Continuing my series on nostalgia, which for me is a feeling akin to a flashback, only packed with emotion and often consisting of highly condensed time, I thought I might speak about a place that was near and dear to my heart, rather than a piece of intellectual property. That place is Super Mex, a Mexican restaurant and bar at Sunset and Pecos in the city of Las Vegas. I say that the place “is” Super Mex because, even though it has been re-worked by the owner and is no longer known by that name, the memory and reality of it as Super Mex is still clear in my mind, as if I had eaten there last night.
Las Vegas, Land of Late Night Tacos
One of the best things (or worst things, depending on your perspective) about living in Las Vegas (or visiting, for that matter) is the fact that you can get anything your heart desires, at virtually any time of day or night. This includes food, booze, gambling, karaoke, ice cream, donuts, groceries of virtually any variety, drugs, prostitutes, guns, and ammunition. You can also go to the gym, doctor, or even tanning salon at 3 AM. This doesn’t mean one has to indulge in all these things while in Vegas, just that one can at any time. This produces what I like to call “Vegas Time,” which is the inevitable turning of one’s schedule so that waking occurs at 2 PM and sleeping begins at sunrise. My main indulgence was tacos and diet coke, with the occasional order of pancakes and a glass of tequila thrown in for good measure, and my preferred time to indulge was between 1 and 3 AM.
When I was first considering moving to Las Vegas, I would visit a few of my friends, and at night we would go looking for new places to eat. If that seems like a boring thing to do in Vegas, well… I find slot machines and strip clubs boring, and only one of those is a lie. New food is like a small adventure, full of excitement, risk, and great reward. That is a good attitude to have, and one that in no way explains the fact that once my friends and I found Super Mex we went there three times a week for two and a half years. It also doesn’t explain why we always ordered the same thing (except for pancakes, as I said – those were the best in Vegas), which was delightful concoction they called “Tacos Tijuana.”
Tacos Tijuana: Slayer of Gains
The first time I ate at Super Mex with Matt (my roommate at the time and still one of my best friends), it was a fairly traditional dining experience, and we ate at a fairly traditional hour. I had a torta. It was decent. The second time was like the first, but only because Super Mex was the only decent Mexican food place in south-east Vegas that I felt like wasn’t going to give me salmonella or e-coli. I had milanesa (basically Mexican chicken-fried steak). It was surprisingly good.
The next time we went in, it was well after midnight. Technically, the dining room is open 24 hours, but it was deserted in there and felt odd- kind of like going into a restaurant after the apocalypse, so we ate at the bar. A bartender named Julie (a short, lithe brunette, and surprisingly attractive despite a scar on her upper lip) working the deserted second half of the restaurant suggested the now infamous tacos. She had a smoking habit and always seemed to be lighting up next to the “no smoking” signs, but she didn’t charge us for diet coke and the tacos were pretty smashing good.
What are Tacos Tijuana? There a set of three, massive soft corn tacos loaded with carne asada, chorizo (the greasiest available, by God), pico do gallo, topped with “queso fresco” (basically cottage cheese without the general grossness of such), and served with guacamole. Healthy, no, but more satisfying meal I cannot imagine. They became a habit over the next two years, and as Matt and I took up a serious weightlifting routine they became a frequent after-work out meal, usually eaten well after midnight. They were probably not the best choice to follow an hour of lifting, but squats have a way of driving hunger into a man, and they were but seven dollars. Combine that with the free diet coke and it’s a hard bargain even for a pauper to pass up.
Kelly- Your Friendly Neighborhood Sports Gambler
After a while, Matt and I made friends with one of the graveyard bartenders named Kelly, a stout Irish with a mouth like a sailor and an always running line of massive sports bets. I knew he’d end up being a friend when I forgot my debit card at the bar one night. I didn’t realize until the next day, but I was able to get it back the next night – and order tacos with it. For any interested parties, one sure way to earn my trust is to not steal the last fifty dollars from my bank account if I leave my card with you.
Kelly was the man when it came to sports. He would tell you who sucked, why, and by how much, because chances are he’d made money on his opinions. Either that or he had lost a ton of money, and that makes certain opinions as well. A fan-boy he was not, unless it was money you were talking about; he never cared to bet for teams he liked, a lesson more people should learn. I always wondered why he kept the bar job. Maybe he needed a w-2 for tax liability. Maybe he lost more than he care to admit.
Kelly had an affinity for bourbon, a favored drink I had the pleasure of sharing more a few times with him, and he was always generous with the tequilas I would drink at the bar, and of course the diet coke (the restaurant actually served Pepsi, but it’s all diet coke to me). The amount of diet soda he served me would probably feed a family of four for a year, except not at all because it is zero calories and I wanted to make an analogy that didn’t involve swimming pools.
Besides bourbon, the only thing I remember him drinking was tea, but not the restaurant’s tea. Instead, he drank instant tea that he brought into bar. I don’t remember why exactly; maybe it was the caffeine.
The Demise of Super Mex
I found out awhile back that the restaurant I had known as Super Mex had departed, in a sense. The Super Mex franchise had been discarded, and the place had been re-worked as something else. I know that sort of thing happens with restaurants, but it doesn’t work that way in my mind or memory. To me, even though I’ve been gone awhile, Super Mex is still there, like I just had an order of tacos and drank three gallons of diet coke, and I am rushing home with Matt to use the bathroom and try to get into bed before sun was up.
I could see myself driving up to the parking lot, filled with police taking their meal break at 3 AM, tired from a work-out at Gold’s Gym on Flamingo (the best gym in the world, now also gone away). We walk inside to hear jukebox playing 90s music of its own accord, and pull up the bar between poker machines, since we never gambled. There’s a weird boar’s head on the wall behind us, which I never found out the story to, and the tacos are on the counter before we even order them. They taste great, but they always come out a bit small when you put both orders in at the same time. I don’t think I’ll ever get to eat there again. It’s sad to me, even though I can remember it like a waking dream.
If I ever make it back to Vegas I’ll probably avoid whatever the place is now. Super Mex exists in my mind like a reality, and that would kill it.
That’s nostalgia for you.