Best Food in a Tough Location: Serene demeanor and heady snacks will overcome

Cinco de Mayo

Jose Garcia presides over the daily chaos at this tiny Fruitvale restaurant, snack shack, and ice cream shop with the grace of a patient, gray-haired uncle. Like some fantasy of a post-fast-food future, his place is a former Subway gone Jalisco-village humble. Customers hang out at the sandwich chain’s signature garish yellow booths, slurping goat stew or sipping on heady drinks made from fermented pineapple or corn masa. Cool. Except that Cinco de Mayo anchors what you might call a difficult location. At times, the restaurant’s booths contain a mix of working girls taking a break and schoolkids who’ve dropped in for a snack. Garcia seems to take it all in with serene equanimity — even when a young woman in pink hotpants got into a verbal tussle with a guy we took to be her pimp. After they took it out to the parking lot, a smiling Garcia delivered our order with the poise of a maitre d’.

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