The thought for this post came to me on a walk.
We passed this burro. The burro has a black mask, hence the reference to Zorro, a fictional character created in 1919 by American pulp writer Johnston McCulley, and appearing in works set in the Pueblo of Los Angeles during the era of Spanish California (1769–1821).
He is typically portrayed as a dashing masked vigilante who defends the commoners and indigenous peoples of California against corrupt and tyrannical officials and other villains.
This was my first exposure to Mexican culture. Not a Mexican in the band. Pathetic!
In 1964 more or less my family went to see the Tijuana Brass at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. It was an exciting night. My favorite song was “Lonely Bull.”
Enough about me!
Back to the burro named Zorro where the idea was born. Off we went to Berkeley Mexican restaurants that have some degree of popular material culture on display.
There the idea was born. Off we went to Berkeley Mexican restaurants that have some degree of popular material culture on display.
I choose to start with the undisputed champion of Mexican restaurant material culture, Gallego’s Mexican Food, 2200 San Pablo Avenue.
Isaura Gallego is the matriarch, the heart and soul of Gallego’s. “Isaura” is the feminine form of Isaurus, meaning “from Isauria”. I am dedicating this post to her and our hard-working Mexican neighbors, which is a Quirky Berkeley first.
Isaurie was a region in Asia Minor and was the name of two early saints martyred in Macedonia.
She came from the State of Jalisco, Mexico, when she was 17 years old. She had eight brothers and eight sisters, and she was fifth in the birth order. She has run Gallego’s for 25 years, 12 at this location. Her sons Alexander, Alberto, and Luis will carry the restaurant forward.
Isaura is a collector and is responsible for the considerable material culture found in the restaurant. How about at home? Her son rolls his eyes and she laughs. Many things at home. Many paintings.
There are paintings in the restaurant, some expected and others not.
The walls are also lined with framed photographs of the Mexican Revolution.
And then there are the collections
To borrow from Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, “”All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” We’re ready for close-ups of some of the lovely tiliches.
This image is iconic in Mexican and Mexican-American culture.
It was made by Jesus Helguera (1912-1971) – a beplumed Aztec warrior (Popocatépetl or Popo for short) carrying a beautiful maiden (Iztaccíhuatlin or Izta for short) in his arms, behind them a tall white mountain. You can find the full story here.
His most famous painting was “The Legend of the Volcanoes.”
Great job Izaura! There are a few pieces here would fit nicely in the Hodge Podge Lodge. I’m not here as a restaurant reviewer, but I don’t think that I stray too far by saying that Gallego’s is the Official Mexican Restaurant of Quirky Berkeley – good food, great popular material culture, and – Isaura.
Given the key role played by the burro I saw on a walk, it is fitting that we next visit El Burro Picante, 2021 University.
He is, in my book, absolutely completely perfect.
There is not much stuff inside.
But there is this killer low-rideresque mural. John Storey intimated that he didn’t think that the restaurant should be included in the post. He doesn’t know about Zorro the burro who started it all, though.
Next up – the Taqueria Talavera at 1561 Solano. Talavera is a type of fine Mexican earthenware featuring colored decoration on an opaque white glaze, produced principally in San Pablo del Monte (in Tlaxcala) and the cities of Puebla, Atlixco, Cholula, and Tecali (in the state of Puebla).
On a tiled wall there is a photo of the building almost a hundred years ago.
Such beauty, the tiles on the risers and the colors on the walls.
Two big images of Our Lady of Guadalupe – sorry for the recycling bin.
Always the historic photos.
Good things! Now – to University Avenue.
The Monte Cristo Taqueria at 1440 University was until fairly recently filled with images of Frida Khalo.
Now, not that way.
Wow! Continuing with the walls:
The other decor:
In the end, something much more in keeping with expectations:
Last up – Juan’s Place at 941 Carleton.
The Juan in Juan’s Place was Juan Mejia. I posted this photo of him a few years ago:
In my second post on Sam’s 58 Club I posted this photo of Juan standing between Sam and Steve Pedone.
The first thing I noticed about Juan’s was the metalwork on the windows
This spectacular metal work was made by Martin Metal, about whom I wrote a long post.
Juan’s features expected artistic expressions, such as –
This, my friend, is as good as material culture of Mexican restaurants gets. I am tempted to suggest that you click on the photo immediately above this caption.
I. Want. This.
This. Too. There was an Aztec legend that their gods told them to build a city where they spotted an eagle on a nopal eating a serpent – now Mexico City.
How can I not include Langston Hughes here?
Juke Box Love Song
I could take the Harlem night
and wrap around you,
Take the neon lights and make a crown,
Take the Lenox Avenue busses,
And for your love song tone their rumble down.
Take Harlem’s heartbeat,
Make a drumbeat,
Put it on a record, let it whirl,
And while we listen to it play,
Dance with you till day—
Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.
What a great collage! I spot Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta on the right side. I am again tempted to suggest clicking on the photo above. The song you would hear wreaks emotional havoc on me but in all probability it means nothing to you.
There are many sports photos, emphasis on horse racing and boxing.
If only I had thought of linking this photo to a Santana song!
Were it not for Gallego’s, Juan’s would have a shot at best material culture for Berkeley Mexican restaurants.
I went to find my friend in his quarters. I had told him what I was working on.
My friend got wistful as he looked at the post.
He pulled a photograph from his pocket and handed it to me. He had visited me several times when the UFW legal department was in Salinas.
“Yeah, i know you had your world of Mexican dives in the Imperial Valley and Mexicali, but for me the number one forever Mexican dive was Rosita’s in Salinas.
“And I know some of the Salinas group favored La Revancha on Soledad Street, but aside from the cool name (“Revenge”) and its backstory and the drugs and prostitutes for ambience, La Revancha didn’t do it for me.
“For me, it was always Rosita’s, around the corner from the Greyhound. They closed a year ago, September ’18. Too damned bad.” Los Lobos taught us – the good ones are gone.
I could sit around and talk about Salinas all day, but I had to get this posted. What does he think about the post?