Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Quiet Streets of Guadalupe

There's something about Guadalupe.  The mix of Chinese, Mexican and Greek restaurants.  The old brick buildings.  The auto supply store that is more museum than car parts.  The friendly people.  The murals.  The Dunes Center.  But most of all, the quiet, relaxing atmosphere, so foreign to those of us who live in larger cities where noise is inescapable and a 24-hour phenomenon.

Guadalupe is a small town with only a population of 7,000.  It is located in Northern Santa Barbara County and is the gateway to anyone exploring the dunes.  Its history is multi-ethnic and its streets reflect that--even today.  Rancho de Guadalupe was established in the 1840's after the demise of the Spanish mission system as part of a Mexican land grant which carved Alta California up into ranches.  When a severe drought hit in the 1860's the land was sold to a group of farmers who planted wheat, barley, corn and beans.  Swiss-Italian and Portuguese dairy farmers settled nearby and the little town of Guadalupe was born.

Like so many California towns, the Southern Pacific Railroad brought in a wave of Chinese laborers.  After the railroads were built, they stayed and started to open up businesses.  In Guadalupe, another wave of immigrants settled here from Japan.  They arrived around 1900, hired on as laborers in the sugar beet fields.  It is the Japanese farmers who introduced green vegetables to this area, launching a whole new agricultural industry.  Today, the field hands arrive from Mexico and Central America.  It is a true American melting pot and absolutely charming because of it.

We asked for a restaurant recommendation at the Dunes Center, and the young woman steered us toward El Tapatio.  My travel buddy had a plate of chicken soft tacos and I had a crispy taco with shredded beef and a cheese enchilada with the best green sauce I have ever tasted.  Spicy.  Rich and full of flavor.  This little restaurant may very well become a favorite pit stop.

  On the way back to the van, we stopped by the Napa Auto Supply Store and chatted with the owner.  I was mesmerized by the things he had collected over the years and had displayed in his store.  I could kick myself for not asking if the items were for sale, but they had no price tags.   Movie props.  Folk art.  Old highway signs.  He told us a lot about the history of the region and the movies that were made here like G.I Jane and Pirates of the Caribbean.  Of course, we talked about the excavation of the movie set from The Ten Commandments, which is bringing tourists into town.   A welcome boost to the economy.

Guess I'll have to go back.  Want to try El Tapatio's pozole and guacamole.  Want to ask the Napa guy if that sphinx paw he has under glass is actually for sale.  Can't stop thinking about it.   It would make a great garden ornament, don't you think?


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