Grand Avenue was busy that day I ate lunch at Gammy's Cafe. But I suppose it's always busy. Looking out towards it from one of their concrete picnic tables, I saw truck after truck roaring past. Trailing every rig was the rumble of diesel engines, whirring of gears, smoke and dust.
Above my head, a speaker blasted Mexican ranchera music at an ear-piercing volume. Together, the noise of the road and the polka-beat combined into a crazy, cacophonous soundtrack.
Suddenly midway through my meal, a thunderous bang and deafening crunch jolted me half bite. I looked up and saw that a car had just plowed into another. A woman stormed out of one vehicle with a cell phone clutched to her ear. She hunched down to survey the damage to her rear bumper.
It's dented, but the car that hit her fared far worse. Its driver, a guy with a beard, had already begun picking up pieces of his front end from the road when the woman started yelling at him.
"They should get off the street," I thought as I gulped down the mouthful of taco I was still chewing. They did eventually, turning into a nearby strip mall to swap insurance information, but not before snarling the rest of the traffic on this four lane thoroughfare to a halt.
This kind of thing must happen a lot in front of Gammy's. But nothing seems to faze the gentleman who greets you inside. He's got a cheery disposition and warmness that immediately disarms people. The guy is nothing but smiles and good manners.
And why not? His tiny, roadside taqueria -- although surrounded by the uglyness of traffic, chaos and noise -- is a refuge.
Jugs of cold agua frescas sweat in the corner. A modest salsa bar chills in another. The smells of the kitchen wafts through the air. And before he hands you your plate of tacos, he thoughtfully adds some pickled carrots, wedges of lime and chips, free of charge.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
The pastor taco I had featured chunks of pork, mired a caustic-looking red-pepper sauce that seems like it should be bolder and spicier than it is. Though by contrast, the chicken taco is still milder.
They are wrapped in two floppy rounds of tortilla, which is thicker and pillowier than most. All are topped with pico de gallo and small bits of creamy avocado -- a nice touch, especially for a taco that costs only $1.40.
Full and satisfied, I got in my car and said a little prayer before I lurched back onto the road. Before long, a semi-truck was hard on my tail, belching and throttling its engines all the way to the 5 on-ramp.
Gammy's Cafe (714) 835-8328 415 N Grand Ave Santa Ana, CA 92701