Living away from California for a few years, there were some things I missed about my home state. Walking long distances in the winter without inducing frostbite. Rugged Highway 1 beaches characterized by tall, rocky cliffs. But the No. 1 thing, I must say, was California-styled Mexican food, or Cal-Mex.
I have sought to fulfill my unyielding hunger for Mexican food in locales stretching from Brooklyn to Copenhagen, Denmark, where something called a burrito could be consumed in five bites. Yet nothing has compared to the Californian variant, where guacamole usually resonates with freshness, salsa is rife with juicy Roma tomatoes, and it is no surprise to find tofu in one’s tacos.
Aqui Cal-Mex at 10630 S De Anza Blvd in Cupertino was exactly the heart-healthy and palatable experience I was seeking. If Dr. McDougall were to come here, he would likely lend his approval, as would the empty-bellied student down the street at De Anza College. The vegetarian burrito consisted of a lightly seasoned sweet potato-fritter mixture with piquant corn salsa and tender tofu pieces wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. It sat alongside a lettuce mixture infused with lime, and orange slices.
The chips were crisp, but not deep-fried, and came with classic California guacamole: paradoxically chunky and smooth, and reveling in, but not overburdened with, the flavors of lime and cilantro.
If you are looking for refried pinto beans and cheese-coated cuisine, this may not be your best bet. But if you are seeking the spicy flavors of Mexican food, while staying health conscious, stop what you are doing now. Walk, run or drive down De Anza Boulevard, and come to a halt at the large building with adobe-rimmed doors and a festive “Aqui” text splashed on front. Short on cash? No worries, as most meals ordered from behind the counter will come to less than $10.
And, fear not, omnivores: There is also a lot in store for you, such as the Pork Carnitas Vindaloo, carnitas filled with braised pork, cojita cheese, and pozole salsa. Other options range from Chicken Chile Verde to the Salmon Knife and Fork Burrito.
Yes, salmon in a burrito. But this is Cal-Mex, where anything healthy, and tasty, goes.
I washed everything down with the aqua fresca of the day, a cantaloupe juice that was not too sweet, and still thick with fruit pulp.
The overall dining experience was pleasant, with the stereo playing vocal tunes soft enough to still hold a conversation across the wide, wooden tables and friendly, fast service.
As an extra plus was that the entire spacious restaurant was equipped with quick, free WI-FI. This is Silicon Valley, after all.
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