Finally, A Genuine Yaqui Restaurant!
By Rebecca Cook
WHEN TUCSON MEET Yourself used to roll around, I made it a point to sniff out the Indian fry bread booth.
I always began with an order of the puffed pastry topped with red chile and then followed that with a second order of fry bread drizzled with golden honey. As far as I was concerned, such food was edible poetry.
This stuff was so good it was almost worth waiting for those sporadic times throughout the year when I would encounter it again--the county fair, powwows and various festivals and events around town.
Now, however, it's no longer necessary to wait for a special occasion in order to enjoy authentic Native American cuisine. Thank goodness.
About two months ago, Yoeme (Yaqui) Restaurant moved from its location at the Old Pasqua Neighborhood Center to a small but cozy locale at North Stone Avenue near Drachman Street. Once a dining option only for tribal members, Yoeme has now opened its doors to the wider community, which is a real break for the rest of us.
Unlike some other restaurant attempts that aspire to large profit margins in order to open more eating establishments and make appearances on the talk show circuit, Yoeme seeks only to enrich its own community. The restaurant is an enterprise of the San Ignacio Yaqui Council and all the proceeds are fed back into Old Pasqua for use in a million desperately needy areas. Fry bread never tasted so sweet.
The inspiration for the restaurant came about following some brainstorming about how the tribe could generate more income, says Yaqui Tribal Council member Teresa Alvarez.
"We thought about how we could bring in some money for our community, about what it was we had to offer," says Alvarez. "Then someone said, 'We have good cooks, what can we do with that?' "
Yoeme is the result of that conversation, and from all outward appearances, it was a good business decision.
In addition to the requisite fry bread, you'll also find burros, tacos, tostadas, chimichangas and flat enchiladas on Yoeme's menu.
So far, this may sound just like another Mexican restaurant. What exactly is it that distinguishes Yaqui cuisine from the Mexican food we know so well?
The variations are slight but very noticeable to the discerning diner, says Alvarez.
The flat enchiladas bear little resemblance to the rolled varieties found in most Mexican restaurants. For flat enchiladas, round biscuit-like portions of cooked masa are covered with red sauce, yellow cheese, lettuce and tomatoes--an entirely different experience than the rolled corn tortillas stuffed with cheese and simmered in a savory enchilada sauce.
Another singularity about the food at Yoeme can be found in the beef tacos, where the meat is slipped into a crisp corn tortilla in the shape of a patty rather than shredded or ground.
But enough about the background and singularities of Yoeme. Is it any good?
Yoeme epitomizes two of the characteristics I cherish most in a restaurant--it's good and it's inexpensive. Yoeme has won my heart.
I wasted no time in sampling the fry bread with red chile, and I was amply rewarded for my lack of restraint.
The fry bread is a platter-sized puff of bread served hot and fragrant from the pan. The red chile is nothing short of a work of art: shredded beef long-simmered in a piquant red sauce until it's a marvel of tender-savory perfection. Put these two ingredients together and you're well on your way glimpsing heaven.
Cheese and lettuce with your fry bread is extra and must be specially requested, so don't forget to mention these items if you'd like to add them to your order.
Burros and chimichangas are enormous at Yoeme's, primarily due to the size of the flour tortillas, which measure roughly 15 inches in diameter. Stuffed with your choice of red or green chile or beans, Yoeme's burros and chimichangas cannot fail to satisfy even the most hearty of appetites.
Tortillas are a big hit at Yoeme's and can be ordered by the dozen to take home. In fact, Alvarez says the tortillas have become so popular that sometimes extra help is needed to meet the demand. So, a word of advice--place orders for tortillas well in advance of the time you'll be wanting them.
The refried beans are very good, just barely runny, mostly smooth and flavorful. I didn't ask if they were lardless because, frankly, it didn't matter to me one whit. They tasted great.
The only caution is that Yoeme's has a total of three inside tables that tend to fill up quickly and often, leaving would-be diners uncomfortably searching for a place to park it. There are a few more tables on an outdoor patio, but these are fully in the sun, a condition that will become increasingly intolerable as summer bears down upon us. Take out is an option, and one that I might recommend in the heat of the day.
No need to wait for a special occasion any more; Yoeme stands ready to meet your fry bread cravings on the most mundane of days.
Yoeme (Yaqui) Cuisine. 1545 N. Stone Ave. 623-2046. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sundays and Mondays. No liquor. Cash or local checks with a guarantee card. Menu items: $1.50-$4.
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