On my last day in Mexico, Angel, the head concierge at Casa Velas, took me downtown Puerto Vallarta to a local place for menudo. It is, hands-down, my favorite thing to eat in Mexico. In the twelve-plus years that I've lived in New York City, I haven't been able to find it here, so when I'm in Mexico, I feel like I have to have it as frequently as possible.
Restaurants usually prepare one large stockpot of it in the morning on a first-come first-serve basis. It's known across the country as a quintessential hangover cure, thereby making it a popular breakfast dish. Even though he didn't have to be at work until three in the afternoon, Angel drove to the hotel in the morning and picked me up at nine a.m. We took a drive downtown and sat down at at Rico Mac Taco, an open-air, 24-hour corner spot that Benny the bartender had recommended. Angel had never been there nor heard of it, but I could tell by its slight rinky-dink look that we were in store for a good meal.
The waiter carried out two piping hot bowls of menudo, along with its traditional accoutrements: chopped white onions, minced jalapeños, dried chiles de arbo in oregano, and fresh limes. (In Mexico, they add torn fresh mint leaves instead of cilantro, but they didn't have mint when we were there.) There was also a basket of fresh, warm corn tortillas.
Angel held a tortilla in one hand, and, with a swift, graceful movement with the other...Ta-da! It was as tightly rolled as a cigarette and ready for dipping. The broth was rich with flavor, soothing yet lively, and the tripe was soft and tender. If you need to wake up after a night out, this is better than coffee. To Angel's delight, it was served with a complimentary sope, a small, thick cake of fried masa, topped with green salsa, chopped onions, and a flurry of pungent crumbled queso fresco.
"You can tell that it's freshly made by hand," he said, pointing out the hand-pinched edges. The exterior was nice and crisp while the interior remained dense and mealy. He later said that it was his favorite part.
I had heard that it was he had worked on his 30th birthday, which was the day before and was supposed to be his day off, so I told him that it was my treat.
After breakfast, we strolled along The Malecon and went to a large flea market at the end, which I don't think I would've found on my own, where he bought me a friendship bracelet. He then dropped me back to the hotel and went home to get his uniform ready for work. I went onto the plane later that afternoon, touched by Angel's graciousness. That bowl of menudo ended up being worth so much more than fifty pesos.