How America’s Most Famous French Chef Caused a Mexican Food Sensation

May 26, 2018 – 07:10 am

JC Jon ChaseJulia Child, ever-reigning goddess of French gastronomy in America, passed away in 2004 at 91 years of age. But almost a decade later she is still stirring food passion, and still stirring up food controversy.

Ask any Mexican restaurant owner in Santa Barbara, California, and you’ll get an earful.

Julia, who was actually born in Southern California (in Pasadena, in 1913), and who later lived, most famously, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, started gravitating westward, back towards the Golden State, in her later years. Her beloved husband Paul, with whom she’d taken the renowned Cambridge Victorian house in 1961, a short walk from Harvard Yard, had to move to a local nursing home in 1989 after a series of strokes, and Julia started splitting her time between coasts. Paul died in 1994, and, a few years later, Julia finally decided to spend all her time in Santa Barbara, when she moved to a posh retirement community, Casa Dorinda, in the tony suburb of Montecito.

La Super Rica Taqueria, in Santa Barbara, California, Julia Child's favorite restaurant late in lifeThere were food writers aplenty in those years stopping in to see Julia, or engaging her on the phone in pursuit of the living taste of our greatest food legend. And Julia, who was always intensely loyal to the things and people she loved, started telling everyone that her favorite place to eat in Santa Barbara was La Super Rica Taqueria, which had opened on Milpas Street, SB’s great Mexican food neighborhood, in 1996. She mentioned it in an interview with Bon Appetit, discussed it on Good Morning America, and even inspired an article in The New Yorker about La Super Rica Taqueria.

Early diners in line just after 11AM openingAmerican foodies ate it up, savoring the wack factor: the tall, patrician, cultured, New-England-ish lady who introduced all of us to coq au vin, escargots, and French mother sauces was touting a down-and-dirty taco joint as her fave dining spot! The irony was irresistibly delicious.

From the beginning, however, Julia’s pick inspired controversy. If you roam the internet, you’ll find hundreds of posts proclaiming love for Super Rica, testimonies of miles driven, of annual pilgrimages from Ohio, etc. You’ll also find people calling Super Rica the most overrated restaurant on the planet, a place merely resting on Julia laurels, a secondary player in the Santa Barbara Mexican scene.

And yet, if you arrive at Super Rica today at noon, or at 6 p.m., you’ll find a line winding around the street — the very line upon which Julia stood! — that often requires an hour and a half of waiting time before you get to the hatch where the food is ordered.

I know. I was there last week.

I had some business to do in Santa Barbara last week, but, as an old friend of Julia’s, I felt it incumbent upon me to make my first visit to La Super Rica Taqueria. I hadn’t been to Santa Barbara, a gorgeous, upscale, seaside Shangri-La about 90 miles north of Los Angeles, for almost 20 years and, accordingly, had never experienced the relatively youthful Super Rica Taqueria.

It was high time to see for myself.

My big questions were:

1) What kind of Mexican food is this?

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Santa Barbara Design Studio Santa Barbara Design Studio Bombay Duck White Ceramic 5 Ounce Tea Cup and Saucer Set
Kitchen (Santa Barbara Design Studio)
  • Tea collection tea cup and saucer
  • White ceramic with handle and matching scalloped edge saucer
  • Simple, tasteful raised butterfly and scroll design at edges
  • Tea cup holds 5-Ounces; 6-Inch diameter saucer
  • Most popular beverage in the world; boasts numerous health benefits; makes you want to sit down and have a cup, doesn t it?

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