|Not so cheap anymore
by Garrison Frost
When I was in high school, a summer day at the beach wasn't complete without an early afternoon segue to one of the popular cheap Mexican restaurants. Certainly, the hunger created by surfing, beach volleyball and just laying on the sand in the sun for eight hours couldn?t be satisfied with anything else. These places were our temples. We knew the menus by heart, had our favorite seats, and knew the wait staff by their first names. Although adult working life prevents me from eating in those restaurants, I still try to visit them as much as possible. I still know the menus. They are in my soul.
Back in those high school days, the price of a numbered combination plate in any one of the cheap Mexican restaurants could easily be had by digging a few wet one dollar bills out the pocket of your shorts, or picking a handful of loose change out of the bottom of your backpack. I don't have any doubts that kids today hit the same restaurants now as frequently as I did back then. But I'll tell you one thing, they're not paying the check with pocket change. Those days are over.
The South Bay's cheap Mexican restaurants aren't so cheap anymore. Oh sure, you can still get a taco from a stand in Harbor City for a buck. And there are places along Rosecrans, Crenshaw, Western and Normandy where the prices haven't changed much in 10 or 15 years. But the closer you get to the water, the more expensive the cheap Mexican food gets. Five bucks used to get you a combination plate. Now, you better bring a twenty if you want lunch and a drink.
I haven't done any research on this, but I don't recall other kinds of food taking this leap in price over the last decade or so. Sure, everything these days costs $8, $9, $10, but the Mexican food was always cheaper than everything else. Shouldn't it be cheaper now? Why should my burrito cost the same as one of these fancy hamburgers? When did my two enchiladas, rice and beans combination deserve the same cost as steak and lobster?
Truthfully, I don't want to complain too much. I've eaten so many ridiculously cheap tacos, burritos and enchiladas over the years that it's only justice that I pay more now. And given the tax status of the people living at the beach these days, the owners of these places would be nuts not to charge them what they can easily pay. And the rents some of these places must be paying forget it. And really, these places have given me and my friends so much pleasure over the years, I owe them nothing but gratitude.
So while I note the change, I don't have any blame for any of the restaurants themselves. They're all good places that crank out the good carbohydrate-laden food that we crave. But let's dispense with this mythical idea of cheap Mexican food. It doesn't exist. At least not the way I remember it. You can still sit in a booth with wet shorts. You can still walk in barefoot. You can still memorize the menu. And you can still try and turn the burning hot plates around even after the waiter has warned you about how hot they are. But it's not coming cheap.
And really, what do you care? Just eat your $7 taco and shut up. I certainly will.
(Aug. 7, 2006)
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