“The traditional taco has to be fried,” declared The Brownsville Herald in 1950. It might be surprising that a newspaper from a Texas border town with a large Mexican and Mexican-American population would print such a statement. But it shouldn’t. Although there are stateside references to filled and folded tortillas through the 19th century, the first print references to the taco in the United States goes back to the turn of the 20th century. First, in an 1898 travelogue that was published in the Los Angeles Times a couple of years later, and then in 1914 when Bertha Haffner-Ginger included a recipe in her California Mexican-Spanish Cookbook. In 1922, a taco recipe appeared in the Castelar Crèche Cook Book. Both recipes called for the taco to be fried. As a matter of fact, scads of published material defined a taco as a meat-filled folded tortilla that is fried. It is perhaps the greatest joke played on those who insist a taco starts with a soft corn tortilla. Continue reading
Author Archives: Taco Trail Jose
My taco work involves more than reviewing tacos and taquerias. It’s more than documenting history and diversity. My work includes championing the taco operations that deserve support. This is has largely taken the form of co-hosting or curating taco festivals. It began with 2013’s North Texas Taco Festival in Deep Ellum and the taco truck and beer fiesta TacoCon Cerveza at Four Corners Brewing Company. I have since been involved in more events at Four Corners, including Taco Night and a Taco Talk presented by Slow Food Dallas. Most importantly I partnered with Sonar Management/Kirtland Records to curate the taco and music festival ¡Taco Libre Dallas!
Now in its third year, ¡Taco Libre!, has set to expand to Austin, Sunday, May 14. That’s Mother’s Day—and what better way to celebrate mama than with tacos, tacos, tacos? More about Taco Libre Austin later.
Taco Libre joins a series of taco parties from South Carolina to New Orleans, and beyond. Here’s a bunch.
Arizona Taco Festival
Perhaps the largest and most important celebration of tacos nationwide, this annual Scottsdale happening welcomes more than 40 taco vendors slanging two-dollar parcels for all taco lovers—with plenty of tequila, luchadores, eating contests and Chihuahuas to boot. www.aztacofestival.com
Is a gyoza-wrap fried shell taco actually a taco? That’s the question I asked myself as I sat at the counter of Takumi Taco, a Japanese-inspired Mexican food stall in New York’s Chelsea Market. The “taco” in this instance was a chilled slap of big-eye tuna sashimi brambled with jicama, avocado, cucumber and more. It laid askew in a basket on Takumi’s counter. The food’s fresh frigidity fluttered across the sides of mouth juxtaposed by the crunch of the golden, ridged shell surprised and perplexed. A sashimi taco?
I took a smaller bite, this time focusing on the other elements. Everything someone would want in an interest-holding lunch before returning to the predictability of the workday was present: the push of jicama, the avocado, breezy cucumbers and radish coins to cleanse the palate along the way. A dusting of sesame seeds for added bite (and the potential for filling space between gaps in one’s teeth. Remarkable? Yes. But, a taco? Continue reading
My phone buzzed and the nightstand on which it sat carried the vibration. It was Saturday morning and the Do Not Disturb feature on the phone had deactivated. The reason for the buzzing? Notification that my wife—already out of bed—had posted something on my Facebook wall. That something was word that I had become a meme, those viral internet objects of squirrels fighting with lightsabers, clever phrases above an image of Ned Stark, a grumpy cat, and tacos tacos tacos. The form and subject of a meme is almost endless. And there I was wearing a western pearl-snap shirt grinning while squeezing limes on a plate of tacos alongside my brother-in-law at the lunch counter in the back of Mexican grocery in Tampa, Florida. The words “Money can buy me happiness. It’s called tacos.” framing the image. Well, yes. That is true, but neither of us nor the photographer, Jeff Houck, who at the time was a Tampa newspaper food writer, ever imagined we’d be part of a meme.
Miguel Salazar is the man behind the meme’s creation posted to his Instagram account, @officialsomexicano. “I originally had an idea of making a meme on the topic of tacos and I came across another meme that had a similar caption about how money can buy you happiness,” Salazar says. “I gave it a twist and added ‘Money can buy me happiness. It’s called tacos.’ This caption really speaks the truth because any Latino that has tacos is always happy, especially if someone buys them some. In the end no one can resist good tacos. Once I had the caption in mind, I looked for a photo that would be a good fit. I searched Google with the caption ‘man eating taco.’ Many results came up and it was not until I came across your photo that I decided that was my choice. You looked very happy about eating a taco and that was exactly how I wanted the photo to portray my caption Continue reading
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2016
By now you’ve seen Donald Trump’s Cinco de Mayo tweet (see above). In it, he declares his love for Hispanics while eating a taco salad—taco meat, tomatoes, cheese, whatever Mexican-like ingredients in an edible vessel—in his office. The self-contained very American food he was insincerely enjoying was set atop what looks like an image of his swimsuit-clad ex-wife, Marla Maples. Behind The Donald, we see desk drawers partially open. What a mess! Trump’s tweet came on the heels of his becoming the presumptive Republican nominee for president. You can look at taco salad in one of two ways. First, like the tweet, the taco salad is a pandering product of cultural mutation intended to make the mass consumption of Mexican-ish food and Latinidad palatable to the dominant Anglo culture. Or, as a result of endless cross-cultural culinary innovation, something that occurs when two traditions meet and get down. It’s neither good nor bad. The taco salad just is.
The dish began its slow journey to Trump’s desk in the 1950s when it was known as the Ta-Cup, an invention of Elmer Doolin, the founder of Fritos, as Gustavo Arellano writes in Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Ta-Cups were sold at the Fritos restaurant in Disneyland. There was no stopping Fritos and the taco salad.
Not so fast. The edible tortilla-like bowl wasn’t yet the default vessel. One of the earliest references to “taco salad” was a recipe run by the Los Angeles Times. Submitted by a Mrs. Marilyn Jones, it was family favorite during hot weather. The salad utilized corn chips—not a fried tortilla bowl. A recipe serving 40 to 50 people published in the March 11, 1965, “Add a Touch of Old Mexico” installment of The Washington Post’s “Cooking for Crowds” column called for tortilla chips. Continue reading
“This is Taco Country!” Those four words—painted on the burnt orange façade of San Antonio’s legendary breakfast taco haunt, Taco Haven—are carried in every Texan’s heart and stomach. They are as fundamental to the Lone Star State’s identity as Friday Night Lights, “Pancho & Lefty,” and Dr Pepper. This is true across our tortilla-based wonderland from Big Bend to the Piney Woods and South Texas to the Metroplex.
I’m not only referring to the fried envelopes whose broken shards litter much of our cultural landscape. No, I mean all the tacos: jaralillos de res, carne asada tacos smothered under a salty tarp of queso fundido at Tacos El Toro Bronco in El Paso; the ground beef-nestling airships that are Ray’s Drive Inn’s puffy tacos; the slivers of paprika-lacquered pork served across Oak Cliff; Brownsville’s many Sunday barbacoa huts; the big-city gals that love dressing up; the just-this-side-of-familiar menu at new regional restaurants; and, yes, breakfast tacos.
As part of the promotion for its 120 Tacos to Eat Before You Die issue, Texas Monthly is hosted an online reader poll to determine which Texas city has the best tacos. (Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to the editorial package, but the poll we’re addressing is all fan voting.) Ultimately, Austin won the top spot with 42 percent of the votes. The Rio Grande Valley scored a 25 percent, and Dallas, took third place with 15 percent.*
That the capital city is in first place doesn’t come as a surprise. Austin has an incredible PR machine fueled by its perceived coolness compared to other Texas cities. Austin has barbecue. Austin has SXSW. It has breakfast tacos. And, with the assistance of New York food writers who have visited Austin during a big festival or lived in the city for a spell, it’s fooled many into believing breakfast tacos are Austin-style. Let’s take as an example an article run last week by Eater Austin claiming Austin as the home of breakfast tacos. The piece by Matthew Sedacca came off as a rush job and evidence of an editorial disconnect. That same day, Eater LA published Meghan McCarron’s excellent profile of Los Angeles breakfast state mecca HomeState. In her piece, McCarron writes “Austin, Texas, is not the home of the breakfast taco, but it is the place where they became an iconic dish. … It took self-conscious, self-mythologizing Austin to turn them into a thing.” While Sedacca at least acknowledged that Texas breakfast tacos have origins across the state, he mentioned only one other city, Corpus Christi. That the city cited wasn’t San Antonio—where breakfast tacos and tacos in general are so ingrained in residents’ DNA that they’re taken for granted until Austin asserts its PR supremacy—ignited a firestorm and a tongue-in-cheek petition to have Sedacca exiled from the Lone Star State. I chuckled at the absurdity of it all. Allow me to explain why. Continue reading
For months I watched as demolition and renovation of the old Taqueria La Chilanga plodded along. I peeked in the windows, took photos, snooped (I mean, acted like a journalist), and waited. I got to talking to Jesús Carmona, owner of the restaurant replacing the husband-and-wife-run La Chilanga, and learned what was coming: Tacos Mariachi, a Tijuana-style taqueria. The idea excited me. In less than a year, Dallas had become home to Mi Lindo Oaxaca, an Oaxacan restaurant, La Norteña, a Sonoran-style tortilleria, and Resident Taqueria, a chef-driven Lake Highlands neighborhood spot. And soon, a joint would be slinging Baja California border-inspired fare, broadening Dallas’ taco diversity.
But I had to wait longer than expected. Tacos Mariachi’s opening was repeatedly delayed. My anticipation increased. The first opportunity I had, I bit into the seafood campechano, an octopus-propelled taco studded with juicy chopped steak held firm to a crisped flour tortilla by a layer of melted asadero cheese. Adding thin lines of tart salsa verde and fruity habanero-mango salsa transform the package into something as bright and playful as the patio mural honoring Tijuana’s iconic tourist attraction, the donkey zebra. The mural also includes cheeky statements like Hasta puedes tomar agua (You can even drink the water) and a streetscape representing the Mexican city’s Avenida Revolucion with painted structure outlines standing in for Banorte and Oak Cliff’s Araiza Tortilleria, where Tacos Mariachi gets its tortillas.
Curbside Tacos: Leo’s Taco Truck, Tacos La Guera, Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla, and Mariscos Jalisco
As far as taco capitals north of the border, it’s hard to beat Los Angeles. Often called the largest Mexican city outside of Mexico, the city is home to an intimidating array of tacos styles served in fast-casual spots, full-service restaurants, makeshift corner setups and food trucks.
Faced with compiling a survey of those options for a two-and-a-half day LA taco trip the first week of February proved difficult but fun. The list was revised from 25 stops to 40 and then down to approximately 20. It could have been 70! Four businesses that were on the itinerary from the start were Leo’s Taco Truck, Tacos La Guera, Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla and Mariscos Jalisco. Continue reading
Reports of Revolver Taco Lounge’s closing at the end of the year were among 2015’s biggest taco stories. Lovers of the Fort Worth, Texas, gem suddenly presented with trichotillomania. The future of the critically and popularly praised taqueria was in doubt, but then came word that Regino Rojas, Revolver’s owner, was going to move operations to Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood. There was a collective sign of relief.
I’m pleased to announce that while plans for the new Revolver Taco Lounge with its exclusive rear dining room, Purepecha, is still on track, the original location will remain open. Yesterday, Rojas signed on a six-month lease extension with the option to renew. He says Revolver’s continued operation is due to public support. “I was ready to walk away. The main one was the building owner was indifferent to me. So I was ready to change the skin of Revolver and open a new one in Dallas,” Rojas told me during a phone interview late last night. “But the people made noise,” he continued. Continue reading
When a neighbor asked that I give Tacoqueta a second chance after the taqueria changed ownership as a replacement for Los Torres Taqueria, which closed in late November, I asked whether the tortillas were made in-house as they were at Los Torres. The response was “100 times cleaner, for starters.” Tacoqueta does not make fresh tortillas for its tacos (that craft is reserved for gorditas, sopes and garnachas). I wouldn’t call it cleaner than Los Torres either, as my follow-up visit to the taqueria was met with the stench of sewage mixed with cleaning solution unsuccessfully applied to mask the smell. It was strong. Thankfully, the salsa verde with spurs’ bite heat was stronger.
The salsa played well against the sweet barbacoa de res but coated the diced carne asada until the salty beef was almost nothing but pebbly texture. Better was the taco al pastor advertised as taco de trompo for a Taco Tuesday promotion. Continue reading