Tacos al pastor stand in Mexico City. Photo: Markus Pineyro.
If Mexico City, and by extension Mexico, were to have an iconic taco, it would be the taco al pastor. This bantam assembly of marinated pork shaved from a trompo (a vertical rotisserie) on a corn tortilla with pineapple, cilantro, onions and salsa is the object of lust for many taco enthusiasts. Spikes of heat, patches of char, citrus pep here and there: What’s not to like? It’s also considered the most authentic of tacos but it is not the first taco and was not adapted from some ancient Aztec recipe. Rather, the taco al pastor appeared in the capital in the mid-20th century, a product of native and immigrant culinary mash-up. It’s also not the only style of taco with meat from a vertical spit. It’s not even the first such dish in Mexico—several of which, including tacos al pastor, are outlined below.
Four hundred years after the Spanish came ashore on the Mexican mainland, initiating the birth of what would become Mexican food with pork, lard, beef and other comestibles, another group of non-indigenous peoples transformed Mexican food. This mass of people, immigrants from the Middle East, specifically Lebanon and Iran, into the city and state of Puebla, brought with them shawarma, lamb cooked on a vertical rotisserie, and their own flatbread, pita. The Mexican adaptation of shawarma popped up in the 1930s at Tacos Árabes Bagdad and Antigua Taqueria La Oriental, but took the form of pork (itself a Spanish import) served on a small pita-like tortilla called pan árabe. Continue reading
New upmarket taco operations, whether a truck or a brick-and-mortar concern, give me pause. Are the owners only in the business because they like tacos and see them as an easy entry into the food industry? You know, because a taco is anything you want it to be? Such is the case of the now defunct 333’s Gourmet Taco Shop. Charging up to $12 for a sloppy product on Kroger tortillas was never sustainable long-term. Or are they driven by something more? Flatlanders Taco Co., a lonchera wrapped in a mod Dia de los Muertos shell, is an example of the latter.
Inspired by their time living in Colorado and years of traveling and studying in Mexico, Texans Ashley and Tyler Hall returned home to offer tacos influenced by Tyler’s lifelong intimacy with Mexican food in the United States. “For me, I grew up eating tacos and tamales. Mexican food has always been a two or three night a week meal in my family,” he says. “My first homemade authentic meal, menudo, was while working as a dishwasher when I was 13. That was my introduction to a flavor profile that has always got me looking for the best homestyle Mexican cooking wherever I am. When I met my wife 7 years ago, the obsession doubled with her love for it as well. Now it’s almost every meal. Everywhere we travel, we try to find an off-the-beaten-path Mexican grocer, restaurant, stand or truck to get our fix, always taking note of our favorite and unique sauces, salsas and taco combinations.” The result, Tyler says, is an effort to create specialty tacos while staying within the bounds of tradition. And it’s promising. Continue reading
Last Thursday I gave a presentation about taco history and its place in DFW’s food culture at Four Corners Brewing Co., benefiting Slow Food Dallas. It didn’t go as planned. A storm took about the venue’s power and led me to improvise. Below is what the lecture I would’ve given if Mother Nature had cooperated.
Thank you, Liz and Slow Food Dallas for having me here—at my favorite brewery, no less. Thank you, Rafael and Eduardo and the family of Taco Party, for your wonderful tacos. Those fried potatoes tacos are among Dallas’ best. And lest you think they’re “gringo tacos,” you should know that fried potatoes tacos are traditional tacos dorados (fried tacos), rolled or flat depending on the region. They’re found all over Mexico.
Fried tacos tend to have a bad reputation, stirring up chilling visions of Taco Bell and prefabricated stale, fragile shells. Glenn Bell, Taco Bell’s founder, wasn’t doing anything new or particularly special, when he opened his first fast-food crispy taco restaurant in 1962. Fried tacos are a tried-and-true variation of the reason why we’re here tonight. In Jalisco state, home of tequila, mariachi and the stewed goat preparation birria, and Michoacán, the birthplace of carnitas, tacos dorados are a common breakfast taco. Continue reading
I’ll be giving a fun little chat about tacos at the next Slow Food Dallas event. The cross-posted shindig info is below.
Slow Food Dallas is proud to present a Taco Talk with José R. Ralat at Four Corners Brewing Co. on May 8th from 6pm-9pm. José will share the story of the taco, from its humble Mexican beginnings to its place in Dallas food culture today.
As José puts it, “the story of the taco is one of religion and sacrifice, of conquest and reconquest, of multiculturalism and nourishment, both dietary and spiritually. It doesn’t recognize borders, but it is specific to time and place. The taco in Oaxaca is not the taco in Los Angeles or Gutherie, Oklahoma, and at its base is corn: a food that transformed the way humanity eats and lives.”
In addition to José’s presentation, we’ll be enjoying food from Taco Party, featuring some of Dallas’ best tacos al pastor.
Tickets are $15 and on sale now. Tickets include admission to the presentation and two tacos, one al pastor and one fried potato. Beer will be available for sale before, during, and after the presentation.
This event has limited availability, so please purchase your ticket in advance at http://tacotalk.eventbrite.com./
6:15pm- 7:00pm: Tacos + Beer
7:00pm- 8:00pm: Presentation and Discussion
8:00pm- 9:00pm: Beer + Conversation
Get your ticket today and join us for an evening of history, lore, and most importantly, tacos!!
Tacos can be challenging. There are tacos made with pork stomach lining. There tacos made with cow uterus. There’s the Michoacan dish, rellena, a loose blood pudding with pancita, tripe and heart that goes by the name moronga when encased in intestine. It’s amazing in a handmade tortilla and dressed with salsa chile de árbol.Then there are taco challenges such as the Austin vegan taco cleanse and, in Dallas, the 60 Day Taco Challenge undertaken by Jeff Old and documented on Facebook. He took some time out of his taco itinerary, which is nearing its end, to answer some questions for the Taco Trail.
Taco Trail: What sparked the taco challenge?
Jeff Old: It started from a conversation I had with my wife. I was bragging about how much I loved tacos and that I could eat them every day. From that conversation was the idea that I could eat tacos for 60 days in a row. She thought I was “all talk” and that I wouldn’t actually go through with it. After some thought, I came up with the idea of the 60 Day Taco Challenge. I realized how much fun I could have with this and I wanted to share my taco journey with others through social media.
TT: How do you select which establishments to patronize?
JO: I select the places I will eat at based on my previous experiences, online research and recommendations from friends and through others on social media. Continue reading
It’s not difficult to find handmade or housemade tortillas in Dallas-Fort Worth. Tortillerias are plentiful, and any business offering them will make sure you know it. Taqueria Laredo along U.S. Highway 67 in south Oak Cliff is one such establishment. The words are painted large across a retaining wall on one side of a parking lot usually full of cars, pickup trucks mostly. The same wall bears a menu in the form of painted signposts. It’s a fanciful touch that has Taco Trail written all over it.
As its name suggests Laredo Restaurant serves Rio Grande Valley-style eats, namely barbacoa and flour tortillas with the radius of the wheel from a child’s bike. Those items, and by the looks of the food on tables, pozole,are the hits of the house, available only on specific days at a taqueria whose days of operations are Friday, Saturdays and Sundays. Laredo is a special place. Continue reading
I got the call a couple hours before opening time. Luis Villalva, who had previously worked at Revolver Taco Lounge in Fort Worth and most recently worked with Taco Party (he was the guy in the soccer jersey manning the trompo at TacoCon), was finally ready to serve tacos at his own place, El Come [Koh-meh] Taco on Fitzhugh Avenue. “José, it’s Luis. We open El Come Taco at 5 p.m. Come eat some tacos,” was the voicemail message. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it for first service. But I made it for lunch the next day—the day I had waited for since Villalva clued me into his plan at TacoCon. And it was worth it.
El Come Taco translates to He Eats Taco, and, for the time being, tacos are all you can eat when you visit the taqueria. Villalva did tell me huaraches, quesadillas and other antojitos would join the slate eventually. Nevertheless, the tacos are enough. They’re also surprising. Not just because there are off-menu options but because Villalva and staff have brought a little of their former Mexico City operation, Transito, to East Dallas. Continue reading