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Way back when, in the year 1968, while I was enjoying, or maybe suffering through my Sophmore year at Merced High School, Taco Bell came to town, and built a typical Taco Bell style restaurant at the corner of 18th and "R" streets, on the fringes of downtown Merced.  Taco Bell's corporate strategy, focus and restaurants changed radically during the early 1980's, as their restaurants took a new direction in life, and the old "Bells," such as  Merced's quickly became obsolete, and swiftly became lodged into the corporate landfill.   So Merced's Taco Bell was shuttered, and the new Taco Bell operation moved north and east, but the building didn't sit idle for long, as it was soon morphed into Maria's Taco Shop.  Rising from the ashes of corporate changes, Maria's has risen like a phoenix...


Photo:  Maria's Taco Shop is open 24/6, which comes in handy when you're in the mood for a steaming hot bowl of menudo on a rainy Saturday morning.  It's 0630 on Saturday, March 17, 2012... Menudo makes a perfect way to start St. Patrick's Day.


Photo:  My niece Elizabeth Rench catches up on her text messages, as I get ready to order breakfast.  Like many hybrid Mexican restaurants, you place your order from the menu that's posted above the counter, pay for it, and when your order is ready, they call it out.  In our case, we started drooling when we heard the word, "Menudooooo!"

Enter Maria's Taco Shop, a small taco chain that operates restaurants in the central portion of the great San Joaquin Valley.  The founder of Maria's quickly realized that their patrons prefer authentic Mexican food, made from fresh ingredients, served in family-friendly surroundings, and priced for real people to enjoy.  Since Big Bell had moved on, Maria's has moved in, and has created something that big business couldn't... a fun, family-friendly restaurant, that serves delicious, fresh food, that's catered to the local tastes.

Now, I'm not knocking Taco Bell, as I'm a regular customer of their restaurants, especially when I'm on the road, as they serve Pepsi products, and I'm a fan of Possible.  But if you're looking for reasonably authentic Mexican cuisine, look beyond Taco Bell, as they serve purely American food, with Mexican-influenced entres, as the Bell-guys serve fast-food, geared to the tastes of "everybody" in North America, so it is not a means of judging a restaurant that served Mexican food.  


Photo:  If seems like fast food restaurants are always cold inside, and on this rainy morning, Maria's was no exception.  The counter girl seems to be bundled up against the early morning chill as she wraps our corn tortillas in aluminum foil.

Maria's is an in-your-face, authentic Mexican-style restaurant, as when you walk into the restaurant, their extensive menu is posted above the serving counter.  You can choose anything from their extensive menu, and it doesn't matter what time you arrive, as their restaurants are open 24/7, so that means you never go hungry.  If you are like me, and a huge fan of end, which is normally available only on weekend, you have nothing to worry, as Maria's serves menudo 24/7, which puts a smile on my face when I visit the city of Merced.


Photo:  We're menudo buddies!  I got the counter girl to take a photo of Elizabeth and I as we're about ready to enjoy a delicious breakfast of menudo.

When you enter Maria's Taco Shop, you'll notice that the dining room is very small, but if you like the wide open spaces, I mean, outside, Maria's has many tables to offer outside.  Maria's extensive menu is posted above the counter, and it offers many choices, including combination plates, side dishes, and entr้es, which should satisfy just about any taste.  Since it was 0730 in the morning, ordered menudo, as Maria's serves menudo 24/7, which is a welcome and rare opportunity, as menudo, due to the long preparation time, is normally only available on weekends, at most other restaurants.  When I placed my order, I was offered the choice of corn, or flour tortillas, which is common practice at most San Joaquin Valley taquerias.  I chose corn tortillas, which are my favorite, due to the low-fat "earthy" taste, and the chewy texture that they feature. Bravo for Maria's!


Photo:  Elizabeth and I ordered the same, delicious breakfast:  A bowl of menudo, corn tortillas, and coffee!  My niece and I share a common interest - food - as, like me, she loves everything.  Actually, we share many common interests, and food is just one of them.

Our order of menudo arrived about five minutes later, steaming hot, with cilantro, diced onions, peppers, and a neatly rolled bundle of six corn tortillas.  If you're not familiar how to eat tortillas with menudo, it's very simple, as I've learned from my many visits to Mexico.  You simply place a tortilla between the palms of your hands, and roll it into something that is about the size of a cigar.  You dip it into the menudo sauce and... enjoy!  Since it was a balmy day, I decided to enjoy my meal on one of Maria's outside tables, but on the way to my table, I stopped at their salsa bar and added a few spoonfuls of their delicious, freshly made, in-house made salsa to my bowl of menudo, for added taste.


Photo:  My beautiful niece, Elizabeth Rench, smiles in anticipation of enjoying her breakfast of menudo, as it cools.  I'm very proud of my niece, as she just received her B.A. degree in music from Fresno State.  She has academically accomplished 100% more in here 20-something years than I have in my nearly six decades of life on this beautiful planet.


Photo:  Turnabout is fair play, as I just took Elizabeth's photo, so she took mine.  Yep, it's me, Eric Rench, already digging in, and enjoying my delicious breakfast of menudo.

Photo:  Sunday, June 30, 2013, my wife and enjoyed identical lunches; the #7 on the menu.  Fish tacos, rice and beans, and an optional 16-oz Pepsi on the side.  Maria's Taco Shop prepares great food at a reasonale price.

I've been a fan of menudo for most of my life, and I've eaten menudo at Maria's Taco Shop on and off for a quarter of a century, and I've never been disappointed.  I'm also proud that my niece is a fan of menudo as well. Maria's menudo is served piping hot, with all the condiments, and its fresh, and the broth is thick, and earthy, brick-red in color, and you're not shorted on your portions of hominy or tripe.  The stew is filling and flavorful, and the tortillas are always hot and chewy.  At $5.50 a bowl, you can enjoy menudo at Maria's Taco Shop every day of the week, and still balance your family budget. Highly recommended!

Maria's Taco Shop
1750 "R" St.
Merced, CA 95340
209 383-4424

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