Before I even forked my first chili relleno at a made-over Mexican restaurant in downtown Tacoma, this e-mail hit my in-box:
I passed the former La Costa daily, and noticed that it's opened now under a new name, Gringo de Loco with a graphic of a sleeping Mexican peasant.
Offhand there are three things that annoy me: First, it's just weird that they use the pejorative "Gringo." I guess that's OK if you assume the owners are "gringos" -- that would just make it self-deprecating.
Second, "Gringo de Loco," just doesn't make any sense.
Finally, the sleeping Mexican is a cliched, culturally-insensitive stereotype, and really uncalled for in this day and age. (At least they left out the saguaro cactus.) Not as bad as a faux-Southern restaurant featuring a
"little black Sambo" image, perhaps, but similar.
I'm not sure if the name was over-thought or under-thought, but it's a real clinker.
I spoke with Gringo de Loco owner Rod Collen, who purchased La Costa in February and, following a good scrubbing, new equipment and fresh coats of paint, re-christened the restaurant last week, keeping the Mexican menu but adding live blues music.
"It's a little bit like explaining the punchline of a joke," Collen said. "Some people said I was crazy to buy La Costa. Buying La Costa was kinda like buying the Titanic after it hit the ice berg."
As for the gringo grammar that translates as "white person of crazy":
"We were already combining Mexican food with the blues, so we just butchered it," Collen said. "The majority of my staff speaks fluent Spanish. I asked them about it. The proper grammar would be 'Gringo Loco' but we all felt it sets us apart. It's a little bit uncommon, but Google it -- we're the only one out there."
Collen and his wife, Julie (who's doing the cooking), previously ran Mandolin Cafe. They're shooting for a grand opening on May 5 -- or Mayo de Cinco, if you want to butcher the day that commemorates the Mexican army's victory over French forces.
Collen said his restaurant will host Wednesday night blues jams starting next week. But don't look for La Costa's fabulous gender-bending song-and-dance shows at Gringo de Loco.
"We're going after a more professional crowd," Collen said.
My first taste of Gringo de Loco reminded me of La Costa -- middling Mexican fare served with chips, salsa and bean dip, but minus those fabulous men who dress and perform as women.
Gringo de Loco: 928 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-0300