If you grew up in our town like I did, or are a current transplant, you know as well as I do that one of the greatest things about living here is the Mexican food. Yes, I may be biased, but after living around the USA and settling back here, I believe that there is no greater place to indulge your south of the border craving than right here in good ol’ CG. I’m sure that even one hundred years ago there were gringos just like me who had to get their spicy fix. The first place I can remember going to when I was young was Sophia’s. It was a small restaurant located on Third Street behind the drive through liquor store. One or two Friday nights a month my parents would come home from work, make my brother and I clean up, and head down for homemade salsa and cheese crisp right out of the oven. I always wavered between ground beef tacos or crispy bean tostados, and looked forward to the sweet dulce bread our waitress would bring me if I finished my plate. What was even better was that my brother and I could play in the side yard next to the building with other kids whose parents were socializing and enjoying their meal, while the workers kept an eye on us. Another favorite place of mine was Ochoa’s. The original restaurant was down by the railroad tracks and was so tiny that sometimes you had to stand around outside waiting for a table to open. Once inside the smell of the tortilla factory next door and the sweet taste of RC cola’s from the can made it so I almost couldn’t wait for the food to arrive. Often times I ate so many of the fresh made crunchy chips that I couldn’t finish my meal. The restaurant eventually moved locations to a bigger building on Cottonwood Lane, but unfortunately the tortilla factory eventually closed its doors. Tortilla connoisseurs here in town would grumble about Ochoa’s tortillas ripping too easy or not being sturdy enough, but no one could deny that the taste was uniquely Casa Grande. Heating one up on a gas stove or zapping one in the microwave with a little butter was an everyday snack for many of us. After the announcement of the factory closing, I remember frantically buying packages of Gorditas in bulk to freeze for special occasions in the future and mourned the Christmas Eve when my mom, aunt and I had exhausted our frozen stashes. Mi Amigo Ricardo’s opened in April of 1983 on Florence Blvd. in the old Sirloin Stockade building. The steak house was opened in 1980 for only one year, and the building sat abandoned, begging for someone to bring it back to life. Robert Tapia and his father-in-law Morris Richards bought the building, in the heart of town, and had the vision of a large family restaurant that served the best Mexican food around. Robert’s mother, Connie Tapia, held the family recipes and had finally retired from Sophia’s after cooking there for many years. Robert convinced her that he couldn’t open the place without her, and she came out of retirement to ensure that her delicious food would be passed on. I soon became a regular, once I was in high school and it was conveniently located down the road from main campus! My friends and I would call Robert and have him reserve a large table in the back and we would head down on Friday’s to get our fill of bean burritos enchilada style. Connie got to eventually retire once again, but at 80 years old, she still stops in to make sure that her recipes are being followed and that the food is top notch. After high school graduation, it was one of the places I craved when moving away from CG, and I wasn’t the only one. Our friend Cade Clapp was so desperate for a taste of home when he moved to New York City; he had his friend Chris overnight him a bean burrito enchilada style. It arrived uneatable, but it is just another example of the lengths people go to in order to have the comforts of home. Also located on Florence Boulevard is Little Sombrero. Who would have thought that Arizonanian’s would sit on picnic benches in 120 degree heat to eat mouth watering Mexican food? Well, if you grew up here, you know that nothing, not even heat, can get in the way of these meals, wrapped in wax paper to go. My mom would often take me through the drive thru when she was pregnant with my brother, ordering herself two tostados with extra hot sauce, and a cherry seven up for me. On the day she went in to labor, the doctor told her to go walk around and come back in a few hours, so she took the opportunity to get a few more tostados in. She couldn’t get enough of the hot sauce, and when my brother was delivered later that afternoon, his face was bright red. Our family blames it on Little Sombrero, but my mom says it was because he was so stubborn coming out. Since its location was across from the high school, hundreds of teens grew up eating lunch here. You had to run as soon as the bell rang for lunch to get a spot in line. I admit, even as an adult, I still love the feeling of sitting on those worn benches, smelling the food being prepared and anticipating digging in! There are many more memories of great places and great Mexican food over the last century that can be written, however all this writing has made me quite hungry. So, let’s raise our chips and salsa in a toast to Arizona!