Saturday, June 19, 2010

Frugal Foodie on the Road: Stockton?

Tonight I tested how far I'll go for a good meal. I happen to be in Stockton, CA on business right now, sitting in my hotel room after a dinner out alone. Earlier, when I was looking for a place to eat I came across a Vietnamese restaurant with fantastic reviews, Le Kim's, and took the five minute walk to try it out. Sadly, they were closed (who is closed on Saturday night?), so I had to make the short trek back to my hotel.

I'd been warned several times that downtown Stockton isn't a place you want to meander through after dark, so I had to find another good restaurant ASAP. I asked the concierge, and she inquired as to how I was traveling. When I said I was walking she looked at her watch and said, "You should be OK." Hmmm... I didn't like her suggestions anyway (I searched out reviews once I got back to my room), but I did find a Mexican restaurant, Xochimilco, that was approximately twelve minutes away. I hurried. I hurried even faster after a crazy lady chatted me up about the weather and my hair.

Then I found my google map wasn't accurate and had to stop to ask a security guard how to get there. I also asked when it wouldn't be safe to walk alone and he responded "Where are you from? Don't you know that Stockton sucks (he really said that). The good thing is that the police station is right down there, but I'd eat fast (he really said that, too)." Never mind, I knew I was close so I persevered, committing to my journey and forgetting about the perfectly safe restaurant in the hotel.

Finally, I arrived at Xochimilco and was rewarded with an incredible chile verde that was not verde at all as it was braised in a light and flavorful tomato-based broth. The pork was tender and the rice soaked up the red liquid, giving it the texture of what could be called a Mexican risotto when mixed with some of the creamy, cheesy beans. An added bonus on the plate was a wedge of quesadilla, a thoughtful touch that should be replicated by all Mexican restaurants (sorry this isn't visible in my picture).

I finished quickly and headed back to the hotel, chasing the sun as it descended. I don't usually fear walking alone as I consider myself a fairly alert person amongst strangers, but I don't think I'll walk around downtown Stockton at night again. And if anyone tells my mom I ever did, you'd better be the one watching out

Putting aside my adventure, the food in Stockton is actually pretty good. I ate at a Vietnamese restaurant yesterday and had a crispy crunchy fried shrimp dish laced with loads of cilantro and garlic and served with a tart lime sauce that was pretty darn addictive (below). I especially loved how they put the extra sauce over the rice rather than serve it dry. Why not?

P.S. If you're wondering why I was headed to another Vietnamese restaurant again tonight, I would have to say it's because I'm not sure if I have a sense of what I'm in the mood for anymore. Point me in the direction of good food and I'll make myself in the mood for anything!

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