Even though, technically, it’s been over two decades since I lived there, when I think of “home,” I think of Chino, California. That's C-h-i-n-o. Not Chico. Unlike it's better-known, NorCal, party school counterpart, Chino is a small, nondescript city in the Inland Empire (a.k.a. the I.E.) and is only known for two things: cows and a maximum security prison (and probably the prison more than the cows). If you’re not from the I.E., you might know Chino as the place where “The Jesus” from The Big Lebowski did six-months for pederasty. It was also mentioned, in an equally flattering light, on the show The O.C. as well as on The Simpsons, American History X, and in the songs “Murder was the Case” by Snoop Dogg and “Original Prankster” by The Offspring.
(For a slightly more positive and highly honest review of the city, check out what The Mountain Goats have to say.)
So, yeah, I grew up in Chino, which means that I learned about God, and race, and family at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on D Street, and I found out what the guts of a frog look like at Ramona Junior High. I went ice blocking and I called myself a Conquistador. These are all very "Chino" things to do, and whenever I go back to visit, I love to drag Brown to all those places I miss.
Because of the nostalgia factor, I’m always hesitant to try new restaurants in the area. Trying something new means one less meal we can have from one of my favorites like Bravo Burger, In-N-Out, or Tropical Mexico, but over the holidays, we saw someone wearing a Taco Dudes T-shirt, and we knew we had to check it out.
As you can see, the branding is on point. The Taco Dudes logo sums up everything I feel about Chino.
And, although I’d never heard of Taco Dudes before, as soon as I saw the address I knew exactly where it was. I could picture the building. It used to be a burger stand, which I’m sure had a name, but I’ve only ever known it by the name my uncle gave it -- “The Greasy Spoon.” I don’t recall ever eating there, but I passed by it often on my way to and from school and on my way to church.
The current owner, Eddie Lara, has made some major upgrades. Not only is the building more inviting and filled with Skater/Mexican/Chino-centric art, the food is amazing. Let’s put it this way. If you are Mexican, no food is ever better than your Grandma’s, but this place comes pretty darn close.
And, yes, the tacos are great, but it was the pozole that took me from fan to zealot. Growing up, I never really liked menudo, but it was part of our Sunday ritual. After church, the kids would run to the hall for hot chocolate and donuts, and the adults would have coffee and menudo. At some point, I switched to menudo, but I could never quite stomach (pun-intended) the tripe. The viejitas in the kitchen were always kind enough to indulge my request for “menudo sin tripe,” and they’d ladle around it to give me a bowl of broth and hominy. I had an complicated method of piling on cilantro and onions, and then squeezing fresh lime juice to give it just the right flavor. The pozole at Taco Dudes took me right back to that place, and I didn’t even have to skip the meat this time. I’m sure their menudo is fantastic, too (if that’s your thing), but I’ll never know because the pozole is going to be my go-to dish whenever I’m back in Chino.
So, if you are from Chino and you haven’t been yet, you should definitely give Taco Dudes a try. But make sure you've got a little extra time just in case you come across someone you know. On my first visit I ran into two old family friends that I hadn’t seen in years, and we spent some time catching up. When they say it’s “Your Friendly Neighborhood Taco Shop,” they aren’t lying.