Food & Drink

Bite Of The Day: San José Teruel On Church Avenue

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At first glance, San José Teruel (1804 Church Avenue) looks like any other bodega – a tiny store tucked between a deli and a pizza place, its windows crammed with signs for soda, a Mexican flag, and photos of a dozen or so sandwiches brimming with meat and cheese.

It was a place we’d passed by a million times before, often en route to Fisherman’s Cove, and we ended up going in there recently because the line at the Tacos El Dorado food truck was a million people long.

And this hole-in-the-wall? It turned out to be some of the best Mexican food we’ve had in the area.

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Greeted with narrow aisles exploding with spices and candy upon entering the shop, you travel beneath a sea of brightly colored pinatas to the back of the store, and stand before a giant sign advertising the kitchen’s offerings: tostados, quesadillas, tortas, flautas, burritos, tacos, and more.

After wavering between our options, we settled on a chorizo torta.

“With everything?” the man behind the counter asked.

“Yes, with everything,” I said as he nodded approvingly.

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That was the right call, as the torta (which was massive and fed two people for dinner) was delicious – a gloriously sticky mess filled with lettuce, tomatoes, chipotle sauce, pickles, and, of course, chorizo. We also got a large horchata – which, again, was more than enough for two people – and the cold rice drink was perfectly sweet.

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As we waited for our food, we sat in a small dining area situated next to the kitchen – a place with a ceiling that exploded with hanging gourds and more pinatas, their red and yellow tassels swaying over the patrons – a mother with two small and sniffly children, a woman reading by herself, a man in a large cowboy hat.

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It is a place filled with paintings – of religious icons, of landscapes, of warriors donning feather headdresses and carrying women, and, in the very back, a large Virgin Mary statue stands, surrounded by dried corn and flowers.

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It is, like so many of the places along Church, a tiny world in and of itself – a place neither from here nor there, a hole-in-the-wall filled with remnants of a home left behind.

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After getting our food, we went to pay at the front counter, where a teenager rings us up.

“First time here?” he asked.

“Yeah, how did you know?” I ask.

“Because you were looking all around. When you’re here long enough, you don’t notice it all.”

And, with that, we gave him the $10 it cost for the torta and horchata and made our way through the rush hour crowds.

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