Gardena residents who date back to the early '60s may remember cars crowding Normandie Avenue on Sunday mornings so the drivers--bringing their own pots--could stock up on menudo from Josie's Place.
Josie's is closed on Sundays now, and owner Josephine Alcaraz has retired. Otherwise, little has changed at this still-busy take-out place.
Josie's is still a treat for students of Peary Junior High School, as it was in the late '60s, when a student would occasionally sneak off campus at lunchtime, buy some 49 chicken tacos and sell them to classmates for 75. When the feared boys' vice principal found out, the student was given a choice: five swats or two days' suspension.
After careful consideration, I took the swats. What a stupid choice.
The most popular item at Josie's is still chicken tacos (now with one of Josie's rather unusual prices, $1.12)--a mixture of thigh and breast meat with lettuce and tomato in a lightly fried corn tortilla. A few bites and it's gone. But they're tasty, and I always order one for tradition's sake. You can also get tacos filled with \o7 carnitas \f7 ($1.40) or shredded beef ($1.17).
The two other big sellers are the tamales ($1.36), the \o7 masa \f7 filled with large chunks of beef, and the fix tamales ($1.99), which add a topping of thick gravy, Cheddar cheese and tortilla chips.
The most expensive dish is steak \o7 picado\f7 ($4.25), a thin steak smothered in onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic and a red chile sauce. It is served with rice and beans. A good pick is the wet burrito with \o7 carne asada \f7 ($3.61), where grilled beef with onions and tomatoes is wrapped with a tortilla and covered with melted cheese.
Josie's Place is not on the cutting edge of Mexican cuisine. The only things that have changed on the menu in 30 years (not counting the disappearance of menudo) are the prices. But thanks to its reliability--and the nearby junior high--Josie's will probably be around another 30 years.
\o7 Josie's Place is at 16616 Normandie Ave., Gardena. (310) 323-3113. Open Monday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.. Closed Sunday.\f7