pocosI have this theory about meals you eat after a day of moving. They’re the best you’ll ever have.

I began to see the pattern 10 years ago, the day I moved into my first college dorm. My whole family came down to help set up my microscopic, shared 14×14 foot box. After the long drive, meeting my roommate and dragging an over-packer’s year worth of crap up two flights of stairs, we were all ready to collapse by dinnertime. Our original plan had been to have dinner at a nice restaurant nearby, but there was an hour wait. Desperate for something – anything – to eat, we walked out the door and across the street to a waiting Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I still remember the crisp skin and juicy (greasy) meat, sopped up by those unbearably buttery biscuits and honey packets. The chorus of “oh my god this is the BEST” echoing around the table. It was one of the most delicious meals I can remember. Maybe not because KFC is divine, but because the combination of sweat, stress and starvation elevated sustenance into something sublime.

After my latest move, substantially further at 1,450 miles away, history repeated itself. After 22 hours of driving, unpacking a 26 foot U-Haul and running up and down the new neighborhood searching frantically for our cat (spoiler alert: he’s fine and a jerkface), we stumbled into the best offering Yelp could give us in a five-mile radius: Poco and Mom’s.

This diner-type Mexican restaurant is tucked on Tucson’s 22nd and Kolb streets, hidden behind an industrial equipment rental shop. The inside is a no-frills kitchen-and-seating area, with some regional pottery souvenirs hanging from the walls to remind you of what’s on the menu. The night we first ate at Poco’s, and the evening I re-visited to write this review, we made use of the patio out front. No frills, and about five feet from street traffic, but at least you get to enjoy the evening breeze and sunshine.

The restaurant specializes in New Mexican cuisine, a distinction I didn’t understand until visiting Poco and Mom’s. New Mexican Mexican food makes liberal use of green chiles, and Poco and Mom’s uses a fresh, hatch-roasted variety in everything from the breakfast burrito stuffings to the enchilada sauce. To get the full experience, we opted for the New Mexican Sampler Platter. Ordered from waitresses who crack jokes, make bets over whether you’re going to finish your mondo burrito, pat you on the back when you do and generally make you feel as if you’re in the presence of a bunch of big-hearted moms.

The only drawback? Their answer to the question “Can I get a margarita?”

“No alcohol here,” they say for what must be the millionth time.

Not music to our ears during the first visit, but we forgot about the lack of watery frozen tequila when the combo plates arrived. The size of a Thanksgiving serving platter, the plate is weighed down by a classic shredded beef red chile taco, a chile relleno, a chicken enchilada with homemade green sauce and a mess of rice and beans. That familiar echo made the rounds about the table: “Oh my god, this is the best thing I’ve ever had!” The chile relleno pepper had a distinct snap and crunch; nothing like the soggy messes I’ve had every other time before I stopped ordering them entirely. The house-made flavor was evident in every bite, from the thick and chewy texture of a perfectly-cooked fresh tortilla in the taco to the moist, creamy refried beans and light, bright enchilada sauce. Enough food to make you hallucinate for just $9.75.

Just to make sure this wasn’t a moving-exhaustion fluke, we placed the same order on our return visit. The sampler was just as we remembered, from the crispy chile to the best spiced rice we’ve ever had. And the waitstaff was just as cheerful, the patio as breezy. Fortunately, we’ve found something we can count on.

To make triple-sure that Poco and Mom’s is the best dive spot in the city, we came back for breakfast the next week. Yes, the life of a food critic is a tough one indeed. The breakfast burritos are densely packed with flavorful additions like chorizo, home fries and red chile pork, skimmed with a punch of chile sauce and cheese. All varieties are under nine dollars. May not be the best way to start out a busy day, but definitely a great way to kick off a nap.

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One Comment

  1. Kathleen

    May 23, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    I’m salivating. A wonderful review that makes me want to drive to Tucson.


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