hey, kiddo — I’m not the boss. Not even the lead. Ask a responsible adult.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Man from Laramie (1955) is James Stewart, and he has a score to settle with the Apache. It’s an agreeable adventure, if you ignore the plain truth that the Apache have a score to settle with America. Stewart’s co-star is an actress I’d never seen before, Aline MacMahon, and she steals the show as a grizzled rancher, ex-lover of the bad guy’s father, who befriends Stewart. The movie’s antagonist is presented as sane, even likable, and it makes for a good show.

3:10 to Yuma (1957) is one of the best westerns I've yet seen. Van Hefflin plays a bankrupt farmer who, with nothing to lose except his life and everything he owns, agrees to escort a captured killer to jail in another town. Glenn Ford, in a rare turn as the bad guy, is barely bothered by being a prisoner, because he knows that his gang will be galloping into town any minute, with guns ablazin’ to enable his escape.

I don’t like ‘film critic’ clichés like “a psychological study,” but if some other film is a study, this is a college education. The bad guy has a good side, the good guy can be led into temptation, and there’s so much tension here, I even believed the movie's improbable climax. Intelligent characters, in a well-written drama with moral implications bigger than the story being told. The audience laughed, cried, and clapped, and so did I. Written by Halsted Welles, and whoever the heck he is or was, he did outstanding work here.

Warning, though: Both of tonight’s films included theme songs warbled by Frankie Laine, or someone equally unwelcome. It's a vestige, I think, of the "singing cowboy" era, the 1930s and '40s, when many westerns featured cowpokes who sang a few songs for the camera, as lovably parodied in Three Amigos.

♦ ♦ ♦

After the movies, I walked a block and lingered at the window of the Sincere Cafe, reading the menu, salivating, and trying to talk myself out of eating dinner there. The food is great and it’s my favorite restaurant in Frisco. They don’t have much for vegetarians, though, and I’ve been mostly meatless for a couple of months now. They do have some shrimp-and-rice entrees which wouldn’t offend my new improved diet, because shrimp is a vegetable, y'know, but I probably wouldn't order it. If I walked inside and sat down, I’d order a Number 1, the porky delight I usually pig out on at the Sincere. 

It could be my own Thanksgiving dinner, a special occasion, and I’ve been so good that I deserve a treat … But no, I was a good kid instead. Ain’t you proud of me? I walked a few blocks to Mission Street, and ate instead at Taqueria El Castillito, my second favorite restaurant in San Francisco. It's a dive with excellent Mexican food, at ridiculously reasonable prices.

El Castillito makes a veggie burrito that’s huge, hot, delicious, and filling, for only $3-something, and it comes with a big bag of crunchy tortilla chips. You should say "Hold the jalapeno" on that burrito, because the green sauce the comes with the chips is already hot enough to ignite your intestines. 

I ordered two vegetarian burritos, one for tonight, and one for tomorrow. Ate the first one at the restaurant, and ate the second one as soon as I got home.

Since I’m recommending El Castillito, though, I ought to warn you about the homeless people and cockroaches. They have both. The bums come because the prices are so cheap, and it's probably their only nourishment that isn't from a bottle. The cockroaches come, just because they're roaches.

It's probably impossible to get rid of an infestation in that building, in that neighborhood, but there are never many roaches visible, so I'm sure the restaurant is doing their best. Usually I’ll spot one or two on the wall in the kitchen, but they're rarely in the dining area, and anyway, at the prices they're charging, don't be persnickety. I've eaten hundreds of burritos from El Castillito, and if a few roaches have snuck in with the food, I ain't worried. So long as you don’t think about it while you’re chewing, it’s yummy (and it doesn’t count as meat).

From Pathetic Life #6
Wednesday, November 23, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Addendum, 2021: My spellchecker doesn’t like ‘taqueria,’ and suggested ‘bacteria’ instead. 

It looks like El Castillito is no longer on Mission Street, which is tragic. They've moved to Church Street, in the Castro District, a much swankier area that probably has fewer bums and roaches. Bums and roaches were part of the place's appeal, though, so it simply can't be as good as it was. And El Castillito now has a second location in suburban Livermore, for god's sake. 

Also, in 1994 there was no IMDB, so finding out what else Halsted Welles had written would’ve involved a bus ride or long walk to the library. With modern technology, though, I can see his curriculum vitae with just a few clicks, and … he mostly worked in television, and wrote nothing else noteworthy.

Pathetic Life   

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  1. Google Street View says El Castillito is still at 17th and Mission, as of Feb 2021. You may not remember, there has been one on Churc Street since before I got to SF in 96. I THINK you and I ate there once, but it was not as good as the Mission one.

    I remember the first meal you and I had together was at the Mission El Castillito. I had the chicken nachos. They were FUCKING HUGE, and amazing. I later had their burrito, and it was good, but not in my top three or five, I don't think.

    1. I was going from taqueriaelcastillito.com, which lists just two locations and Mission Street isn't one of them.

      GrubHub and UberEats both think El Castillito is still on Mission Street, though, so now I'm confused.

    2. I Googled it this morning, it still exists. Maybe not the same owners?

    3. Seems nuts but it happens. In the Seattle area, there's a sorta chain of fish'n'chip shops called Spud, but every location has a different owner, website, and menu. Here in 'Sconsin, there are two restaurants twenty miles apart with the same name, unrelated, because they used to be owned by the same schmuck.

      And that website, taqueriaelcastillito.com, seems way too upscale for the El Castillito I used to eat at.

  2. >And that website, taqueriaelcastillito.com, seems way too upscale for the El Castillito I used to eat at.

    Holy crap, you ain't kidding. OG El Castillito is a hole in the wall. This website makes it look like a chain restaurant, Casa Bonita or something.


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