Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.
The Night-In: Bravo Burrito w/Steak and Nachos w/Veggies from Rancho Bravo to be eaten in front of AMC's Breaking Bad.
The Cuisine: Starting as a humble taco truck parked outside of Wallingford's now-defunct Winchell's Donut House, Rancho Bravo's outstanding Mexican food allowed the burrito artists to push a second location into the hollowed-out shell of the old KFC on 11th Avenue and East Pine Street -- before most Broadway regulars even knew what hit them.The burrito joint's central, if unconventional, location across from Cal Anderson Park means that summer frolickers and (allegedly) no small part of The Stranger's employees owe their very health to Bravo's delicious, vegetarian-friendly fare. Of course, that isn't to say that wellness nuts will have too much to be excited about, as Bravo is a huge proponent of the greasy stuff, to the point where even their veggie options are nearly soaked through.
The Bravo Burrito is the very quintessence of this lard-friendly philosophy, a thick foil-wrapped stack of fried goodness that leaves Taco Del Mar's "Mondo" looking a little "Poco." Mine came with tortillas that stayed perfectly soft and pliable even through an admittedly long journey home, a great balance of rice and black beans, liberal globs of cheese, thick wedges of grilled onion, and well-seasoned steak that well straddles the line between tenderness and chew. Your choice of protein may vary, ranging from the exotic beef lengua to the reliable pollo, but those perfectly supple tortillas come standard.
Finally, while the nachos might be relatively new to Rancho Bravo's menu, any inexperience is hidden under the heaping mountain of toppings that'll have you practically drilling for chips. Quite simply, for the staggering rate of growth that Rancho Bravo is achieving, it can be downright exciting to chow down on their robust menu additions while they show no signs of spreading themselves too thin.
The Entertainment: AMC's Breaking Bad primarily follows Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, two wildly different Albuquerque natives who stumble their way into the lucrative world of methamphetamine trafficking and (SPOILER ALERT!) run into all manner of dangerous outlaws, harrowing ordeals, and soul-crushing moral conflicts along the way.
Walter, a mysteriously overqualified high school chemistry teacher, takes former student and low-level meth slinger Jesse under his wing in order to breach the surface of the slippery, lethal world of distribution. Walter begins the show with a sizable moral high ground, only cooking meth to leave something behind for his family after being diagnosed with a particularly advanced stage of lung cancer, but audience sympathies see-saw wildly throughout the series' three existing series. Jesse is motivated towards redemption and industriousness, while the vanity of Walter's quest for a legacy begins to question his goal's nobility with every further examination. However, show creator Vince Gilligan does well to have a game-changing plot wrench on hand any time you feel comfortable either completely reviling Bad's characters, or perhaps even worse, completely siding with them.
If you weren't already clued into Bad's Tarantino influence from the main characters' colorful surnames, rest assured that the meth-centric thrill ride has to be one of the most explicitly violent shows ever put to cable television, which is only part of the reasons its visuals are so jarring.
For example, the Mexican cartels are given a nigh-otherworldly presence compared to the more white-collar meth pushers in Walt and Jesse. Their presence is summed up as almost pure antagonism: unyielding psychopath professionals who are light years ahead of Walt's operation without showing mercy or even emotion. Two axe-wielding assassins in particular are introduced as more of a haunting force of nature than characters capable or reason, most akin to No Country for Old Men's Anton Chigurh. This leads into Breaking Bad's positively genius setting up of the border city El Paso, Texas into a blisteringly hot cartel-run hellhole that makes the meth-infested Albuquerque look like a heavenly island resort.
Some characters are drawn to the border through either fortune or career-building, other characters would do anything to stay away, but the series makes one thing perfectly clear: El Paso is where lives are changed irreparably, and usually changed for the very worst.
The opposites of Albuquerque and El Paso are not only juxtaposed dramatically through both the raising of stakes in the narrative, but also by the fact that most scenes in Texas seem generally drab, hazy, and colorless while those in New Mexico tend to have a more bright, vibrant composition. This is just one of the many examples of adeptly drawn dichotomy that Breaking Bad thrives upon: building two meaningful, parallel worlds with irreconcilable differences, then throwing intriguing obstacles in their paths until they are forced to collide.
The Pairing: While the hype train surrounding Breaking Bad is pushing the groundbreaking drama's many forays into people pointing guns at each other and its distinctive, methamphetamine-inspired visual style, the overarching theme that is most important to the show has to be family.
The show engineers countless situations to illustrate how everchanging attitudes towards drugs, labor and gender equality have shaken up the role of provider that fathers had once cornered the market on, but more importantly it shows us grumpy protagonist Walter's struggle to keep up. It shows brash young Jesse's struggle to keep any semblance of his former self as Walter's destructive streak erodes the few social bonds that his meth addiction spared, as well as charting the stirring loyalty that grows between the two meth cooks.
Ultimately, Breaking Bad is all about helping the ones you hold dear, at any cost -- even when they humiliate or despise you.
Infinitely more than the barely remodeled KFC building that houses them, Rancho Bravo epitomizes the family restaurant. Not just a place where families are accomodated with helplessly bland entrees for even the most finicky 6-year-old, but a place where solidarity and passionate teamwork shine through in every visit.
It may seem a little grimy in Bravo's love of tripe or tightly-locked bathrooms, but I think it'd be extremely naive to think a sterilized chain like Red Robin or TGI Friday's would best represent the average American family in these trying economic times. While I'd obviously much recommend sitting your toddler down at one of Rancho Bravo's booths rather than in front of the scene where one of White's rivals is melted down with sulfuric acid, both franchises find their own eclectic way to the steadfast, passionate, and often exhausting fundamentals of family.