Accustomed to grabbing burgers from a window, chicken from a bucket and tacos from a truck, my pal was skeptical about a sign he read: "Bessie’s Daughter’s Soulful Tacos."

"Soulful," he muttered. "Tacos? Sounds like another marketing ploy to me — like putting old wine in new bottles."

Even though we had been grousing about our February electric bills all the way up the hill to the new Lincoln Crossing shopping center, I called out, "More light." It figured that we needed some help to understand what, pray, is a soulful taco? And why is it soulful?

Vagrant thoughts about grabbing a menu for quick study from a Panda Express next door quickly passed. With its winking charm, the very name of Bessie’s Daughter’s Soulful Tacos made us feel like the ladies were inviting us in. We stayed on for a good while. Although I am still not sure that a taco can have a soul, I am convinced that it took a good-hearted soul to load one shell with finely seasoned chicken breast and the other with top-grade, extra-lean ground beef. The meat and sharp cheddar cheese, layered with juicy, deep-red tomatoes and folds of fresh green lettuce, all cut and shaped to fully line the shell, melded beautifully.

Bessie’s Daughter’s
Soulful Tacos
2234 Lincoln Ave., Altadena
(626) 798-2344

"Not like Del or Bell, this is real food!" my pal exclaimed.

"That’s what I like about the South," I added.

"But these tacos aren’t from the South," countered restaurant partner Helga Kuhn, who had joined us at the table. "They’re from Saginaw, Michigan. I’m Bessie’s daughter. I was born in Georgia but raised in Saginaw."

"What could they know about tacos in Saginaw?" I asked. "Back there, they still call them ‘take-ohs.’"

"I don’t know about that," said Kuhn, whose eldest daughter, Fahren James, is her partner at the restaurant. "There weren’t any Hispanics living in the neighborhood at that time but my mother, Bessie, got the idea from a taco shop down the block, only Mom used better and fresher ingredients, like we do here now."

"But aren’t your tacos more healthful than they are soulful?” I asked. “Isn’t real soul something smoked, smothered in gravy and barbecued?"

My pal ventured to remind me that soul is not a question of gravies and sauces, Cajun or collard greens, tacos or nationalities: "Soul is about personality," he said, "and I feel it here."

I did too. And it’s a mood that you’ll also want to be in — soul-stirring, from the many framed family photos that line the walls with scenes from riverboats of the South to water towers of the North, to those recording fun times here in Pasadena, including a photo with Magic Johnson.

You’ll also be touched by the way Bessie’s influence survives in Kuhn’s cherished recollections of her spirit.

"My mother passed away in 1985. She worked so hard to raise us, to teach us how to act," said Kuhn, "that I named the restaurant to honor what she stood for and to pass it on to Fahren and future business partners, my daughter Paris and son London."

And there’s something extra for the community: Kuhn, whose groundwork for success in public affairs comes from previous experience as an event planner for EarthLink and the city of Pasadena, has started a program for hiring and mentoring six neighborhood teenagers — some for school credits, though they all get paid.

When it comes to the restaurant business, Kuhn indicated that Bessie would have offered this advice to the kids: "What is cooked and served without effort is eaten without pleasure."

Before leaving, I asked for "some of those wings."

“You mean ‘dem wangs,’" said Kuhn. "For good soul, you’ve got to speak some Ebonics."

I confess that my pal had to tell me what "Ebonics" meant. Later, I got even. Running down the menu, I spotted the term "soulsa" for "salsa." When you blend one or more words into a new one, "it’s called a portmanteau," I said with a snort.

Nose back in place, I plan to return soon and ask Fahren or Chef Everett Harris or his pal, Orbit Jackson, to cook me a breakfast of Louisiana sausage and grits.

Tasty are these bite marks of soul.