Sometimes around mid-day I walk down the office hall and catch a colleague staring with confusion and sadness at the vending machine.
“Dude,” I joke, “you are looking for lunch in all the wrong places.”
I would say the same to anyone who goes prowling for sustenance inside a gas station convenience store. Unless they are headed toward a certain Arrow Mart shop on Buffalo Road in North Chili. If that were the case, I would ask to join them.
Because, dear dudes and dudettes, that is where, beyond the Slim Jims and Little Debbies and Pringles and Smirnoff Ice six-packs, you will find real food, or to be more specific, real, mom-cooked Mexican food at great prices.
The mom is Lourdes Abarca, and the restaurant is Itacate, which the Mexican native runs with her son, Paco Reyes, her husband, Jose, and his brother, David.
Itacate is top of my list of real food where you least expect it, a burrito joint with sass and soul and none of the corporate stupidity of a Moe’s Southwest Grill or the pseudo-sustainable smugness of Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Hand-painted or collaged poster board signage, Mexican and American flags, a spindly blue piñata and three tables sum up the “atmosphere.” Burritos, tacos, soups and nachos summarize the menu, though not adequately.
The meats that Abarca grills, stews or fries for those burritos and tacos are exceptional. Beef is done barbacoa-style or in a deep, flavorful guajillo chili sauce. Chicken is vibrant and strong in achiote, or milder and green in a salsa verde. Pork is fried in its own lard, or simmered in ancho chili sauce with cumin.
I asked for both porks in my medium burrito ($6; the small is $3.25; the “grandote” is $8), and found that the latter reminded me of pizza pepperoni, the former of fried chicken. But there were lots of other distractions rumbling around in that giant flour tortilla log: refried beans, fresh cilantro, queso fresco, chopped romaine lettuce and pico de gallo.
Chips and salsa or guacamole are extra ($1.50/$2.50).
I also got a pint of tortilla soup ($2.50), a mothering, mild soup made with the chicken in salsa verde, guacamole, and lots of broth-soaked tortilla chips.
Abarca also makes a cowboy soup of beans, onions and bacon that is slugged Lulu’s sopa on the menu.
Later in the week, Itacate rotates specials that might be tamales, taquitos or enchiladas. They also have rice pudding or buñuelos (sweet fried dough) for dessert.
The family has just opened a second, full-service, sit-down Itacate in Penfield (see below).
Good to know
Address: Inside the Arrow Mart store at 4179 Buffalo Road, North Chili.
Phone: (585) 563-4374.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Accessibility: Fully wheelchair accessible.
Good to know: No public restrooms. Counter service.
Itacate at Penfield Four Corners: Itacate just opened its full-service sit-down restaurant at 1859 Penfield Road, Penfield, (585) 586-8454. Hours at the Penfield restaurant are 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.