Today at the blog of OC Weekly, Gustavo Arellano writes about “Six Presidential Encounters With Mexican Food, Ranked From Best To Worst.” Of the six Chief Executives discussed, Richard Nixon, as a native Californian, had the longest experience with Mexican cuisine, followed by Ronald Reagan who often dined at Mexican restaurants after moving to Los Angeles in 1937. As it happens, Arellano gives pride of place in his blogpost to Reagan, thanks to the occasion in 1983 when White House chefs prepared a meal for Queen Elizabeth II at his Santa Barbara ranch, using recipes from the kitchen of Zarela Martinez, a pivotal figure in the development of this cuisine in gourmet circles.
The second highest-ranked moment Arellano describes is President Obama’s state dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, for which Rick Bayless, the currently reigning guru of high-end south-of-the-border cuisine, prepared the meal. The thirty-seventh President ranks just third on this list, for the dinner served to celebrate the opening of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace:
Tricky Dick [a sobriquet often used to refer to the President in this journal] hired as the event’s caterers Avila’s El Ranchito, the family-run chain of Mexican restaurants that has parlayed America’s obsession with Mexican food into an Orange County empire. Good choice (especially then), and it almost makes up for his most-notorious Mexican-food sin: when reporters during the 1960s asked for his favorite restaurant was when enjoying days off at the Western White House, Nixon replied it was the Mexican restaurant, El Adobe de Capistrano, in San Juan Capistrano. Only problem, of course, was that El Adobe was a continental restaurant that only made Mexican food for Nixon and Nixon alone.
Well, that’s one of the perks of being President – you don’t necessarily have to stay with what’s on the menu or even the specials sheet. (But, strangely, Arellano does not mention Olamendi’s in Capistrano Beach, which was almost RN’s home away from home during his post-Presidential years in San Clemente.)
Arellano also writes about Bill Clinton’s liking for Mi Tierra Cafe in San Antonio (in his Presidential days, he used to jog in a T-shirt emblazoned with the eatery’s name) and two less happy moments: the time Gerald R. Ford bit into a tamale – with the husk still on – after a visit to the Alamo, and, at the bottom of the list, Jimmy Carter’s unfortunate jest about Montezuma’s Revenge, made at a state dinner in his honor hosted by Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo.