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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Vera Cruz’ gargantuan shrimp cocktail
Vera Cruz
1850 Easton Blvd., 262-1425
Tues. - Sun. 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Taco Loco
99 University Ave., 243-9900
Mon. - Thurs. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.;
Fri. - Sun. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.

American dreams come true

Restaurants were a creation of the French Revolution whose leaders thought they symbolized their other good ideas — equality, brotherhood and liberty. On this side of the Atlantic, restaurants provided the number one opportunity for adults to dip their ladles in the ever melting pot of American culture. After schools, restaurants have always been the most likely place to meet someone of a different ethnicity. The food business also has provided newcomers with affordable access entrepreneurship — the American dream. That’s why big city public markets from Baltimore to Detroit to Seattle have always reserved cheap space for new immigrants. Multinational corporations like Planters began that way, with a single push cart.

In Des Moines, Tony Lemmo (Café di Scala, Frank’s) got his start at the short-lived Metro Market and farmers markets spurred the creation of places like Flying Mango and Kabab House, but such start-up opportunities have been hard to find. Mobile taco vendors have received little encouragement from city officials, yet recently they stimulated two new restaurants with quite different personalities. Diego Maceda’s Taco Loco trailer is now parked as signage at his University Avenue restaurant of the same name. Its colorful murals used to provide a visual break from the eyesore of eastside vacant lots. Then someone convinced the city council that those lots would look better without the art, the commerce or the businessmen who cleaned them up every day.

The new Taco Loco poetically occupies the old Top’s Steak House where Greek immigrants Maroussa and Sotos Annoussis plied their trade over four decades. Across the street from the U.S. Post Office, Taco Loco fits in its neighborhood like tomatoes in red salsa. Service is postal style: one stands in a single line before dealing with an indifferent cashier; commercial radio plays; sit down tables face the wall; others have no chairs. Instead of perusing philatelic art, Taco Loco customers can observe the performance art of short order cooking, a wonderful feature that is invisible in most taco trailers.

The menu differed little from that of a really good taco van. I tried tacos (five for $7-$10), quesadillas ($2.50), burritos ($6) and tortas ($6) of steak, seasoned pork, chicken, beef cheeks, tongue, intestines and vegetarian fillings. Taco Loco’s horchata (soft drink) was the rice-based version. Bottled soft drinks included Kolashampan, a Salvadoran cream soda with a mythic reputation (it outsells Pepsi in many Los Angeles zip codes). Beans, rice and three homemade salsas completed a solid taqueria repertoire.

Pedro Fernandez’s Vera Cruz also fits its neighborhood, a residential area on the mid-east side. On each of three visits, I was graciously welcomed with smiles, table seating and aromas of home cooking. Vera Cruz sensibly offers just two combination specials. One delivered a gordita, a tostada, a tamale, beans, rice, salad, limes, fresh Mexican cream and tortillas for $7. The other included two chiles rellenos, beans, rice, salad, limes, fresh cream and tortillas for $5. Tamales were made with a tasty herbed masa (corn meal). Chiles rellenos were superb stem-on poblanos, stuffed with chicken, meat or cheese. My to-go order was packaged in a deep-dish aluminum pan and accompanied by containers of fresh salsa and a full pound package of tortillas.

Daily specials were even better. I enjoyed a shrimp cocktail in which I lost count of medium sized, de-veined shrimp at 20. They swam in a 40-ounce ocean of salsa, freshly squeezed limejuice, onions, chilies, avocado and garlic. Beef soup weighed two pounds and included braised shoulder and myriad vegetables. Tacos were divine with choices of pork, beef, chicken and good salsas, including two with cream added. CV

Side Dishes
Cafe di Scala is now bottling their Metro Market day salad dressings, including Tony Lemmo’s Garlic & Fennel. They also began offering carryout frozen casseroles made with their signature scratch pasta… La Rosa is now serving their storied champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate).

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Uncle Wendell's (1-17-08) Jesse's Embers (1-24-08)
Taste of Elegance (1-31-08) Old Country Buffet (2-7-08)
Baker’s Food & Fuel (2-14-08) Coffee (2-21-08)
Cool Basil (2-28-08) Sports Bars (3-06-08)
Daddy O’s Bodacious Foods (3-13-08) Maverick Grill (3-20-08)
Phat Chef’s (4-03-08) Shotz & Grill Cordoba (4-10-08)
Radish (4-17-08) Alba (4-24-08)
Billy Mack's (5-01-08) Jethro’s BBQ & Sports Bar (5-15-08)
Viva los Forasteros (5-22-08) Torocco! (5-29-08)
The King and I (6-05-08) Chipotle Mexican Grill (6-12-08)
Django (6-26-08) Swine (7-03-08)
Sbrocco (7-17-08) Zuzap (8-14-08)
Le Jardin (8-21-08) Samurai Sushi & Hibachi (8-28-08)
Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano (9-4-08) Old Castle (9-11-08)
Old Mexic, New Mexico (9-18-08) Bistro at ICI (9-25-08)
Transmigration of the soul (food) (10-02-08) Boilin' Crawfish 4 (10-09-08)
Comfort food (10-16-08) Beyond the World Food Fest (10-23-08)
Tedesco’s Steakhouse (10-30-08) Proof finds its place (11-06-08)
Graze is no ordinary restaurant (11-13-08) Living History Farms (11-20-08)
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