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The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten – A Classic Alameda Restaurant Recipe

The matriarch of my eccentric Italian-American stepfamily, Nonna Kate, fancied herself an empath, clairvoyant, and a strega (witch). When her normally blissful state was disturbed by some unknown negative influence, it was time for her to remove her “Holy Zucchini” from the freezer and pray to the countenance of the Madonna that she saw on it. My Uncle Dante thought it looked like Rocky Marciano, but he rarely attended mass.

Alameda Post - a zucchini with angel wings and a halo

I asked Nonna Kate to cast a spell to make me handsome, but she shrugged and said, “Gil, every strega needs to know her limitations.”

That particular afternoon, she had assumed her usual contemplative position. She sat with legs splayed at her kitchen table, with the smoke from the Kent cigarette that dangled from her lips enveloping her blue-gray bun of hair. Her immaculate blue gingham house dress was protected by a red apron that read, “Cooks Rule the World!”



She was comfortably numb from drinking a large tumbler of Carlo Rossi Red Mountain Burgundy, her “nectar of life.” She slowly fingered her rosary beads, interrupting her Hail Marys with a drunken, tearful kiss of the zucchini while sobbing, “Oh, my Madonna.”

I hated to interrupt her ritual of misery, but asked, “What’s wrong now, Nonna?”

She took a drag of her Kent, blew smoke from her nose, had a glug of wine, then slurred, “I don’t know, but it’s something big, and the suspense is driving me crazy! I had to get out the zucchini, but it’s not helping.”

Alameda Post - wine and cigarettes

I offered some insight. “Nonna, my Spanish class is going to the Acapulco restaurant for a Mexican lunch this Friday. Maybe you’re feeling that I’ll get to sit with Wendy Keppler and we’ll hit it off and get married. She’s one of the hottest girls in school, and her dad’s a rich doctor.”

Nonna frowned and said, “Nah, it’s more than that. You know, I’ve never had Mexican food. One of the gals at bingo was telling me about this place she goes to, Taco Schwartz.”

I laughed. “Taco Schwartz? You mean Taco Bell?”

She thought for a minute, lit up another Kent, took a drag, blew some smoke rings and said, “Yeah, you’re right. This cheap vino is gettin’ to me. Schwartz is her chiropractor.” We both laughed, and I left Nonna to her magical thinking, which turned out to be a premonition of my parents’ divorce, and my stepdad’s return to living with her.

Alameda Post - a photo of the front of Acapulco restaurant

That Friday I didn’t get to sit with Wendy Keppler but, perhaps due to Nonna’s metaphysical finagling, I somehow eschewed the planned menu of tacos and ordered something I’d never before enjoyed—chile rellenos, which the Acapulco was famous for when Mama Rose Quintero ran the kitchen.

I remember that first taste—the pungent, cumin-infused tomato broth, the delicate but toothsome egg batter, the firmness and nippiness of the chile, and the gooey smoky richness of the Oaxaca cheese. I was stunned. This was the best thing I’d ever eaten.

Since that day, and approximately 2,000 chile rellenos later, I have cajoled, begged, and implored various members of the Quintero family to divulge the recipe, only to receive the same condescending, familial smirk. Thus, left to my own dubious resources and after much disastrous research, I finally came up with this:

Alameda Post - Chile Rellenos

Almost Mama Rose Quintero’s Acapulco Restaurant Chile Rellenos

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder.
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • One 14-oz. can diced tomatoes (juice included)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin, chili powder, cayenne, and garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute longer.
  2. Add the chicken stock and the tomatoes with their juice and bring to a boil for 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
  4. Mix in the blender for 10 seconds. Add the cilantro, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and pulse just to blend.
  5. Strain the sauce and save the liquid. Mix in 1/2 cup of the strained vegetables.

Chile Relleno

  • 1 7-oz. can Ortega fire-roasted whole chiles (about three chiles)
    This is not chile relleno heresy as the famous Acapulco chile relleno never had a fresh chile stem.
  • 3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups Monterey Jack or Queso Fresco cheese
  • 1 cup grated Cotija cheese.
  • 1½ cups vegetable oil, for frying Queso Fresco cheese
  1. Stuff the peppers with the Monterey Jack or Queso Fresco cheese.
  2. Beat the egg whites until stiff, then beat in the yolks, garlic powder, and salt.
  3. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
  4. Gently roll the stuffed peppers in the flour.
  5. Ladle about 1/3 cup of the eggs into the pan.
  6. Place a pepper in the eggs. Spoon hot oil over the pepper.
  7. After two minutes, flip the pepper. Cook for another two minutes, then remove and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining chiles.
  8. Place the rellenos in the sauce and marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours. To serve, heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the rellenos on a plate and spoon sauce to cover.
  9. Sprinkle Cotija cheese all over the rellenos, and heat for 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Gil Michaels now gets his chile relleno fix at Island Taqueria on Park Street at [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Gil-Michaels.

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