by Brian Clarey
It was a goodbye of sorts.
Villa del Mar, the city’s highest expression of the cheap, authentic and accessible Mexican restaurant, has served us well over the years, my guys and me. We worked for many years just down the road, and very few weeks went by when at least one of us didn’t sit for a spell in one of those trim booths watching the beautiful people on Univision daytime television and munching on some carne asada.
True, our current digs is just a few miles down Florida Street, but it just doesn’t feel right to leave our new neighborhood, with a host of unexplored lunch options within — including, we all noted, a taqueria of the mercadito stripe just a mile or so down the road.
So last week we piled into a couple of cars and made one last pilgrimage to the joint where I first learned of the prodigious appetite of Eric Ginsburg.
He’s a burrito man, Ginsburg is, as much by circumstance as taste. It doesn’t take long for a young man out on his own to figure out how to get the biggest possible serving of decent food for the least amount of money. I’m pretty sure that’s why the burrito was invented in the first place.
And the burrito at Villa del Mar — specifically the chicken burrito — is an absolute $5 masterpiece: heavy as a waterballoon, fat as a baby’s thigh, stuffed with ingredients arranged in such a way that every bite counts.
It’s the only thing he eats there, cradling it in his giant hands like it’s a delicious gold bar, solemnly regarding it as he devours it… almost mournful in his repast, like he knows it’s all going to be over soon.
It’s all about the chicken. Man, how do they do that to chicken? It’s kind of julienned, certainly marinated and loaded with complementary flavors. I for one am not a man who orders chicken at a restaurant — any restaurant, with the possible exception of Chik-fil-A — but for Villa del Mar I make an exception.
I don’t order the burrito, of course. Not on the reg, anyway. I’m a grown man.
On this last visit I considered some of the more exotic options on the traditional menu — they’ve got goat, beef head, cactus and, though I don’t care for it, a crisp-fried version of tripa that aficionados keep coming back for.
But like Ginsburg, I stick with my usual; tacos of carne asada and chicken, in a number that I’ve since cut down to five, though I believe I once ate eight of them.
Tacos at Villa come in traditional style, on corn tortillas with shredded onion and cilantro, with a slice of radish in each and sometimes a little avocado, occasionally a side of cebollitas, or grilled green onions.
These are what I generally refer to as “three-bite” tacos: The first bite gets you interested, and the second one keeps you there; sometimes you don’t even realize you’ve eaten the last third. I use the green sauce, which I suppose is the mildest one but can still catch me off guard sometimes, which is why I like a big coconut horchata to wash them down with.
Jordan Green is more of a menu-hopper, taking risks on things that sound interesting but are sometimes a little too authentic. On this last group trip, he played it safe with a trio of chicken and ground beef tacos, perfectly sensible.
This won’t be my last trip to Villa — it’s just too damn good to ignore, no matter what part of town it’s in. But the taqueria likely will be relegated to a convenience stop for me, if I happen to get hungry when I’m in the neighborhood, or if I ever come around on eating tripe.
Villa del Mar, 3738 High Point Road, Greensboro, villadelmargreensboro.com