Hoosegow – Placerville

“Chili represents your three stages of matter: solid, liquid and eventually gas.”

— From the TV show “Roseanne” (1992)

It had been a very long time since I had visited the Hoosegow, 2884 Ray Lawyer Drive in Placerville, in the back of the building next to Raley’s in Placerville. “Cleverly Hidden in the Back” is their motto.

Jim and Karen Watson have owned the Hoosegow for 15 years and have become well-known for not only their great food, but also their friendliness. Jim is usually the one taking orders, greeting people and explaining all of the plaques, signs, notes and pictures on the wall, while Karen is in the kitchen doing all the hard work (Jim told me that once).

Jim is a world champion chili cook and just a couple of years ago picked up the world champion award for salsa. He and Karen, who have been married for nearly 50 years, have traveled all over the United States to enter chili and salsa competitions and love to relate their adventures. Jim is also a direct descendent of James Watson, who arrived in Monterey around 1824. Karen is the genealogist in the family and she can tell you a lot of interesting tales about his ancestors.

“We have made some changes to the menu. We used to have certain specials every week, like Mexican food on Friday and grilled burgers on Saturday, but now nothing is carved in stone. There are 59 items on our menu, but if you have a half-dozen people who want Mexican food or burgers and call us in advance, we can probably do that. In addition to our barbecue, we recently bought a smoker and can do tri-tip, burgers and other things on it. We make our own burger and tri-tip seasoning blend, and even have it for sale so you can try it at home. We also sell a spicy tomato sauce called, ‘Baja Mariner Tomate-Rica.’ I used a bit in my world championship salsa. It is good,” Jim said.

“In addition to our regular hours, we will open up in the evening for a special event for groups of 35-50 people. Lately we have done a lot of these kinds of dinners for various organizations and groups. We will be feeding about 500 people at these dinners in the next three weeks, but there is still room if you have a group,” Jim added.

The Hoosegow menu contains 14 cold sandwiches, 10 hot sandwiches, four combo sandwiches, four soup salad, soup sandwich combinations, nine different salads, seven hot dogs, a garden burger and nine dishes featuring their famous “Coyote Chili,” with and without beans. To go with your meal they also serve sodas, ice tea, hot tea, coffee and lemonade, along with Hoosegow Pale Ale, draft and bottle beer and box and house wine by the glass. Yes, box wine.

“We are not wine people,” said Jim, “we looked around for inexpensive wines and then decided if box wine is so popular, we should add it.

“We used to serve chips or a side with all our sandwiches, but decided to lower the prices and let you buy the side or chips. It ends up costing the same or less and not all people want a side dish.”

Coyote Chili, which Jim has worked on for a long time is really good. So good, that when Huell Howser, the host of “California’s Gold,” stopped by for lunch when he was in town a while ago, he had seconds. They knew he liked it, but were delighted when he sent them a letter declaring it to be the “Best Chili in California.” It is posted on the wall, along with just about everything else they own.

If you are wondering, I stopped by because I love liverwurst and they make a great liverwurst sandwich, something I haven’t found anywhere else. I don’t buy it to use at home, because it comes in large rolls and is not really on my diet. So a trip now and then to the Hoosegow to fulfill my desire. This time Jim had me try some of the garlic potatoes as a side dish. The potatoes were outstanding. There is no such thing as too much garlic, Jim and I agree on that.

The Hoosegow is open from 10:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday (unless they are at a chili cook-off). They can be reached at 530-626-4722.

Tijuana Taqueria – Placerville

“As the days grow short, some faces grow long. But not mine. Every autumn, when the wind turns cold and darkness comes early, I am suddenly happy. It’s time to start making soup again.”

— Leslie Newman



Tijuana Taqueria
It had been quite a long time since I had visited Tijuana Taqueria, which is located at 1762 Broadway in Placerville. Then I received a call from my friend Russ, who knows a lot about Mexican food (but doesn’t like cilantro for some reason), saying he had enjoyed a good meal there and asking if I wanted to meet him for lunch. So, a short time later we did just that.

It was a bit after noon when I got there, sat down at one of the wooden tables and looked over the menu. The place was clean, there were a number of people already eating and the phone periodically rang as people ordered food to pick up as a to-go order. Russ showed up a few minutes later.

I have learned to ask him what to eat at a Mexican restaurant, something I discovered when he invited me to try an unfamiliar restaurant in north Sacramento.

“I always have a torta (Mexican sandwich) when I first visit a restaurant,” he said. “The bolillo (roll) has to be good, or the sandwich isn’t.”

As we have done at other restaurants, we ordered two things to split, an asada (beef) torta and two carnitas (pork) tacos.

While we were waiting for our food, I visited the chips and salsa area, picking up a sample of each salsa to try. The restaurant has a nice selection of salsas, varying from mild to hot, and all very tasty. I also sampled some of the sliced and marinated onions and jalapenños, which found out were quite hot. When I looked up comments on the restaurant that people had left on the internet, the chips and salsa were one of the things liked the most.

I liked the torta, to which I added some salsa. The tacos were also very good, and quite full of meat (another multi-customer comment). Again I tried a bottle of Mexican “sangria,” which I mentioned before, tastes a bit like Delaware Punch.
The menu at Tijuana Taqueria includes quite a list of items, including tacos, tortas, burritos, supreme burritos, taquitos, tostadas, quesadillas, flautas, nachos, tamales, seafood and sides, served ala carte. Their meat choices are carnitas, asada, adobada, al pastor, chile verde, lengua, machaca, chicken, fish, diced pork and diced beef. The menu also includes one item and two item dinners, which come with rice and beans. To drink, they have Mexican and American bottled or canned soda, horchata, jamaica, iced tea, wine and both domestic and Mexican beer.

A number of people recommended the tamales, and said they were better than most. I love tamales, but am often disappointed with the masa and/or the amount of filling. Maybe I will try one of those next time.

The hours are from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. seven days a week. For more information call 530-622-9517.

Oh, yes the restaurant still has the buy five supreme burritos, receive one free card, and inexpensive street tacos for a limited time on Sunday.

Burger Barn – Pollock Pines

Happy Veteran’s Day. If you would like to do something nice for our military, ask the President to bring them home, not just those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, all of them. Our young men and women are not the world’s police force, they are our future.

— Yours truly



Burger Barn

First I would like to report that Laurie Tackett, the owner of Burger Barn, at 6404 Pony Express Trail in Pollock Pines, is not the same person who had the Burger Shack in front of CVS some time ago. She just purchased the equipment from there and opened this place in February. She says she gets this question all the time, including from me. So, there, now you know.

I sat down at the counter and picked up a copy of the to-go menu. I asked Tackett if it was up to date and she said, “No, we have a new one coming out next week.” Then she proceeded to write all over mine, adding things like her new big sellers, stuffed burgers, to the two page list of nearly 20 burgers, a dozen other sandwiches, half a dozen hot dogs, 35 flavors of shakes and a number side orders, including beer-battered fries, already on the menu. “There are other things like blizzards and freezes,” added Tackett, while continuing to add to my menu, “and if we have the ingredients, we will make anything you want.”

The double bacon cheese burger was the favorite, but the stuffed burgers are taking over first place. “They are made with a half pound of fresh hamburger,” said Tackett, “then stuffed with jalapeños and cream cheese, bacon and blue cheese or mushrooms and Swiss cheese, and, like all our burgers, grilled to your order. People love them,” Tackett said.

Before you say, “A half pound?,” they also have a one-sixth pound junior and one-third pound regular burger. All burgers are available in a combo meal with fries and a drink.

Tackett has been involved in the restaurant business since she was 14 and working at the former Pizza Hut off Missouri Flat Road. The next generation, her daughter Gabrielle, helps her at the Burger Barn. Gabrielle has been nominated for Best Customer Service in Pollock Pines, an award event held annually by the Community Economic Development Association of Pollock Pines, in conjunction with other local groups.

The Burger Barn has a sign that says, “Fresh Home Style Cooking and Atmosphere,” and it lives up to that by being very friendly and serving good food. Just ask the customers. There is inside and outside seating, weather permitting, and free Wi-Fi. The hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., Sunday 1 until 5 p.m. and closed on Monday. For more information call 530-344-7167.

By the way, be sure to check out the large Norwegian weather rock near the entrance. If it is warm, the weather is sunny; if it is wet, it is raining; if it is white, it is snowing and if it moves, it is windy. I haven’t seen one of those since I was a kid.