Forever on Fourth

La Indita is a Tucson classic well worth revisiting

The story of La Indita can be found on the back of the menu. It is a remarkable tale of Maria Garcia, who began her cooking in her native Tarascan Indian village in Michoacán region of Mexico.

There, she was a mom living a simple life, but with children to feed and limited funds. Using what was on hand, she created dishes that everyone loved. Later when she moved to the Tohono O'Odham reservation she continued cooking for her family, using local and fresh ingredients. She was a woman ahead of her time, a model for the local and fresh movement so prevalent today.

Many of those same recipes are found on La Indita's menu.

Here, too, you'll find many vegetarian items, most of which have been on the menu from day one (again a woman ahead of her time).

In 1983 she opened a tiny restaurant on Scott Avenue downtown and then in 1985 moved to the Fourth Avenue location. Many of the nearby businesses that were there when she opened have long closed, but the "little Indian woman" (as she is endearingly called) thrives. Anyone who can stay in business—especially the restaurant business—for more than 30 years has to be admired. That the food here is unique, flavorful and memorable makes it even more so.

We tucked into a booth and within minutes our server brought over the menus, water, chips and a small carafe of salsa. The salsa was just a little chunky, just a little smooth and wonderfully fresh and spicy. The chips were obviously house made—a hint of what was to come.

The menu is several pages long and there is a white board with about a dozen specials, so it was tough to choose.

We gave ourselves a few extra minutes by ordering a half order of guacamole ($4.50). The menu says it is a seasonal dish and when we asked the server about avocados being seasonal, she said that the kitchen doesn't bother buying avocados if they are hard, preferring to not have guacamole on the menu rather than serve bad food. We were in luck; there was a small amount available.

The guac was wonderful. Like the salsa, it was both chunky and smooth and had been seasoned to bring out the best in the avocados, tomatoes and other ingredients. And if this was a half version, certainly the whole would be enough for a meal onto itself.

We came to a decision: a house specialty, the Indian taco ($8.50) and the chicken mole enchiladas ($9.50 on the special menu; otherwise $10.50).

The food arrived at the table in due time, with just enough of a wait to prove that the food is thoughtfully prepared.

The taco was enormous. The fry bread was light and fluffy yet substantial enough to hold up under the thick, red Tohono O'Odham style chili. The beef had been cooked with dried chilis and a mix of spices that blended together in perfect balance. The portion was huge.

The enchiladas were plump with shredded white meat chicken and dressed in a dark, creamy sauce that is a mix of chocolate, special dried Anchos, peanuts, spices and oddly enough, dried prunes. Mole is an addiction with me and as such I've had some fabulous ones and others not so much. La Indita's mole is on the fabulous side. Both the rice and beans that are served with the enchiladas reminded me of why I love these staples so much. There was an old time feel to them—good memories of great Mexican classics. (I'm eating the leftovers as I write this and I'm still swooning.)

As a side note: There is a streetcar stop right in front of the restaurant and the server said that their business has increased considerably since the start of Sun Link.

Dinner was on a lazy Sunday evening. There weren't any of those many streetcar riders but that was fine by us. It gave us time to admire the lovely hand-painted mural of a Tarascan Indian village that reaches from the tops of the rustic wooden booths to the ceiling. Other Native pieces of art fill the other walls. There is a patio out back.

We started with a cheese crisp ($6.50) which proved to be the only weak thing we ate. The medium sized tortilla had been fried to a crispy crunch but was greasy. And there was too much cheese on the crisp which made it hard to eat.

The carne seca chimichanga ($8.95) met with approval and beyond. The flaky beef had crispy tips yet was moist and seasoned perfectly. The words "really good" kept popping up. And while not as monstrous as some others in town, there was enough to take home.

The chili rellenos ($9.95) were some of the best I've had in a long time. The light, fluffy batter clung to the plump fresh chiles and the white cheese inside was almost creamy. Beans and rice accompanied the dish. Again a perfect example of what this dish is supposed to be.

We finished dinner off with the house made flan. Cool and creamy with a yummy burnt sugar syrup, the flan was the ideal end to a great meal.

I would return here in a heartbeat not just because the food we had was so good, but because there were so many other great sounding dishes. I'll take the Sun Link.

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