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“B” is for “Budget” and “Bummer”

For the third meal in my eating out troika, I was taken to the local Tex-Mex restaurant El Azteco by my friends Patty and Renae. (And no, I do not have a friend named Gidget). I have waxed lovingly about El Az in the past, and was thrilled to find myself there on a sunny afternoon with my fellow Cougar/BFF/Soccer Moms, despite the fact that restaurant staff were prepping the rooftop dining area ready for spring in some manner that involved the use of jackhammers, and that they attempted to drown out the construction noise by turning the music up so loud that we found ourselves screaming about the goalie on the JV team and the popularity of various 6th grade boys.

El Az has always been cheap – their $1.00 bean and cheese burrito puts Taco Bell to shame – so I was surprised to see, in addition to the familiar large menu, a smaller version billing itself as an anti-recession menu with entrees hovering around the $5.00 range. The “budget” offerings included fideo, and fideo with chicken, which I probably should have ordered. I wanted to try something other than the Topopo Salad which I order as reflexively as I breathe in and out, or the aforementioned bean burritos which I have been eating since I worked in “downtown” East Lansing between college and law school, and needed a very cheap, very filling lunch. Instead, Renae and I ordered the “Vegetarian Combination” (or something like that) which promised a tamale, a gordita-type-thing, and a “serving of Topopo Salad with no chicken.” It sounded a little adventurous, and seemed to allow us to have our Topopo and something else, too. For half the price.

What I got was a tamale, a flat, tough cornmeal object, and a portion of apparently un-dressed lettuce, peas and cheese. The tamale was fine, the cornmeal object was dry and nearly impenetrable around the edges, and the “Topopo,” well, I was honestly expecting that even without the chicken, I would still receive some of the things that make a Topopo great, like the guacamole, the frijoles, the chips or the melted cheese. Patty kept offering me some of her Topopo (no one can eat a whole one, and Patty, who is approximately the size of the Mayor of Munchkinland, is not even a dark horse contender) and I kept refusing, feeling that I had made my lunch bed, and must lie in it. It sure looked good, though, her Topopo…..

The economy is not great, and there are many opinions on whether businesses are helping or preying when they pitch an offering as a “recession buster.” Whether these Economy Deals are generous or manipulative, the fact is that if you are paying for something that isn’t valuable, even if it’s cheap, it’s not much of a deal. If Renae and I had split a Topopo Salad-hold-the-chicken as we often do, it would have cost two dollars more than our combined Budget Meals, and would have been infinitely more satisfying. Maybe the fideo is wonderful, maybe we just picked the Bum Budget Buster, but even a beloved institution risks losing it’s loyal customers when they create and serve sub-par offerings.


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

3 responses »

  1. I have a friend coming into town tonight for the weekend and I am SURE El Az will be on the agenda. People just can’t come back here without getting their fill! God I want a margarita to go with it. It’s been quite a week!

  2. Ann,

    You misunderstood the whole concept. The guy who does the prep and plating has been summarily assigned to the workcrew on the roof. The overworked cook and dishwasher is now plating. They are indeed busting the recession, and are still open to tell about it.

    From Touristland I can observe that if the place is acknowledging the downturn they are in deep doodoo. The places here that deliver the goods and have not flinched are still thriving. Beware where the nickle is saved from.

  3. Michelle, I hope it was wonderful – still too cold to head up to the roof for that Margarita, but our day will come…. It has been quite a week for you; I was crying reading your blog and if I could have, I would have bought your first drink myself.

    Robert, you may just have something there. I found it odd that a restaurant that’s sold a $1.00 bean burrito since I was 23 (and you know how long that’s been) suddenly needed a “budget” menu. You realize that I am now obsessed with figuring out “where the nickle was saved from…..”


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