the least romantic date in providence

la poblanita, a taco restaurant in the back of a supermarket

On the one hand, we in Generation Z are often thought of as activists—the outspoken salvation for millennials, who ruined the planet with avocado toast and Instagram “hot dogs or legs” photos. Yet our elders still pity us for our supposed ineptitude when it comes to relationships, platonic or otherwise; apparently, we’re too busy scrolling through Twitter to converse with one another.

I recently partook in a survey about dating among Generation Z. One question gave me pause: “What is dating?” That’s a big question, one I’m still not sure how to answer. However, I can offer you places to go on a date, whatever you think a date is.

Me, I’ve gone on some dates. Recently, I’ve been made a bagel sandwich by someone I was dating. I’ve had a platonic dinner with a friend to celebrate the end of finals. I’ve been asked several times on Tinder to go on a date at a dining hall. I’ve never followed through. Instead, I deleted my Tinder account. As one of my friends said, the Ratty is for sitting alone in a corner and freaking out other students by eating a banana weirdly. His  prefered method is to peel the whole thing and then chomp a bite right out of the side; other times, he’ll split it into segments by shoving his finger into the core until it unfurls like some sort of flower. Fruit Satan.

So it’s only natural that, given the chance to recommend restaurants for dating around Valentine’s Day, I would seek out the least romantic date in Rhode Island. I can offer a lot of suggestions—our state is lovably weird. Consider walking around an abandoned fairy-tale-themed amusement park in the cold. But despite my winding preambles, postambles, and general tangents, my role at this magazine is to write about dining, so I went on a date at a restaurant.

La Poblanita, an inconspicuous taco stand in the back of a Mexican grocery shop and bakery, was as good as my date and I could do for “least romantic” while still eating great food. Also, my roommate loves and raves about this place; he generally provides fun and trustworthy eating recommendations, despite being encumbered by his hatred of all fish.

In the back of La Poblanita, past a refrigerator of produce, a few aisles of dry goods, an entire, wonderful aisle of hot sauce, several stacked boxes of cowboy boots, and beside a meat counter displaying packages of chorizo and flank steak to marinate, there are three tables: a four-top and a couple of two-tops. Rounding out the room, there is a door with a bell that’s been marked in red Sharpie with a huge arrow and a big, orange photo menu on the wall with a tiny cartoon girl pointing at each of the dishes. She pops up in the border of every photo, suggesting each dish with a mischievous glance, and her shirt always blends into the background in a different way. Sometimes, she’s lost in the dark orange color of the menu. In others, her shirt becomes the white of the plate, and once, the red of some refried beans as she smiles and points to a plate of carne asada. The restaurant features at least 20 of her cartoons, popping up in different sizes all over the menu poster.

When we arrived, the four-top was fully occupied by a family; the little kids played computer games while their parents finished eating. After we sat down at one of the two-top tables, an older couple sat at the other, ordered immediately, and were finished in 10 minutes. That was a date.

There is a lot to consume at La Poblanita; a wall-sized drinks refrigerator contains every flavor of Jarritos and a handful of vintage or unusual sodas, along with all of the usual stuff. We drank kids bottles of Sunny Dwhich, if you forgot, come with blue nipple caps that you actually have to kind of suck on to get the drink out. The menu includes tacos, tortas (including a Torta Hawaiana, outfitted with pork chops, pineapples, pickles, and cheese, which, though we did not order it, I found…intriguing), taquitos, guacamole, green pozole, and almost as many types of meat as soda flavors to choose from. The eating area is tiny, smells amazing, and has a casual warmth to it.

Most things we ate tasted amazing. Chorizo tacos topped with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, crema, and crumbly cheese were piled with meat. The guacamole and the tamales were especially scrumptious. Spice in the guacamole came mostly from the crunchy bites of onion that made it uniquely delicious. The taquitos were mostly a vehicle for consuming as much salsa as possible, which squeezed out in red and green varieties from ketchup and mustard squirt bottles. Eating as much salsa as possible is never really a bad thing, especially at La Poblanita, though I suppose you should refrain from simply drinking it. The red one was hot, smoky, and complete with an after-the-fact nose sting. The green was garlicky, herby—perfect to drench the chicken inside of the rolled up and fried tortilla.

Since this is a Valentine’s Day publication, I suppose I must suggest you bring a date. But you can also go here on not a date, because the food will still be fantastic. I can highly recommend at least four things from the menu and am willing to gamble that everything else is great as well. I want to go back.

You could also go somewhere else on a date. Ask someone out: a friend-crush date, a real-crush date, a mom-and-daughter date, a two-dudes-bro-ing-out-over-breakfast-sandwiches date. Or, take yourself on onebut maybe that misses the point.

PHOTOGRAPH BY JASPER DAVIES