Restaurants and Me

Over the years, I’ve been hard on restaurants. I’ve never meant them any harm, but whenever I mention a favorite restaurant in one of my books, they tend to go belly up shortly thereafter. Five notable exceptions who have managed to escape the J.A. Jance curse are Pecos Pit Barbecue on First Avenue South in Seattle, Bellevue’s Pancake Corral, Dirty Dan’s in Bellingham’s Fairhaven District, and La Piñata and Vincent on Camelback in Phoenix. Those are all still going strong.

The first of my hapless and blameless victims from back in the eighties was Girvan’s fine dining restaurant at First and Cedar in Seattle. Another was the Dog House. When I first came to Seattle, that was one of my personal favorite hangouts. The food was cheap but, as it said on the menu, “the tenderness of the steaks is not guaranteed.” The Dog House was open twenty-four hours a day, and it was a place where an unofficial truce dictated that both cops and crooks could dine at the same time without hassling one another. The non-smoking section was a single table in the middle of an otherwise smoke-filled room. As for the waitstaff? They were mostly middle-aged ladies who, with racing forms tucked in their apron pockets, were not to be taken lightly!

Many of my early grand opening book parties were held at the Dog House. With customers lined up around the block waiting to get inside, the waitstaff—tough broads under the best of circumstances—became downright surly. One evening after the signing was over, we took our small bookselling group to the back room where one of our party ordered the salmon. When the waitress brought our food, it was on platters stacked from her chin to her fingertips, and she dealt them onto the table like playing cards from a deck. When a plate slid to a stop in front of the person who had ordered salmon, she looked down at it and said, “This doesn’t look like salmon.” “It’s ham,” the waitress snapped back. “We’re out of salmon.” See what I mean about the waitstaff?

When the Dog House went out of business in the early nineties, it was the end of an era. Vito’s on Madison—another hangout where officers of the court, attorneys, and crooks all hung out together—finally kicked the bucket earlier this year. Bellevue’s wonderful Fountain Court vanished like a puff of smoke. So did the glorious Queen Mary’s Tea Room over in the University District.

Which brings me to Tucson’s Anita Street Market. Located in Barrio Anita near I-10, the Anita Street Market was primarily a tortilla factory that served food on the side. When we had our Tucson house, we often feasted on Barrio Anita takeout—green chili, red chili, refried beans, tamales, salsa and wonderful flour tortillas so thin you could see through them. If that sounds familiar, you might have just read about just such a takeout feast in my most recent book, Blessing of the Lost Girls.

Whenever we flew home from Tucson, we tried to bring along several dozen freshly made tortillas in our carry-ons. In fact, I was once pulled over by airport security because they were sure the package in my luggage containing four dozen tortillas was actually a bomb!

After all that, imagine my dismay when, this year, while attending the Tucson Festival of Books, I learned that the Anita Street Market was closed. Last week, thanks to a fan in Tucson, I learned what Paul Harvey would call “the rest of the story.” The reason the Anita Street Market went bust had nothing at all to do with me and everything to do with a crooked accountant who wasn’t paying the restaurant’s tax bills to the tune of $265,000 dollars.

The daughter of the owner is currently trying to bring this wonderful Tucson icon back from the dead. They’re not yet making tortillas, but they are serving food. My fan said that he and his wife went there for a choriso scramble for breakfast earlier this week and that it was delicious.

So if you’re in Tucson, consider stopping by. Maybe this time, instead of killing off a restaurant, my fans can help bring the Anita Street Market back from the dead.