The whole trip I had made fun of the GPS system, as it led us to longer routes or kept me from speaking up when I did know the way, then it helped me in a way I never would have guessed: it led me to Taqueria Juquilita in Chehalis, Washington.
We had been running the Hood to Coast race, 197 miles from the top of Mt. Hood to the shores of Seaside, and our little van of six people had subsisted on Cheese-It’s, Nila Wafers and the occasional Subway stop. My idea to drop by Whiffies Fried Pies was shut down, and I didn’t even bother pointing out that the napping station was right next door to clarklewis! And once, just once, a stand on course sold me a delightful cup of the absolute best blueberries ever. My team was oh-so-sick of hearing me exclaim about them. While I resisted picking the lovely huckleberries over my head while I ran, I did grab some blackberries as we stopped to hand off water to a runner.
Costco lasagna had been arranged for dinner, but after a run like this, I was craving something hearty, something truly warming, something soul enhancing. The next day, for lunch I got what I had been looking for, as we discussed where to stop for lunch. After the only opinions on record being “not McDonalds” I pulled down the GPS and punched in to have it find the nearest food. I listed the options: Pizza, Taqueria, Cafe, etc.
“Let’s do Mexican” one of my teammates chimed in. Secretly, I smiled. Excellent choice. We pulled off the highway and drove, following the machine’s directions, through a neighborhood of southern Chehalis, about a half mile from the freeway, to a non-descript, large, barnlike building with a small, high sign that said “Taqueria Juqulita” or, as the the GPS pronounced it “Tah-say-ria-Jack-ill-ta.”
I stepped inside, to an empty restaurant with jewelry store style glass cases, sparsely strewn with tamarind flavor candies, acting as a counter. We were motioned to sit. The room was bare and plan, the ceiling low and one whole wall taken up by an enormous antique style refrigerator. I laughed, it is the type of fridge that restaurants and bars in Seattle would kill for, a huge, functional vintage refrigerator that could be the centerpiece for a beautiful bar wall. It was a weekend, so I ordered the menudo, fretting a little, still, from the lack of other people. After we ordered, though, slowly, people began to trail in, by the end of our meal the place was full. So were we.
My menudo arrived first, but I did not tasted it, nor did I open my tortilla basket, as I waited for the others’ food to arrive. Had I, I would have seen my first tip off to how good the food was. In actuality, I realized it as Liz’s quesadilla was set in front of her, the giant corn tortilla clearly made by hand tipping me off. As I dipped my spoon in to the brilliant red, spicy broth of menudo, it was made even clearer, a perfect hit of spice, a broth thin in texture but rich in flavor, without an oily feel. The trip itself, within the broth gave way, like chunks of al dente pasta between my teeth with the smoothness of butter and the hint of stink in the best kind of way–like a perfectly ripe cheese. This was the food of recovery.
And so, I must admit, I forgave the GPS for its past sins. And added a new destination to any trip up or down I-5 between Seattle and Portland.