Theme I: Habits, Dinner at Empellon

By Daniel Yeom

“Yeah, we are gonna need one more order of that,” I smile, licking the grease off my lips as I hand over an empty plate to Ivan. Five minutes later, the server brings us two more palm-size tacos. Small beef patties, shredded cabbage, tomato aioli, and avocado wedges.

April wipes her hands clean with a napkin. She takes a sip of her margarita, and licks a bit of smoked salt from the rim. “Cheeseburger tacos,” she says, satisfied. “That’s fucking genius.” I agree.

Other plates start to arrive, tacos after tacos. Fresh kennels of sweet summer corn, simmered in garlic and epazote, is topped with fresh, briny Oaxacan cheese. Roasted brussels sprouts with toasted crumbles of almond rests on a bed of smokey hummus made from charred jalapeño. Unapologetically spicy mustard seeds and pickled red cabbage garnish shreds of juicy pastrami. We conquer them all. One by one.

“I don’t think I can eat anymore,” April whimpers, hunched over the table. She looks defeated, but soldiers on. I love her for that.

I have to get desserts. I always have to get desserts. Rich chocolate flan with cinnamon ice cream  and chunky crumbles of masa and cacao. Curds of passionfruit with slices of caramelized orange and burnt meringue. We savor every bite and bask in their glory.

Ivan brings us two shots of mezcal as a parting gift. He grins shyly. I demand that he has to take a shot with us, but he politely declines. Professionalism, apparently. April and I make a toast to Ivan, then guzzle them down. April crinkles her nose in pain and breathes heavily. I laugh, and I kiss her. She tastes like chocolate and smoke.

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