Rita’s – No Mas Thank You

     Normally I wouldn’t be writing something like this, but my experience today left such an impression I couldn’t help but write about it.

     Sometime in the summer of 1995 (give or take a year) I had just finished a job and was on the way back to the shop when the two other members of my crew decided to grab some lunch before reporting in. We stopped at a Mexican place on Wabash St.

     It was a single wide trailer that had been modified to be a restaurant. The décor, like the building was, not much to look at. There were only about 5 tables to sit at and a reach in refrigerator that held beer and soda for customers to “self serve”. Aside from myself and two crew members, there were only two people other people in the whole place; the girl at the counter and the woman in the kitchen cooking.

     I ordered 4 of the then $1 tacos and felt disappointed at the size of them when the order came up. I was used to Taco Bell “regular tacos”, but what I got was meat, onions, and cilantro on two small corn tortillas laid flat on the plate with a wedge of lime next to each. It looked pretty skimpy for the $4 I just paid.

     I looked at the lime and thought “be daring, try it with lime”. Then something amazing happened; I tasted them! They were the most magnificent tacos I have ever tasted. They were simple, juicy, and filled with flavor! I was sold! My $4 was a wonderful investment, and I would end up visiting the small trailer at least 2 times a week to fill my new addiction, occasionally getting an equally amazing burrito or enchilada. I ended up going cold turkey in 1998 when I moved out of the area, and I never visited another Mexican food place that could compare to my wonderful little trailer called “Rita’s”.

     When I moved back a couple years ago, one of my first stops was to my favorite Mexican food place. I don’t know if I had just built up in my mind just how wonderful Rita’s used to be or if there was something a little off, but I could tell either I or it had changed. I would go visit Rita’s every so often with my friends, but I could always tell it wasn’t the “real” Rita’s I once loved so much. I would hear reviews of how good it was from radio personalities and others that now felt what I once did, but I knew the truth, it just wasn’t as good as it once was.

     The last time I visited Rita’s before today was about 5 months ago. It was completely unrecognizable from its humble and magnificent beginnings. The inflation had taken firm hold and my $1 tacos were long gone, replaced with a price around $2.50 or so and the enchilada plate was fetching a good $7 or so. The food couldn’t compare with the days of the trailer, and it was the first time I felt I would have been better off going to Taco Bell since I first looked down at my plate in 1995. I chalked it up to a “new cook” or some other explainable reason for such a wrong turn.

     Fast forward to 9/12/11, I was downtown today when I thought “hey I should go check out the new location for Rita’s”. I got to the place at 12:00 and waited to be seated like the sign said. While I waited I looked around. The place was not swamped, but you could tell it was lunchtime around there. I stood next to the counter, within reach of the hostess for almost 4 minutes without even being acknowledged while she tinkered with the register. I was finally asked “how many in your party?” I answered “1” and was promptly handed a menu and motioned I could sit anywhere. The thought of grabbing the largest table in the place just to get back at the rude hostess crossed my mind, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt since we have all had computer problems that required our immediate attention.

     I grabbed a small 2 person table within site of the door and looked over the menu. The first thing I noticed was the price hike. My tacos had a price tag of $2.89 each and the enchilada plate was now $8.99, I didn’t even want to know what they were getting for a burrito now. I made my selection and set my menu down to signal I was ready to order, and that’s when I realized nobody had come with chips and salsa. I took a look in the menu to see if they were still free or if I would have to pay $3 for them as some other places charge. I was happy to see that they were not listed on the menu, but then thought “where are mine?” About 5 minutes later a bus person came by with chips and salsa and a glass of water, and then disappeared as fast as they arrived.

     I snacked on the chips while I waited for the waitress to come by. Before I knew it I had an empty basket of chips and still no sign of a waitress. I took a look at my phone to check the time and it was now 12:18. I started to think “if I don’t see a waitress soon, I am just going to leave!” At about 12:22 my waitress arrived and took the order (1 taco, 1 enchilada combo for $8.99) and was gone as soon as the last word left my mouth; no drink, no up sale, no “thank you”, just *poof* and gone. A minute or two later I asked one of the passing bus people for a soda.

     I sat, and sat, and sat waiting for my food. I checked my phone when I first thought I might not get to eat my lunch before I had to go back to my meeting. It was 12:44 when my order finally arrived! OVER 20 minutes for 1 taco, 1 enchilada, beans and rice!!! When it finally got there I thought “I should have paid for the coke and gone someplace else!” and you know, if I would have had more time I would have.

     The combo looked small on the plate, but this was nothing new; looks can often be deceiving. I squeezed my lime over the taco and picked it up knowing what it once was and ready for what it was now. No fireworks, no flashes of bright lights, no “wow this is the best ever!” It was just the same as it has been for a few years now; not bad, but not magnificent. The enchilada was the same way, good but nothing that could compare to the flavor I got from that trailer.

     I finished my meal quickly, since I didn’t have much time to get back, and thought about waiting for a check. Then I thought “screw that, I can’t wait another 20 minutes!” I went directly to the register and paid as quickly as I could.

     On the way back to my meeting I thought “that’s my last visit to Rita’s, they are nothing that I can’t get from any of the other Mexican food places except maybe better service.”

     I guess the only thing I can really say about Rita’s now is “thanks for the memories”.

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