Like Abuelita Used to Make

Posted February 11, 2010 in Eats

Recently inspired by food writer Bill Gerdes’ foray into the praised/insulted world of hole-in-the-wall Mexican eateries (see Vol. 4, Issue 42’s “Smells Like Bean Spirit” review of Armando’s Mexican Food in Moreno Valley), I recently set out to try to find my own gastronomic gem, my own culinary Rosetta stone that would help me understand and decipher what it was about off-the-grid restaurants that engender a devoted, cult-like following and a lore-like reputation.


Also, I was hungry for a good taco.


Which brings us to Leno’s Rico Taco in Colton; a place that, oh, 10 years ago had been mightily recommended to me by locals as a great place for Mexi grub. But despite my passion for dive and lo-fi eats—Templo Del Sol in Riverside being my poster child for this class of grub stops—I never got around to getting my butt across the county line to see, er, taste what all the hype was about. Until now.


True to form, Leno’s sports your garden-variety décor and ambience—you know the routine: vinyl-backed booths, stuccoed walls done up with “Southwestern” motifs, a menu created with movable letters and your typical “Order Here,” “Pick Up Here” signs.

And even if you order the food “for here,” they still hand you your meal in a Styrofoam container with a lid. That’s how they roll here. But Leno’s can indeed roll like this. We sampled its chile relleno combination plate and were quiet impressed with its savory awesomeness. Served pipin‘ hot (nice), this dish’s flavor palette starts off with an  exquisite, earthy base that nicely offsets the tangy, spiciness of the sauce. And the sauce is a feast for the pupils; a beautiful, pumpkin colored substance that conjures up visions of adobe and sun-baked empires. Sigh. But I digress. The cheese used to stuff the pepper (or chile for you Aztlan loyalists) was sharp and flavorful—no Velveeta here, and the batter, oh, the batter. Golden and eggy and wonderful, you just walk away with the feeling that abuelita was working behind Leno’s kitchen and letting you know what authentic Mexican food really tastes like. And while not authentic in packaging, the chili sauce Leno’s offers its clientele as a condiment—squeeze ketchup bottle notwithstanding—is a paragon of fire-roasted, taste bud-pulsing pleasure. You’ll want to squeeze some out for your burrito and your compadres.


The bean and cheese burrito my lunch companion ordered was good—not spectacular but good. No extra credit here. But points for the Orange Whip.


Also, some points lost for the rice that came with the chile relleno combo. A bit dry, slightly overcooked—abuelita’s gonna be upset to hear us say this. Beans were on-point; refried and hearty, thick enough to battle a hangover but not too paste-like to spackle the bathroom. If you’re someone looking to walk the ol’ Andrew Zimmern path, Leno’s Taco also has tacos with your choice of tripas, cabeza, birria and lengua—just in case carne asada and al pastor were a bit passé for your inner exotic foodie. Birria is goat meat, by the way.


Yeah, it’s Colton, but this  place certainly deserves an esteemed push pin on the map of All Things Hole in the Wall in the IE. Plus it’s hella cheap—$11 to feed two grown adults(!)


Just don’t sit near the indoor fountain in case you were hoping for the soothing sounds of the waterworks. The fountain isn’t working—or at least it wasn’t turned on. The food though, it works just fine.


Leno’s Rico Taco, 549 W. Valley Blvd., Colton, (909) 825-9304; AE, D, MC, V.


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