Imagine Julia Child in her 80s, all six-feet two inches of her, standing in line to get tamales outside a worn-out white shack with teal trim in Santa Barbara. If you think of Julia Child as the grand dame of culinary sophistication in the United States, this may seem hard to imagine. But if you think of Ms. Child as a true foodie, ready to seek out and experience cooking in its essence in the most unlikely of places, this image makes perfect sense.
There is some disagreement, however, as to whether or not the beloved Julia was right about the taco shop itself -- La Super-Rica Taqueria. There are some out there who say its fame is undeserved. To them I say bah. Julia Child was as discerning an eater as she was a cook. Her love of La Super-Rica was warranted and that long line out the door is worth standing in.
The dilapidated appearance of La Super-Rica may turn off some, but it is fine with me. I grew up in San Diego and am used to frequenting run-down taco shops, so the décor of plastic tables and chairs in a dining area that looks more like a car port than a restaurant doesn't bother me. What does impress me, however, is the woman with the grandmotherly appearance who makes handmade tortilla after handmade tortilla behind the counter. Standing steadfastly a few feet behind the cash register -- grabbing wads of fresh masa, rolling them into a ball, smashing them between a tortilla presser and finally grilling them on a primitive stove next to her -- her hands never seem to stop. And those tortillas are just one of the reasons La Super-Rica deserves its fame. They are crisp on the outside but with a center that tastes gently steamed. Freshly cooked just moments before they are eaten, they are sublime.