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Early Monday afternoon, October 17, 2010, I arrived in Yuma, AZ on a roll, and with a mission:  To locate, photograph and eat at some unique Mexican restaurants, preferably the small, the grungier, and the more "mom and pop" style, the better.  Before arriving in Yuma, I'd done my homework on the World Wide Web, and I had quickly ascertained that West 8th Street in Yuma was the Mexican food Utopia that I was seaching for.  After enjoying a couple of delicoius fish tacos at Tacos y Mariscos Juanita, I was ready for more... and more....  I'd heard about Tortas LaBella, so after enjoying my fish tacos, I piled into my truck, headed west a couple of miles on 8th street, and soon I found myself parking in front of Tortas LaBella.

Photo:  Check out the dirt parking lot, and the interesting atmosphere that Tortas LaBella offers.

Everything about Tortas LaBella is unique.  For starters, the restaurant is located inside of a seen-way-better-days, 28-foot, 1970's vintage travel trailer, that multi-tasks as restaurant, kitchen and living quarters for the owners of the restaurant, Raul and María.  The trailer is parked on a dirt lot, under tall shade trees, which no doubt make dining a little more pleasant during Yuma's torrid summer months.  Dining is outdoors, on a mis-matched variety of tables and chairs, naturally of different vintages, origins and heritages.  The travel trailer ain’t goin' nowhere, as it's up on concrete cinder blocks, and seems to be tethered to a garden hose and an electrical extension cord.  Heat appears to be of the propane variety, as there are a couple of 20-gallon propane tanks stacked against the trailer, which would bolster the theory that this trailer is stationary.

As I got out of my truck, I was greeted by co-owner Raul, who was sitting outside the trailer in a plastic chair, whittling on a stick with a pocket knife.  Raul makes a pretty good attempt at speaking English, and can actually carry on a decent conversation, but he was dazzled and amazed when I switched over to Spanish, as his wife, María, shyly opened the door of the trailer to see what all of the fuss was about.  Raul was especially interested in the antennas on my truck - I'm a "ham" radio operator, and I have large, high frequency radio antennas on each side of my truck, plus four VHF antennas sprouting from the roof - and he asked me if they were for fishing!  It took me a bit to figure out what he meant - how could you confuse a radio antenna with a fishing pole? - but when I finally figured out what he was talking about, I did my best to explain why my truck sports such an array of radio antennas.  

Photo:  Raul is still sitting on his plastic chair, whittling, as I snap the photo of the trailer.  Note the menu that's displayed on the side of the trailer; the fine cuisine is prepared inside.

Photo:  The outdoor dining facilities at Tortas LaBella.  Note the Christmas lights that decorate the trailer, to the right of the photo, and the various sizes of propane tanks.  Clearly, the trailer isn't going anywhere.

Tortas LaBella is definitely a restaurant that operates on a shoestring.  Everything about the place is third-rate, shabby, unique, and just the kind of place that I love to visit and write about.  You could take the whole operation and place it in Tijuana, and it would be right at home.  You order from the menu that's posted on the side of the trailer, which offers several varieties of tortas, burritos, tacos and sopes.  Nothing unusual or unique is offered, in fact the menu is rather un-inspiring, but hey, it was mid-October and the trailer was already decorated with Christmas lights... or were they Christmas lights left up from the previous year?  I didn't ask... I also noted that Raul and María get around town in a beat-up, rusted, 1971 Chevy pickup.

I noted that the menu offers "potatoe" (sic) tacos... that was a new one on me, along with shrimp, fish, and carne asada tacos.  María took my order of two carne asada tacos, with "everything,"  (at the time, it was all they had, as they were out of everything else) and I paid $3.00 for two tacos, which is the de facto standard fare for tacos in Yuma.  I sat outside talking to Raul, attempting to tell him the difference between a radio antenna and a fishing pole, but as I could smell the tacos cooking, I couldn't resist the urge to climb into the trailer and take a photo of María in the kitchen, cooking my tacos.  The kitchen occupies about 2/3 of the trailer, and the living quarters gets the remainder.  As I said before, Tortas LaBella is a unique operation.

You could say the tacos de carne asada were Spartan at best, as the chunks of beef were simply fried, and placed in a single, corn tortilla, that had been heated up on the griddle so it would bend, and not break.  The beef was "chunky," and not marinated, as it was simply fried.  "Everything" consisted of chunky, diced avocado placed on top of the meat, and a bowl of runny salsa on the side.  Nothing fancy at all... nothing memorable about the food, except that the chunky beef was greasy, not at all memorable, and... well ... fried.  Yes, the meat was fried, but it was made by hand, before my eyes, by a very nice lady, who help run an interesting and unique operation.

Photo:  María cooks my tacos in the kitchen of the trailer, as I surprise her with a photo.  I just sort of barged in to take the photos, but these folks were very gracious and didn't seem to object.

Photo:  My plate of carne asada tacos, with a very Spartan "everything."  Lots of meat, lots of grease, with runny salsa... couple that with a very unique operation makes dining at Tortas LaBella a priceless experience.

If you want to assign values on my dining experience at Tortas LaBella... here goes... Cuisine:  Very forgettable... Ambiance:  Unique...  Atmosphere:  Unbelievable...  Total Experience:  Priceless!  I'll go back there in a heartbeat the next time I visit Yuma.

As I munched on my tacos, Raul asked me why I was taking photos, so I explained to him that I'm a "foodie," and that my mission is to visit unique restaurants and publish my dining experiences on this web site.  María asked if I could provide her with copies of photos that I'd taken, and I asked her for her email address, and offered to send her the photos.  She gave me a blank stare - María doesn't speak English - so then I offered to copy the photos that I took onto CD and drop it by the next day.  She sadly looked at me and said, "Somos las gente pobres y no podemos pagar por una computadora..."  something like "we're po' folks and can't afford a computer..."  I PROBABLY should have gone down to the local big-box drug store, invested five bucks, and printed a couple of photos and dropped the photos by the next day.  But I didn't...

Photo:  Raul was gracious to snap my photo, as I'm the only diner at the "table for many."  Note the varied and different styling and vintage of the furniture... the hodgepodge adds to the dining ambiance!

The food was very forgettable, but the dining experience was unique, the operation was almost like something out of a John Steinbeck novel, and the whole package was priceless.  If you're in the mood for unique, rugged dining in Yuma, AZ, be sure to stop at Tortas LaBella.

Tortas LaBella
3161 W. 8th St.
Yuma, AZ 85364
928 373-9544

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