The Take-out Toss Up: Heads or Tails
Every weekend it comes down to a coin toss. Not a super, freaky coin toss like in, No Country for Old Men where someone’s life’s on the line, but one that still makes my stomach churn knowing what’s up for grabs. Friday night’s all about take-out, and lately we’ve ditched our weekly pizza practice and landed on two equally crave-able sides of the coin.
Colima a little closer – Colima’s Mexican Food
You’ve probably driven past Colima’s squatty, worn exterior multiple times while flying down University Ave because it’s not exactly the type of place that seems like a fixed destination. But that’s when you have to envision what Walt Disney glimpsed in those miles of Florida swampland or what the architects of Vegas imagined in the open desert - possibility. And at Colima’s, they deliver that same type of unexpected possibility by blowing away the competition when it comes to one particular item.
Roast pork burrito: There’s a pedestal in my mind where this resides. I always hold my breath in anticipation worried I’ll be disappointed, that somehow it won’t be as amazing as I remembered like a child finding out their parent isn’t the hero they thought. But this has the consistency of Ward Cleaver and secures the certainty of knowing it will always be there, especially when I need it most (even a little bleary-eyed at 12am).
Moist clumps of rice flecked with corn and peas hide the tender, squares of carnitas and force my teeth to unearth hunks of pork like a spoon digging for candy treasure in a Ben and Jerry’s pint. The tortilla is enormous, buttery and surrounds this precious, pork-filled package like a newborn’s security blanket - and believe me, I was one proud mama. Damn, with the way I was going through these, soon to be one proud Mama Cass.
They provide enough salsa to stock an Apocalyptic prepper’s fallout shelter and enough satisfaction to make Mick rethink his lyrics. They’re quick, affordable and spot-on every time. The carne asada burrito also holds up, but the roast pork version is the reason to visit - standing “heads” and shoulders above the rest.
Riki don’t lose that number – Riki Sushi
Sub-par sushi joints have hit North Park like a plague in the last five years, so when Riki rolled into town, it was no surprise they started raking it in – fresh fish and clever rolls that didn’t blow the bankroll – this was the cure we’d been looking for. Riki began offering $6, $8 or $9 specialty rolls when they first opened, but now they’ve raised it to $8, $9 and $10 – I don’t blame them. They know the demand is there. They still offer rolls starting at $3 and increase in dollar increments, where every dollar amount has its own choices (i.e. $4: hamachi maki, $5: spicy scallop roll, $6: caterpillar roll, etc).
As for my two favorite rolls here, I couldn’t have designed them better than if I picked out the pattern myself. They encompass all I love about sushi. Granted, I’m not the most, well-versed sushi student and I usually choose relatively tame options, but the number of choices configured in every price range make it easy to mix and match new styles without worrying too much about the bill. But these are my go-to choices:
Yellowtail special roll ($8) – Inside: spicy tuna, cucumber. Outside: sliced yellowtail, raw jalapeno
With its almost spread-able lusciousness, the spicy tuna’s smooth texture provides great contrast to the fat slab of yellowtail propped on top. Cucumber acts as the crunchy cool down from jalapenos’ heat, and both act as buffers between the two types of fish, allowing them to retain their own identity.
Tijuana roll (TJ roll - $10) – Inside: soft-shell crab tempura, spicy tuna. Outside: eel, avocado
I’m a total softy when it comes to soft-shell crab. It brings me back to my Jersey youth and eating at the Circus Drive-In, an age-old landmark in my neighborhood that only opens for a few, summer months and has the best soft-shell crab sandwiches around. Reconfigured here, the soft-shell still crunches with the same memorable taste of the sea mixed with the supple swell of spicy tuna. The sweetness of the eel and natural creaminess of the avocado complete the package into more than a mouthful, but a bite that’s worthy of unhinging your jaw.
Condiment compliments: I know some of the sauces aren’t authentic, but damn if I don’t love to dip. I’m addicted to spicy mayo (yes, ugly American, party of one), but the thinner Japenese mayo (made with rice vinegar) mixed with Sriracha brightens every bite – at no extra charge. Then there’s the molasses-y, eel sauce that has the viscosity of turpentine, but my new favorite is Riki’s inclusion of a thin, peanut/chili sauce with a spice that’ll slap the sass out your mouth with its violent, but loveable heat – giving a new meaning to the term “lip-smacking”.
Roll with it: They don’t have a website and their paper take-out menu is useless because it only lists the names of rolls with no description. They have some hard-to-see photos on their facebook page, but you might want to venture inside the first time, though the usual standard for take-out requires a getaway car equipped with driver. That way the pick-up happens smoothly without the hassle of fighting to park on 30th St on a Friday night.
They offer a "large beer and hot sake" for $5.25 all day, everyday, which is fitting since the rest of the menu is so reasonably priced. Affordable, clean, fresh, inventive and generous – Riki proves that success is all in the de-“tails”.