Pirates in Rockport

Pirates in Rockport

Every year in early June, Chris Winslow, our pal and fishing buddy, gets a little bit older, but only according to the calendar. His mind stays as childlike as ever and never seems to mature. We have a tendency to celebrate his annual aging at Rockport, bouncing around in a boat on the bays, usually badly sunburned, with the stink of bait and fish slime hovering about. We pursue fish, frivolity, fellowship, and food, for a week or so, with the intensity of teenagers.

Normally our fishing is quite catching, but this year the fishing gods were angry, and no amount of sacrifice or tequila would appease. The gods had summoned gale force winds out of the south, rushing unrelentingly over the coastal plains to meet large atmospheric systems somewhere beyond the northern horizon. They blew day and night with such ferocity that every venture out on the briny depths left us fishless (and fillet-less), and feeling like we had been beaten with sledgehammers.

If we were going to eat seafood at the coast (part of the birthday ritual, and a must-have), it would have to be served by a waitress, at one of the local restaurants. After fishing at Rockport for years, we knew the menu of every establishment by heart, which made site selection for each meal that much more difficult. Each mention of a spot would spark protest from someone in the group, but we managed to work our way through all of the regulars (Hu Dat, Alice Faye's, Big Fisherman, Duck Inn) eating seafood without too much fuss.

But there was a new place downtown that we had never tried, Taqueria Atotonilco. It's a funky (but very clean) dive on the corner of Main St. and Wharf, about two blocks south of the harbor. While shopping for trinkets at the shell shop across the street earlier, we had noticed Atotonilco's menu painted on their exterior wall, and it looked very promising. In crudely painted lettering the sign promised specialties of Jalisco, Mexico.

The next day, while away from the group on the pretense of going to the HEB, I snuck in for a quick burrito ($3.15). When it arrived, it was the size of a football and was stuffed with more than a half-pound of superlative pork al pastor meat, with lettuce, cheese, and onions, and smothered on top with spicy chile sauce and cheese. I needed a seafood fix and had also ordered Camarones a la Plancha ($5.95), which turned out to be six huge grilled shrimp with onions, tomatoes, and chiles, paired with beans, rice, and guacamole. Excellent!

What clinched it for me was the following day's lunch, when I ordered the Plato Caliente (at $6.80, their most expensive plate). Two waitresses approached with my order, the first bearing a sizzling platter of a half-pound each of beef and chicken fajita meats, topped with onions, chiles, and peppers mixed with sautéed sausages. Resting precariously atop all this was a marinated and grilled T-bone steak! The second platter contained large bowls of frijoles a la charra, rice, and pico de gallo. I dug in with gusto, ate for what seemed like hours, and barely made a dent in the incredibly delicious (and inexpensive) food.

We were sold on this newly discovered pearl of a restaurant in Rockport. If getting beat up, bounced around, smelly, and sweaty while searching for fish weren't so much fun, I'd go to the coast for a week and just eat at Atotonilco's every meal. It proves that coastal eating doesn't have to mean seafood every meal, and the next time you travel to Rockport you'll get to feel like a pirate when you pay the bill.

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