I first met Maria Hurtado when she brought me a freshly made breakfast burrito and a glass of horchata.
She was a pro; friendly, fast and organized. Not that it was too busy inside Los Comales Mexican Restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall nestled between a tattoo parlor and a Sonic Drive-in on South Fort Hood Street.
But, hey, hole-in-the-wall places have the best food, right?
I can verify that Los Comales makes pretty good breakfast burritos and tacos. I regularly see soldiers in there, and I ended up taking my wife and daughter there one day for breakfast.
Hurtado — the hostess, waitress and cashier — was there that day too and told my wife that Los Comales is the only place in town that makes horchata from scratch. All the other places, she said, use some kind of powdered mix to make the sweet rice milk popular in Mexico.
Anyway, my wife loves the stuff, and gave two thumbs up when she tasted the tall glass of cold horchata from Los Comales.
We were impressed with Hurtado’s great service and patience with our nearly 2-year-old toddler, whose temper tantrums are beginning to edge into the realm of legendary.
I went back to Los Comales last week and chatted with Hurtado. Surprisingly, she hasn’t been in the restaurant biz too long.
“I was building mobile homes for many years, then I get old,” she said in a thick Mexican accent. Her age led her to the restaurant job last year. Hurtado, 50, worked construction for most of her life.
She is a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved to Killeen some 20 years ago by way of California. She has three sisters who live here, and her two sons grew up in Killeen. One son is now in the Navy, and the other is still in high school.
Hurtado said raising her family in Killeen has been good, and much safer than gang-ridden areas where she has previously lived.
“It’s great for my kids,” she said.
Hurtado hasn’t been back to Guadalajara in about three years, but she does like to vacation in Mexico.
“Cancun, Puerto Vallarta … the beaches,” she said.
As for the future, Hurtado eventually wants to be her own boss. She plans to start her own cleaning business in Killeen.
And what’s the secret to making that tasty horchata?
Hurtado said the restaurant soaks the rice all night, and then adds sugar and “secret” spices in the morning.
And when served by Hurtado, it’s simply the best.