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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.