La Huasteca #2: When the belly craves the belly

I first encountered menudo in San Francisco, where it is a staple in the city’s Latin-flavored Mission District. The thought of eating tripe intimidated me at first (I have an aversion to eating fat, or anything that seems similar), and it hadn’t been on the menu along with chicken fried steak in rural Colorado where I grew up. “Tripe” is used as a word of insult in English, and to be sure, it is offal, made from the stomach linings of cows, pigs, or sheep.

Getting to know The City by walking as many streets as possible, I discovered and soon became a regular at several Mexican restaurants on the barrio’s main drag, Mission Street. My favorite food stops served menudo on weekends exclusively. Sundays you could see families eagerly ordering up steaming bowls of the stuff, and their delight as they tucked into the meal was infectious. I eventually tried some myself. Incredible. The broth tastes as good as it smells, and it smells of hearth and home, beef and onions with a tang of lime that floats in the air like the scent of wet grass after the rain. Menudo is comfort food of wide renown, and although I don’t think it is served yet at Denny’s, one thing is for sure: we eat menudo when the belly craves the belly.

I stopped at La Huasteca #2 on West Hildebrand late one night and asked for a bowl of what is now one of my favorite caldos. Their menudo didn’t disappoint. The tripe, though not of the honeycomb variety, was incredibly tender, not tough and pasty as is often the case. There are two general types of menudo — red and white. Menudo blanco is prevalent in Sonora, Mexico and Arizona, but I prefer the international style, rojo, which I found at La Huasteca. The red color doesn’t come from tomatoes, as you might expect, but from chilies. I enquired, and was told that in the La Huasteca recipe are chiles de arbol. They give the broth a taste that is slightly woody, but not overly piquant. My soup was served con pata, beef hoof, which at most places is a special request at added price. The customary diced onions, lime wedge, and oregano were served as toppings. I also tried another of my personal favorites, carnitas. The pork, which is often fried close to crackling, was refreshingly soft, but nicely done. The refried beans might have had a bit of manteca, lard, added, as they were incredibly savory. The homemade flour tortillas were fat; folded to pick up sauce, they were a handful.

As there are two outposts of the restaurant, both named La Huasteca #2, I tried lunch at the North Zarzamora branch the next day. Of course, I ordered the special, which happened to be enchiladas verdes, shredded chicken and queso blanco topped with melted cheese and a sweet tomatillo sauce. Quite good, though not as savory as I like. Both places served horchata and jamaica. Possibly homemade like the tortillas, they were refreshing, the jamaica thankfully lacking its customary cloying, though addictive, sweetness. Barbacoa, barbeque, is sold by the pound as a weekend treat, but menudo is served daily.

La Huasteca #2

2218 N Zarzamora

1738 W Hildebrand

(210) 738-8777