Rod Miller:  Eating Green Chili With Proust At Rose’s Lariat

in Column/Rod Miller

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By Rod Miller, columnist

There was sad news from County Six the other day. Rose’s Lariat has closed, because an auto parts store wants their space for parking.

For the uninitiated, Rose’s Lariat in Rawlins has served the best Mexican food north of the Nueces River for fifty years or so. For that matter, you’d be hard pressed to find better green chili anywhere south of the Nueces.

The Lariat began life as the Chili Parlor, on Fifth Street in Rawlins, next to the Silver Spur Bar and right across the street from the Rifleman Club Bar. It offered just about the only solid food on that block.

As long as you bought a cup of coffee, they’d let you use the restroom to clean the blood off your face after a street debate. Most likely, you’d end up drinking coffee with your debating opponent.

Linda Jaramillo and I had been to visit my dying grandfather – our families have a history – and afterwards, we went to the Chili Parlor. I can still remember how that place smelled, tortillas frying, a cilantro tang in the air, snow melting on the shoulder of my wool shirt. And Linda gave me a sort of a little charm – a mustard seed encased in a glass pendant. And she talked to me about faith.

I hope that Linda is still alive somewhere, practicing her faith. And I hope that memory is as warm for her as it is for me.

The matron of the Chili Parlor was Rose Sandoval (thus the name “Rose’s Lariat”), and her son, Bobby, was among the first kids I met when I moved to town to go to school. Bobby’s is one of those faces that everyone remembers from their childhood. The smiling kid, the happy kid, the kid that’s always up for fun.

In later years with my feet not nailed to any particular floor, I moved around quite a bit. My dad told me that my roots were as deep as anyone’s, just a lot stretchier. And when the roots would tug me back to Outlaw Country, I’d make it a point to stop in at the Lariat to chow down on green chili that never failed to make my glasses slide down on my nose.

By this time, Rose’s Lariat was located in a cramped little diner, with maybe a dozen seats, on the east edge of Rawlins. For me, it was a pit stop of sanity in whatever else was going on, and each trip there was a pilgrimage of taste, smell and memory.

And a chance to touch base with Bobby Sandoval – to talk about old times, friends and family – and to see his boyhood smile that never changed, the one that is always up to something fun.

Marcel Proust, in his magnum opus (and by magnum, I mean almost 5,000 pages), “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu” (Remembrance of Times Past) penned a famous passage in which his protagonist bites into a little French cookie and the taste trigger a flood of childhood memories. 5,000 pages of memories, in point of fact.

The food at Rose’s Lariat always did that for me.

Who knows whether Rose’s Lariat will find a new home or not. The Sandoval family has a recipe box that is a goldmine, and I sincerely hope they find a new location and make folks’ glasses slide down their noses for another generation or two.

But if that doesn’t happen, they have certainly enriched my generation and expanded our waistlines. And regardless, I have warm, tortilla-scented memories of eating green chili at Rose’s Lariat with folks like Linda Jaramillo, Bobby Sandoval and Marcel Proust.

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