Western Flair

Infamous Van Buren Street is notorious for prostitutes, dilapidated hotels and a quick drug deal. Or at least I hear it is.

But next Sunday, when you are done mowing the lawn, cleaning the pool and reading the paper, load the family into the SUV and take an excursion to Little Mexico. Heading west on Van Buren, your scenic drive will start to change at 15th Avenue, from the crackhead drug dealers and spun-out prostitutes to businesses and billboards all in Spanish. The neighborhoods west of 15th Avenue along Van Buren are locally nicknamed "las Avenidas" -- the Avenues.

Let your senses guide you. Follow the billowing smoke from the giant grill and smoker located at 35th Avenue north of Buckeye. Unlike the former location or the 16th Street restaurant, the new Asadero Hermosillo is first-class all the way. The Lopez family has gone from a simple location where nothing matched to a beautifully done establishment with white tablecloths and hand-carved chairs bearing the restaurant's name.

What you will find is succulent, mesquite-grilled chicken and beef, tripas de leche (veal intestines) and beef ribs (skip the ribs!), all served in a wrought-iron skillet called a parillada and accompanied by a platter of guacamole, pico de gallo, pickled red onions, sliced cucumber and great flour or corn tortillas -- enough to feed as many as four people, depending on your appetite.

Real Mexican restaurants do not understand the American custom of chips and salsa. As if obligated by our custom, they always provide a less-than-good chip. Asadero Hermosillo is no exception. The salsa is great and really spicy, but the chips -- how can I put this? -- suck big-time.

Gone is the loud jukebox with a full spectrum of Mexican music, but the loud music remains. You will be hard-pressed to find a server who speaks fluent English and, unless you read Spanish, you are out of luck with the Spanish-only menu.

But the food is authentic Sonora-style grill and seafood (I recommend the camaron al mojo de ajo, with the shell on for extra flavor). Ask for what is currently cooking on the giant grill. For some reason, they fill the grill with only one type of meat at a time. Order from the grill -- unless you don't mind eating veal intestines that have been held warm for a while.

Typical of any authentic Mexican eatery, you will find a selection of aguas frescas (fresh fruit drinks in flavors such as pineapple and tamarind pod), a rice water drink called horchata, a hibiscus flower drink called jamaica, and limeade.

If you can get past the hookers, drug dealers, trailer parks and a variety of other colorful scenery, your drive to las Avenidas should prove to be worth your time.

Silvana Salcido Esparza is a local chef and restaurant owner.