Pub date January 30, 2013
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap Eats

CHEAP EATS Hoolibloo lives next door, where Elsa the Very Very Old Peruvian Woman used to live. I changed light bulbs for Elsa in the ’90s, and reset her clock every time the time changed or the power went out. Or a battery died.

Then, when I moved back into the building 10 years later, she didn’t recognize me. A lot had changed. I tried to explain, but she didn’t understand, but maybe she did and I didn’t understand her understanding. Her ability to speak English started and ended with asking for help and bragging about how very very old she was. And my understanding of Spanish is limited to the meats. So a typical conversation between us would go something like this:

HER: Please can you help me?

ME: (helping her) Carnitas, Elsa. Carnitas!

HER: I am very very old. Very old.

ME: (finishing up with the helping her) Carne asada. Um, pollo.

HER: Thank you. Thank you very mucho.

ME: De nada, Elsa. Hasta lechuga.

And all of us, everyone in the building, would help her up the stairs. Whereas Hoolibloo, my friend who moved in when Elsa (sniff) moved out, takes the stairs by herself — often even briskly.

“Here, let me help you,” I say, out of habit. But she turns me down, arguing that she’s 25.

Fluently! She doesn’t even have to draw the numbers in the air, like Elsa used to do. But I guess that’s the difference between Chicago and Peru, coming-fromwise. Not to mention 50 years.

In spite of her relative youthfulness, Hoolibloo does not play on my football team, or even in a band. Still, she is our closest friend. When Hedgehog and I sit on our couch and she sits on hers, we are only two sheets of drywall and six inches of insulation apart.

She helps Hedgehog make movies, and me find restaurants. Why, just the other day she showed me to Poc-Chuc. We were both working at home, and were craving sandwiches, only when Hooli called up Ike to place our order they said it would take about an hour, that’s how crowded they were.

So then we started to crave empanadas instead.

One thing I love about hanging with people half my age is they talk about interestinger stuff than I do. I’m all, Oh, my knee is gone! I blacked out in the bathroom! What’s wrong with my butt! . . . and meanwhile they’re working out what to do with their life.

Which makes much more lively dinner conversation.

Lunch too, come to think of it.

Over Empanadas we discussed guns, Israel, guns in Israel, and writing. Hoolibloo would like to write something, she said, but not necessarily a whole book.

“You’re talking to the right person,” I said. I start and don’t finish books with a level of expertise seldom seen outside the world of professional bowling.

But that kind of wasn’t what she was talking about.

She had just come back from Israel, where her grandma lives, and was fixing to fly off somewhere else. Her dream job would entail a lot of travel. And autonomy. “But I also really like to be part of a team,” she said.

“I can teach you football,” I said. Ever the recruiter.

Poc chuc, the signature dish of Poc-Chuc, is thinly sliced pork marinated in citrus, grilled, and served with onions, tomatoes, rice, and a small bowl of pureed black beans that I almost forgot to even taste, everything else was so freaking delicious and plentiful.

I don’t normally like empanadas, but I loved Poc-Chuc’s ones. They were less doughy and more flavorful than most, maybe because of the same black bean puree. Which also found its way into the Panuchos. And believe me, as someone who changes diapers for a living . . . black bean puree in the panuchos? That’ll happen.

Really though: really really awesome Mayan food. The Panuchos, which also feature shredded turkey, avocado, and pickled red onions, were fantastic. Kinda somewhat similar to empanadas, only fried.

I can’t wait until Hedgehog comes back from L.A. so I can show this to her.


Mon-Wed 10:30am-8:30pm; Thu-Sat 10:30am-10pm; Sun 4-9:30pm

2886 16th St., SF

(415) 558-1583


No alcohol