Local Fare for the Win

When you pick up and move to a new town 1,500 miles from where you used to live, “getting the house in order” is a little overwhelming. Thirty years in the same spot creates a lot of favorite “thises” and preferred “thats”. So whenever my wife & I step away from the endless unpacking, we’re trying out supermarkets, large-animal vets (for the horses), and restaurants, to figure out which ones best replace those we chose time and time again in Colorado. And here’s what we’ve quickly discovered about life in the South (of the U.S.): good Mexican food is a tough ask.

Pizza as it should be

Let’s take a bit of a detour. (Don’t worry; we’ll be back on the main highway before you know it.)  In a surprisingly candid post from fellow blogger Brilliant Viewpoint, her recent trip to Rome and Florence determined pizza – at least the classic Italian version of the pie – is not what it used to be.  The writer suggested the crusts are like cardboard, the mozzarella chunky and unappetizing, and the pizza itself a little soggy.  Having spent a college year in Italy (when I survived on pizza and not much else), I found her conclusions shocking.  Maybe this is why Domino’s – they of the generic-but-convenient home-delivered product in America – decided to give Italy a try?  It’s true.  In 2015, a Dominos franchise opened several stores across Italia to capture the then non-existent delivery market.  It almost worked.

No matter what the state of Italian pizza these days, Domino’s Pizza stores in this of all countries lands on my “you’ve got to be kidding me” list (alongside Starbucks coffee).  Put yourselves in their shoes to understand the absurdity of it all.  You’re an Italian.  Pizza was invented in your country, which has thousands more years of history than America.  You can choose from any pizzeria on any block of any street in your town and the homemade product will be excellent.  Yet you’re going to call Domino’s to order a mass-produced American knock-off instead?  At least Baskin-Robbins was sensible enough to stay away instead of going head-to-head with gelato.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn – after a seven-year run – Domino’s Italian franchisee filed for bankruptcy in April.  “Of course“, you say. “Their product just couldn’t compete.”  Well, that’s not quite the story.  It was more about pizza delivery itself.  Remarkably, Italy had very little delivery before the pandemic.  You wanted a pie back then, you went out into the streets and got it.  But just like American restaurants, Italian pizzerias did whatever it took to survive the pandemic years, and that meant delivery to front doors.  Domino’s thought they had the market cornered before they ever entered it.  Next thing they knew, everyone else was doing the same thing.

No matter the reason, I’m happy to say arrivederci to Domino’s Pizza in Italy.  Franchise food doesn’t feel right in a country with so much history and wonderful local food.  Shortly after my college year in the 1980s, I learned a McDonald’s restaurant somehow landed a lease at the base of Rome’s famous Spanish Steps.  That’s like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  America has much to offer the world, but fast food is not our proudest accomplishment.  I’m not even sure it’s an accomplishment.

Let’s get back to the main highway now.  Up top we were talking about Mexican food… er, the lack of it, in the American South.  It’s true, if our new little town is any indication.  Yes, we have several options to beat a sit-down at Taco Bell, but they’re only a whisper better.  Everything looks and tastes so generic.  What should be salsa roja inside of enchiladas tastes more like pizza sauce.  What should be a margarita with the sublime afterbite of tequila tastes like syrupy lemonade.  The chips might as well be Doritos.  Yet you look around and the restaurant is packed.  These people don’t know what they’re missing, but they seem happy enough.  As a result, just like Dominos, I don’t expect a Mexican restaurant from outside of the region to waltz into town and do well.

My theory on good Mexican food goes like this: the further west and south you go the better it gets.  Colorado and Tex-Mex trump anything east of the Mississippi.  Arizona and Southern California fare trump Colorado and Texas.  In other words, my favorite Mexican place in my new hometown is destined to be close to my front door. In fact, it’s inside my front door.  It’s my kitchen.  Time to start making my own margaritas and enchiladas. 

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “Domino’s tried to sell pizza to Italians…”, and the Brilliant Viewpoint blog.

31 thoughts on “Local Fare for the Win

  1. You’re probably right: make your own enchiladas and margaritas when the yen for Mexican arises. Hopefully your neighbors and others you meet can recommend some terrific local restaurants. They may not serve chicken mole poblano, but maybe shrimp and cheesy grits will become a new favorite!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The good news, Nancy, is my own recipes will be healthier than those we used to enjoy out at restaurants in Colorado. Not to mention, less likely to overeat. I LOVE Mexican food 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s why I’m never moving – I couldn’t leave my favorite authentic Italian pizza place which has been in business since 1979, wood smoked ovens and all….plus all that unpacking. We have five pizza places in my small town but the rest are franchises – there’s just no comparison.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you, Joni. We had several Mexican restaurants open up in our town in Colorado but remained loyal to the one, original, local establishment that came before any of them. Nothing else compared, nor will anything in South Carolina. The sacrifices we make, right?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. There is a McDonalds on the Champs de Elysses in Paris and it’s their most profitable location, go figure! I hope you can find some good restaurants! When we were in a small town in Michigan for Jon’s grandma’s birthday we couldn’t believe how bad the restaurant was we went to for the dinner. We are definitely spoiled in NYC!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s funny 😂 I grew up near U of M so I can confirm there are now a lot of good restaurants in Ann Arbor. I live in NYC now and my husband likes to mess with people when they ask about the best restaurants and says the best Mexican in nyc is tacob el (Taco Bell) and best pizza is pizza oot (Pizza Hut) then people start catching on that he’s joking.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The nice thing about Olive Garden – especially for a college student – is their all-you-can-eat salad and bread (which are pretty good for franchise food). You’re not eating for free, but pretty close to it.

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    1. You can NEVER leave NYC, Lyssy – you’ll starve! At least the rest of us can live vicariously through your posts and photos. Here’s the impossible question: if one of your readers told you he/she had just one night in NYC, which restaurant would you send them to?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Portugal doesn’t have decent Mexican food? Wow. Maybe I make the mistake of assuming Spanish = Mexican (since Portugal is so close to Spain). If you come up with some good recipes, feel free to share on sunnydaysinseattle. I need them, like, yesterday 🙂

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  4. We lived in Spring, Texas for a year and ate a lot of Mexican from the many small local eateries. We bought little recipe books from these places because we knew when we returned to Alberta, the only Mexican food we would find would be from our kitchen!

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    1. From my experience, the worse the look of the place, the better the food. We went to a Mexican restaurant in Fort Worth once, recommended by our hotel, in a very sketchy part of town. We saw a police car outside and were relieved to realize the cops were simply having lunch. It was some of the best Mexican we’ve ever had!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, Ally. A long time ago Domino’s worked for me, but only because I was a college student with no understanding (or budget) for what makes a good pizza. Today, I don’t go anywhere near the place.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dominoes was always big in Michigan as it originated here, but it is not my favorite at all. I’ve only had it once, preferring Pizza Hut instead. How could anyone compare American franchise pizza to the real deal in Italy? I had a friend who grew up in South Carolina and she would gush about “going out for BBQ every night when going home to visit Mom.” I don’t recall her ever talking about any other foods she liked in her home state except sweet tea. You’ll be eating healthier for sure when you make it at home Dave.

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    1. Ah, that’s right, Domino’s started in Michigan. It’s strange to think, my go-to pizza in college in South Bend, IN – just over your southern border – was Godfather’s, not Domino’s (and I still remember their distinctive yellow delivery trucks). I’m guessing Domino’s was still the new kid on the block back then.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Godfather’s is a clever name for what was likely great Sicilian-style pizza. When I worked in Detroit at the ad agency, we’d pile into two cars at lunchtime and go to Buddy’s, touted for being the home of the original square pizza. Buddy’s first restaurant was in 1946. I just looked as I thought it was much older than that.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah, “Detroit-style” pizza! You should blog about it, Linda, since you probably know it well. I heard the term recently for the first time (from the “Lyssy in the City” blog, who is also from your state) and no idea what she was referring to.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I had a fellow blogger who just moved to Ohio from Texas and she raved about “313 Pizza” while living in Austin. The “313” was the Detroit-area’s area code for a long time before multiple area codes were forced on us (as in your recent blog topic about area codes and phone exchanges). We even have a “313 Day” in the Motor City (March 13th). A square pizza has more edges, so it has the edge over the others. I believe there is a brownie baking tin which has dividers that look like a maze to give more edge pieces too. Don’t you wish you had thought of that idea?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Dominos actually did a thorough reinventing of its pizza maybe 15 years ago. I was a Dominos delivery driver during my senior year of college and came to like their pizza. It was not objectively great, but I liked it. The modern version does nothing for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dave, I remember Godfather’s pizza, it was the “go to” pizza. LOL to Domino’s in Italy! Regarding Mexican, maybe you need to keep hunting around in your new area. Hard to believe they don’t have a good Mexican restaurant there, I mean “authentic.” Indiana has some small, very small restaurants that are the real deal. The tacos, enchiladas are delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have fond memories of Godfather’s, but since I was a college student at the time maybe the pizza wasn’t as good as memory serves. I hope you’re right about the Mexican food. We’ll get settled and then give some of the local places a try. I agree, “small” and/or “modest” often turns out to be the real deal.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Years ago, we lived in New Jersey for a brief time and I don’t think we had good Mexican food until we got back to the Mid-West. Hopefully, you will discover some new “favorites” soon – although they probably won’t be Mexican. Enjoy the search!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good luck in your new home! I grew up on the east coast (NJ) and never had decent Mexican food until I went out west. Look for what ethnic groups you may have in the area – Newark had a Portuguese community with great paella. And of course, proximity to New York meant most ethnic foods were available.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We have a lot of Hispanics here, Ruth, and several have opened hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants. I’ll be trying those because I’m sure they’re better than the bigger, brighter “American” versions.

      Liked by 1 person

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