How I got soaked and fell in love!
By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily
When you are really, really hot and really relaxed, there’s nothing better than something equally cold and… a good taco! Let me tell you where you can get both.
This week’s intrepid road trip takes us deep into the wilds of hobo country.
When I say hobos, I mean those that soak in the famous Hobo Hot Spring in Saratoga … It’s late May as this story unfolds, I put my life at grave risk to get it to you.
A friend and I were both getting cabin fever from our long Wyoming winter and it was decided that a trip out to Saratoga and a long long loooong soak in the hot springs would be just the cure we both needed.
I’ll remind you, that this was late May, and weather this time of year can be iffy at best. For the week leading up to the trip, we watched the weather. By watched, I mean watched every weather forecast we could find. One day it looked great for the trip, the next day it looked a little worse, and as the date approached, the forecast called for blizzard conditions the very next day. This was going to be cutting it close.
We rolled the dice and decided to go for it. Heading out west from Cheyenne, we made our way to Saratoga in about two and one-half hours, racing straight to the Hobo Hot Spring. We got out of the car and it was already getting cold and windy. We knew what was coming, but would it hold off long enough to get in and get out? This was going to happen one way or another.
Tucked down in the hot springs’ pool area, we were protected from the wind, and the steam rising from the spring pushed back the impending cold.
Ahhhhhh! This is Wyoming paradise! The mineral spring, tucked into the side if the Platte River, reaches temps in the 116-degree range in the “Lobster Pot,” which is the small pool inside the main spring. The larger pool is in the hot but comfortable 104-degree range. This is where I would spend the next 90 minutes.
You can almost see your aches, pains and trouble dissolve into the water. You spend a little time among the bubbles floating up from the bottom of the pool, and then you get out and get cool again, then repeat this ritual over and over until you are reborn and the cabin fever is cured.
It seems this spring really is magic, as I really did feel like a new man. But being a newly born human from the water’s womb …. I was freakin hungry! Time had gotten away from me, and my untested land legs needed something to fuel them.
Until now, what I failed to mention was this was a late evening trip and it was getting close to 8 p.m. and, like many small towns in Wyoming, Saratoga rolls up the sidewalks early. Hurrying to get back into dry clothes and become publicly presentable, we rushed into town to see what we could grab to eat.
Now, before moving on to the food portion of this column that you’ve been waiting for, I want to take just a moment to proudly introduce a new sister column to Eating Wyoming, written by Cowboy State Daily’s Jen Kocher.
Her new column is “Drinking Wyoming.” As you might expect, she’ll hit all the watering holes in Wyoming, and help you find the best places to wet your whistle.
Anyway, as we rolled down the street, the choices were few. Then we spotted friendly lights ahead and the name “Lazy River Cantina.” I looked at my friend and we were reading each other’s minds.
We walked inside and it was dimly lit, with tables of diners enjoying a late evening meal. There were young people gathering to laugh, eat and take selfies. That’s what young people do, right? It’s been so long since I was one, that I don’t really know.
A waitress showed us to a table and went to get us a couple of menus. Looking around, this place reminded me of a place I used to eat at when I really was young. The memories of Taco Viva came flooding back. There were paintings on the walls that reinforced what kind of eatery this is. A luchador, or masked Mexican wrestler, painted on one wall, and on another wall was a woman with sugar skull makeup.
Being hot from the springs, and a little dehydrated from the heat, I asked our server if they had margaritas. They did indeed have this magic elixir. The server told me they had a house margarita, lime, and strawberry, but when she said mango, I stopped her right there and said, “Yes please!”
Turning to the menu, I knew I wanted tacos, but what else might tempt me? I see the prerequisite burritos, all of which sounded good. There’s even a chicken tinga burrito.
Chicken tinga is traditionally made with shredded chicken in a tomato sauce made with chipotle chilis in adobo. That almost swayed me away from the tacos and if that wasn’t enough, there was a long list of enchiladas to choose from as well.
The waitress returned with a bowl of tortilla chips and the most wonderful salsa. Not too much cilantro and in this case, just enough heat. This would keep me busy as I flipped over the menu. On the other side were starters and snacks like chips and guacamole, cantina nachos, and even hand cut fries smothered in queso cheese.
There were chicken and steak fajitas, which almost stopped me right there. I mean fajitas are close to tacos, right?
I’m getting close, because I see taco salads below that. You can get your choice of chicken, beef, chorizo or flank steak. The beef taco salad would be my friend’s choice tonight while I floated on down the Lazy River’s menu, to the taco section.
There it is! Six different street tacos to choose from, had me salivating before I could choose.
The “OG Taco” is a traditional seasoned ground beef, cheddar, lettuce taco, served with either a soft or hard shell. The “combo taco” is a soft flour taco spread with beans and wrapped around the OG Taco!
Then I saw one that grabbed my hunger by the neck and shook it. The “Chorizo Diablo” taco is a white corn tortilla with spicy chorizo, with shredded cabbage, lime crema and cotija cheese topped with pickled red onion.
Since these were an a la carte thing, I was going to have one of these, but with one other. I noticed a “chicken tinga” taco, which is similar to the diablo, but with that adobo seasoned chicken, and guacamole. Below that was “shrimp taco” with grilled shrimp of course, more lime crema, cabbage and pico de gallo. Hmmm? Maybe?
But there it was! The king of street taco, the “carne asada.” Filled with grilled sliced beef, onions, cilantro, lime crema and cotija cheese, served on a corn tortilla, there’s no doubt why this is the king of the street stand!
I’m so hungry now that I’m going to stop writing and run down the road to get some tacos to power my way through this.
Ok, I’m back. Where was I?
Oh yes… Our server returned just in time, and carrying the frozen concoction that was destined to bring down my body temperature to a pre-soak level. I’ll have to tell you that as I’m typing this very sentence, I wish I had one of these mango margarita in front of me now.
I quickly placed my order for one Chorizo Diablo and one carne asada taco, and then turned to my new friend.
From the first sip, this margarita was spectacular. The frozen version of a margarita is the Slurpee for adults. If consumed too quickly, it’s a brain freeze-inducing beverage that’s split my skull on more than one occasion. This mago flavored treat did just that, as I attempted to rehydrate too quickly, but I couldn’t stop sipping! Mango anything is my tropical flavored favorite, and this beverage was right there among the best.
Now that I’m becoming properly cooled down from the inside out, it’s time for the taco! BRING ME TACOS NOW!
That was the monster inside wanting to be fed, and here they come. The taco salad came to the table first, and this one looks like those you might be familiar with, layered on the bottom with the beef and beans and other goodies, carefully covered by lettuce and topped with sour cream and salsa. The shell isn’t your ordinary dish like the one served at the bell down the street. This one was light and crispy and for me, is the desert of the salad. It demands more salsa for dipping.
Seemingly in slow motion, with a mariachi band full of trumpet fanfare playing in the background, the two beautiful street tacos were lowered to the table in front of me, guarded by two wedges of lime.
I spun the plate around looking for the best angle to photograph for you. There wasn’t a best angle. That is to say, no matter which direction I spun the plate, they looked like art.
Drizzled with crema and topped with shredded cabbage, they begged to be folded, and eaten. Which one first? The Chorizo Diablo or the carne asada? I was curious about the diablo, so I went for it first.
Now a street taco is little bit different from the ones found at your average John or Bell, these are something special. Smaller than a normal yet packed with goodness, these make you stop and savor the flavor.
After the first bite, I did just that. The Diablo’s spicy chorizo played well with the cool cabbage and crema. Not overpoweringly hot, yet it wanted to be chased by a sip of cold frozen margarita. What a great combination. Admittedly, I was hungry, but I’m not exaggerating, that this hit spots I didn’t know I possessed.
There is a sad side to street taco, and it has to do with the size. They are normally for most mouths, a three bite experience. They sadly leave you wanting more, but there always is more. In this case it was the carne asada queued up and waiting on the plate. This one I squeezed a bit of lime on before gently picking it up and folding it over.
There’s a trick to eating a taco of any kind, and this one was no different. There’s the “cup it in the palm” approach that attempts to keep the filling from escaping. It’s always fun to watch someone try this way and lose all the filling back onto the plate…amateurs!
Then there’s my technique. Folding it in half, I tuck one side of the taco in between my pinky and ring finger, then pinching the middle between my thumb and forefinger its filling is practically escape-proof.
The carne asada accepted my Spock-like Vulcan Taco grip, and trying not to over-pinch it, I took a bite. The corn tortilla was soft and tender and didn’t split like some I’ve had. The meat was grilled and tender and didn’t struggle at all. The flavor of the beef stood out and the lime gave it a perfect zing. Each consecutive bite proved to be equal to the last. That is to say all three bites.
As with the chorizo taco, this one was gone before I knew it. This time though there was no longing or sadness at its short life. I was satisfied, full and happy. The mango margarita was making slurping sounds, as my straw found the bottom. The only word was more like a feeling: “Ahhhhhh!”
My aches and pain were taken by the hot spring, and the tacos at the Lazy River Cantina took my hunger and slaked my thirst. Life was good.
There was just one thing to worry about, the weather! Yeah, I forgot about the impending blizzard. We made it through the pass back to Cheyenne just in time, because the highway was closed behind us. It was worth the risk though.
My recommendation? Go soak like a hobo in Saratoga, and even if you rise from the healing waters late in the evening, go to the Lazy River Cantina for a taco. Get a margarita and see if you feel the “Ahhhhh”!
The Lazy River Cantina is located at 110 E Bridge St, in Saratoga Wyoming. It is open from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday and is closed Sunday and Monday. Catering is also available and the restaurant can be contacted at 307-362-8472