Food for thought, while you wait

By Molly Williams

I am a semi-retired history teacher, a part-time lawyer, an optimistic writer, a contented wife, a forever mom, and a joyous and open-eyed traveler.

There are places in the world where people will wait as long as it takes to get a table for dinner. Stroud’s in Kansas City is one; smart Mike Donnegan who refuses to take reservations knows that people will wait for the world’s hands-down best fried chicken, and will order abundantly after having been enveloped in the smells of other people’s dinners for a hour or so. My daughter’s first solid food was the mashed potatoes and gravy at Stroud’s when she was four months old. My eyes still open wide at the first bite each time just as hers did 15 years ago. There are simply no words for how good the cinnamon rolls are, or for how full you feel after.
New Orleans’ French Quarter fixture Galatoire’s main first floor dining room is another. Tiptoeing its way through time, it has picked up the lights and mirrors of the Belle Epoque, the stiff tuxedoed waiters of the Continent, and the calorie-defying cooking of generations of French Creole grandmothers. Lines snake down Bourbon Street to get a seat in that room, and I will gladly be in it as long as it takes.
Café de Olla in PV is another of those. Legendary to locals, mysterious to visitors until they try it, it is a tiny open-air place away from the beach on Basilio Badillo.
The queue wraps between the tables on the sidewalk, so that those who have yet to have a seat may feast their eyes on the plates of those underfoot. Here is where, after a margarita or two, I coined the word “doidle” – it perfectly describes how you feel loitering or dawdling at your table while hungry folks lined up around you become annoyed at you taking up their table. Americans and Canadians LOVE this place – I think because the food tastes like we think good Mexican food should taste like, whether accurate or not. The tortillas are flour, the cheese is melty, the veggies are crisp, the meat is cooked perfectly.
Recently we had one of the sidewalk tables, and ate under the baleful glare of the half-hour line. Worth it, though – plus there is the promise that you will almost always see someone you know from somewhere waiting in that line. This year it was a former student of mine and her family, and I felt like I was in one of those legendary sidewalk cafes in Paris – in which if you sit long enough everyone you know will walk by.
Some of my favorite Puerto Vallarta eateries don’t really exist on a map, but pop up at meal time and are gone just as quickly as your sated appetite. Street taco stands dot Old Town, each with different specialties and regulars. Last year we watched as our aproned hostess expertly cut, stuffed, coated and fried a piquant red pepper into something Food Network would reward with her own show, all with about three square feet of cooking space and a knife and griddle. Just follow the lines to the good, safe, deliciosos ones. The locals know how to lunch.
Picking restaurants in Puerto Vallarta is hard for us seasonal visitors, as our meals are limited, and there is so much I want every year. But I know that I am choosing among some of the world’s finest eateries, and that if they are good, they will be here next year, as will I. But for today, I will spend my beach moments eagerly anticipating tonight, knowing that sometimes the wait makes it all the more delicious.