A Restaurant Called Memories

A photo of Chris Jay

by Chris Jay
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Featured image: Recuerdos Tex-Mex at 109 W. Main Street in Round Rock, TX.

Less than a mile from my house in Round Rock, Texas, there’s a sprawling, caution-yellow Mexican restaurant and Hispanic grocery called La Michoacana. It reminds me of the much smaller, caution-yellow Mexican restaurant and Hispanic grocery called La Michoacana located less than a mile from my former address in Shreveport, Louisiana. I call the Shreveport location of La Michoacana “much smaller,” but, in point of fact, I can’t honestly claim to know the current size of the La Michoacana in Shreveport, since I haven’t seen it in several months. Heraclitus, who history remembers as “the weeping philosopher,” is best-known for his observation that no man can ever step foot in the same river twice “for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man.” That’s how I feel about La Michoacana. 

A photo of La Michoacana in Round Rock, Texas
La Michoacana in Round Rock, Texas.

There was a time when La Michoacana in Shreveport was small by any definition. That was a decade ago, when the building—still the size of a parking attendant’s kiosk—offered only a few crowded aisles of bagged spices, veladoras, and precariously stacked cases of Jarritos and Coco Rico. Then came the first addition, a tiny lunchroom attended by three or four employees who took orders and delivered foil-covered plates from the food trailer parked outside.

The new dining room couldn’t accomodate the crowds that arrived daily for tacos al pastor sliced from the trompo—the first I’d ever had—as well as comically overfilled tortas Cubanas, green or red chilaquiles buried in crumbly queso fresco, crisp empanadas stuffed with juicy pulled chicken and drizzled with Mexican crema, and Salvadoran-style cheese pupusas served with a ziploc of fermented cabbage relish called curtido. A larger grocery area came next, complete with a Western Union window. Then more additions and more additions: a proper ordering counter, new restrooms, an indoor kitchen, an expanded dining room, a dessert case stocked with tres leches cakes, a color wheel of cascading aguas frescas, and a large, all-new dining room that seemingly materialized overnight and instantly doubled the footprint of the building.

The popularity of La Michoacana in Shreveport grew in-step with its square footage due, in part, to the promotional efforts of early fans including Noma and Chris Fowler-Sandlin (then of Shreveport Farmers’ Market), Jada Durden, and me. But just about everyone who regularly ate at La Michoacana circa 2011-ish became a raving fan and went forth to spread the word. Some of the words that we chose then sound ignorant now, words like “authentic” and “street tacos.” As consumers, the foodie crowd of Shreveport had some growing up to do, as well; early reviews of La Michoacana praised the food for being cheap, other write-ups struck a reassuring tone that promised outstanding food despite the setting. As far as I know, Shreveport hadn’t had a real taqueria before La Michoacana. In retrospect, it showed.

A display ad for Rhino Coffee

Walking into the Big Lots-sized La Michoacana in Round Rock—where I’m frequently sent to retrieve una libra de barbacoa con tortillas de maiz or a jar of Colombian-style instant coffee crystals—I feel as though I’ve seen the Ghost of La Michoacanas Yet to Come. In the future, Shreveport, your La Michoacana may grow to delight you with fresh fruits and vegetables, a full-service butcher counter, steaming tamaleras in the check-out lines, and a wall of freshly baked pan dulces including guava-filled empanadas, bright pink conchas, and—my favorite—little gingerbread pigs called puerquitos. (What you want to do is dunk a day-old puerquito into a cup of that instant coffee, letting the coffee flavor the gingerbread and vice versa.) 

When my fiancée Michelle and I began to share the news that we were expecting a son, the comment that I heard most often was: “Your whole life is about to change.” I usually got this line from sunken-eyed young dads with three-day beards or older couples who looked at me the way a veteran might eye a young soldier on the eve of their first deployment. My go-to response, “Do you promise?,” wasn’t an act. I was ready for my whole life to change, and the hardcore commitment of fatherhood sounded more like a reward than a punishment.

Michelle and Leo on the day of his birth. My moon and stars.

Leo Valentín Jay-Sierra arrived in early March, spring coming in like a lion. His birth was difficult due to unexpected complications, but then he was suddenly cooing in our arms after nine months of waiting and imagining: a beautiful, strong boy with steely blue eyes, an insatiable appetite, and a piercing cry that can sound like the laughter of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. Leo grew two inches in his first week of life, an opening salvo of uncanny growth that had the sobering effect of a cannonball sailing across the bow.

Each day, Michelle and I notice little changes in his face, his hair, the pitch of his caterwaul. The person that he was when he was born has already disappeared like a stack of tortillas amid the lunch rush; The person he was this morning will be a memory by this afternoon. Each time I lift him out of his Pack n’ Play, there’s a moment of disorientation that reminds me how it feels to walk into La Michoacana in Shreveport after a few weeks away. Are his eyes a different color this morning? Was that display case filled with flan always there? Are his toes getting longer, all of a sudden? Are the restrooms located in a different place than they were last week?

Welcome to the rest of your life.

Leo’s first trip to a restaurant was a quick stop for breakfast tacos at a tiny Tex-Mex restaurant in downtown Round Rock called Recuerdos (or “Memories”). We didn’t know what we’d do if he woke up mid-meal—we’d been parents for less than two weeks, and I doubt that either of us had slept more than nine hours total in that time. We were returning from Leo’s first trip to the pediatrician, and tacos sounded incredible after all of the unseasoned hospital food we’d eaten.

We were seated quickly, secured Leo’s car seat in the empty chair next to Michelle, and ordered tacos and coffee. In a sunlit corner of the restaurant, two Hispanic men held an intense conversation in sign language as steam drifted up from their plates of migas and just-made tortillas. Fading, black-and-white photos of Mexican-American families smiled down at us. I wondered what paths the men and women holding babies in those photos had taken, whether or not any of them had become first-time parents at age 42, what private sacrifices they’d made to cross the threshold of true commitment. After I wiped my plate clean with the last delicious bit of tortilla, I handed it to our server, and only then did I notice the placemat beneath it. “Bienvenidos,” it read. “Welcome.” Leo had slept through the entire meal. He was twelve days old.

Welcome to the State of Parenthood, a place that no road leads out of. You will die here. Welcome to sleeplessness, to panicked moments when you cannot make the crying stop, to the cycle of feeding, burping, changing diaper after diaper, dodging streams of piss at 4:17 a.m, sanitizing bottles, learning the hard way, swaddling, worrying, doctor’s appointments (so many doctor’s appointments). Welcome, also, to the little noises that your child makes in their sleep, the trill of a nesting pigeon calling out to family in the predawn darkness. Welcome to the smell of the top of your child’s head, a breeze carrying the scent of the blooming sweet olive trees just outside the window of the room that you grew up in. Welcome to a never-ending springtime of surprises, such as the discovery that your newborn would rather be in the shower than anywhere else. Welcome to your child’s first beatific smile, a development that nature was wise enough to place at the two-month mark. Just when you’re ready to run screaming into traffic, your child develops the ability to smile. Some friends will want to visit you in the State of Parenthood, others will not. Some friendships will dry up and snap off on their own, like an umbilical cord. Having served their purpose, they fall away, making room for the only thing that is of any real consequence now.

The past takes hold of the sash cord and prepares to pull back the curtain as the future waits in the wing. Heraclitus steps gingerly into the new river, and the river whispers its welcome.  

For Leo and Irma Michelle.

The Stuffed & Busted logo

4 thoughts on “A Restaurant Called Memories

    1. Thank you, Sylvia, for reading and commenting – and for all of the record-shipping supplies! 🙂

  1. Chris, again, congratulations on your sweet baby boy. Nothing can really prepare you for the wonders being a parent brings to your life. Time moves differently when that little life enters yours. We measure it by the yardstick of their growth, their wants, their needs now. Our own importance lessens, self-centeredness becomes a thing of the past. So many memories I have from our grill are of people bringing their babies in for the first time. One of my fondest is bringing my own baby in and not just seeing the reactions but feeling them and how much love and community surrounded me. You are giving your new baby all of this and I am grateful you are sharing it with us. Great article!

    1. Thank you, Tini, for such a lovely thought, and for reading. I think of you and your family often. If heaven is different for each of us according to our own lives, my heaven is probably George’s Grill in like 1998, with a big omelette and toast and coffee. Those families who brought their babies into George’s will always have those beautiful memories. Love to you and yours!

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