Category Archives: Mexico City

The 2015 Taco Trail Year in Review and Taco Honorable Mentions

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It’s been a sweet year for tacos.

It was a banner year for tacos and for the Taco Trail. Not only was the Texas Monthly taco issue published, but also Mike Sutter of Fed Man Walking sought out #500 Tacos, and taco books and Mexican cookbooks were let loose into the world. They included Lesley Tellez’s Eat Mexico: Recipes and Stories From Mexico City’s Streets, Fondas and Markets, an excellent introduction to Mexico City’s cuisines through visually fetching photographs and hunger-inducing accessible recipes. The book takes its name from the food tour company Tellez established while living in Mexico City from 2009–2013. If you want an authoritative, immersive account of Mexico City and it’s food culture, Eat Mexico is the book for you. Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman’s TACOS: Recipes + Provocations takes the outsider’s audacious stance, mingles it with what the rest of the country might call a New Yorker’s cockiness, and then infuses it with the sincere desire to learn and adapt. Stupak who is often falsely accused of gringo-izing and cheffing tacos understands the fundamental truth of the taco as a regional representation of a specific time and place based on the tortilla. It’s the use of adjuncts to make tortillas that fascinates me the most. In Mexico and in America’s taco hubs, it’s not unusual to find corn tortillas made with the addition of nopales and chiles. In their book, Stupak and Rothmam offer tortillas made with rye, saffron and more. As for the tacos: I get a kick out of such renditions as the pastrami taco. This is a thing of beauty. It gives us a glimpse of the developing regional New York City taco style, something as legitimate as the San Antonio’s puffy taco or Mexico City’s taco al pastor. Also released this year is Phaidon’s English translation of La Tacopedia, billed as the first comprehensive encyclopedia of taco in Mexico. The original, written by Alejandro Escalante paints taco history and styles with a broad stroke, highlighting major historical markers before diving into regional provenance and the populist nature of taco culture. Infographics displaying the proper method to eating tacos, interviews with longtime taco masters, content listing the breadth of diversity that leaves the reader salivating, a fanciful illustrated map to Mexico’s regional specialty: It’s all there and all cool. It’s everything a taco lover could want. I love La Tacopedia. The English translation, however, is uneven. Take the name of the taco styles: Whereas tacos al pastor are left untranslated to “shepherd-style tacos,” tacos de guisados becomes “stewed tacos” and tacos de canasta becomes “basket tacos.” Readers confident they have a grasp of authentic tacos when they step into a taqueria might be dismayed when stewed tacos or basket tacos aren’t on the menu. That is a minor quibble, because if you want a useful, solid introduction to tacos as an American reader, Tacopedia is your book.

I met Alejandro when he was an honored guest at the North Texas Taco Festival, an event I co-founded in 2013, and was immediately charmed by his humor, passion and knowledge. That trinity was on display during my visit to La Casa de los Tacos, the taqueria co-owned by Alejandro, in Mexico City’s Coyoacán neighborhood, in January of this year. It was at La Casa de los Tacos that my traveling companions and friends Nick Zukin, Robert Strickland, and I began our last night in DF. The dinner there, which included food blogger Gastrobites, artist-food blogger mexicanfoodporn, and Jason Thomas Fritz, Mexico City guide for the great food tour company Club Tengo Hambre, was a mezcal-fueled lesson in how taco history and the innovation can share real estate. You can read more about it here.

What follows is a collection of memorable, noteworthy tacos I enjoyed in 2015, including a few scarfed in Mexico City. Some, like the crab taco at Kiki’s Restaurant, were included in one of my Texas Monthly web exclusive taco roundups but not in the final print edition of The 120 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die. Maybe they didn’t score well enough to merit listing in the definitive Texas taco list. Perhaps they weren’t candidates for evaluation during the issue’s research period because they hadn’t been opened for at least a year, or were in a city I wasn’t assigned to evaluate, but nevertheless deserve an honorable mention. Continue reading

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Filed under Best of, Mexico City, Reviews, Tacoventura, Texas

Four Styles of Trompo Tacos: A Primer

Photo: Markus Pineyro

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.

Tacos Árabes

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

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Filed under DFW, History, Mexico City

A Snappy History of the Taco: It Happened All at Once

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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

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Filed under Dallas, DFW, Mexico City, Oak Cliff, Taco Internet, Taco Ticker

La Tacopedia Author Alejandro Escalante Talks Breakfast Tacos

Alejandro Escalante at the North Texas Taco Festival/Alex Flores

There’s been a lot of talk about breakfast tacos lately. Much of it has focused on the people who prepare and sell Texans their favorite way to start day. The interviews amassed are crucial to the archives. We need the stories after those folks are passed. But what about the taco motherland and the breakfast taco analogs (tacos mañaneros) in Mexico? They exist, and not just in the sense that you can throw anything in a tortilla and call it a taco. Taken together, the work of culinary historians and taco experts Jeffrey M. Pilcher and Alejandro Escalante show that breakfast tacos were likely the first tacos. The word taco came into print and common usage in the 18th century with tacos mineros, named in favor of silver miners who subsisted on them and after the gunpowder-filled paper rolls (tacos) workers used to clear rock. (Of course, there are other theories.) With time, tacos mineros morphed into tacos de canasta, which today are regular morning noshes found on the streets of Mexico City. But they aren’t the only ones. In Michoacan, carnitas in freshly fried hard-shell tacos (tacos dorados) are a favorite breakfast food. In Jalisco, lamb tacos dorados are common.

Escalante, contributor to Mexican online food journal Animal Gourmet and author of the first comprehensive encyclopedia of the taco, La Tacopedia, took time to discuss Mexico’s other breakfast tacos. The interview that follows was conducted in Spanish and is presented translated into English.

Taco Trail: Tacos are eaten at all times of the day. In Mexico, tacos mañaneros, what we call breakfast tacos in the United States, include tacos de canasta. What are other tacos mañaneros, and what goes in them?

Alejandro Escalante: Tacos de canasta are the most common breakfast tacos in Mexico City. Tacos de guisados are perhaps equally popular in the capital now that they’re practically the national breakfast food: corn tortillas with one or two leftover guisados. They’re always accompanied with rice, beans, salsa and chiles…

Classic: chicharrón in a Green, red or mixed salsa; beef picadillo, rajas con crema; chorizo with potatoes, mole with shredded chicken, tinga, cochinita, bistek in salsa (pasilla, green, red, etc.), moronga [blood sausage], sausage, milanesa… Continue reading

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Filed under breakfast tacos, interviews, Lengua Sessions, Mexico City

Mexico City: Tacos de Guisado

A favorite tacos de guisado stand in Mexico City

Las Cazuelas tacos de guisado stand

While Mexico City may not have New York’s skyscrapers, it’s every bit as big — bigger — and its people every bit as busy. Urban life doesn’t always allow for a home-cooked meal. So in DF, the home-cooked meal has come to the street in the form of tacos de guisado. Continue reading

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Filed under Best of, Mexico City, Reviews

Introducing Taco Trail’s Newest Contributor, Nick Zukin

Taco Trail contributor, Nick Zukin

When I received Nick Zukin’s email invitation to join him on a taco crawl along Maple Avenue in Dallas, I had no idea who he was. After reading the email, I knew I could learn some things about tacos and eat damn good tacos if I accepted the offer from the Portland, Oregon, resident. Since then, Nick has been a kindred spirit and my taco reference book mule. On his way back to Portland from Mexico, Nick has passed along essential reading material.

But Nick is more than a taco enthusiast and trafficker of the printed word. He’s also a food writer, restaurateur, cookbook author, tireless debater, tour guide, friend and, now, a Taco Trail contributor.

Let’s get to know him before moving on to his first post.

Taco Trail: You’re involved in myriad aspects of the food and restaurant world. How did you go from writer to owning and operating your own restaurants, a deli and Mi Mero Mole, a taqueria—even writing a cookbook, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home?

Nick Zukin: I get bored easy. That’s basically it.  I was a computer programmer who got tired of sitting behind a computer screen all day and decided to make my hobby my career instead.  I knew it’d mean a pay cut and longer hours, but for me it’s more about building something. Writing a cookbook, writing reviews, researching obscure Mexican antojitos—those are all things I’d do anyway just because.  There’s not much pay in food writing, as you know, but it’s nice to know that my reviews made a difference for the bottom line of restaurants where people care enough to put out a good product. And my mom gets to have a book on her shelf with my name on it.

TT: When and where does your passion for and knowledge of Mexican cuisine, specifically tacos, come from?

NZ: My mom is from Arizona and my dad from California. I grew up eating Mexican food several nights a week. When we went out to eat, it was either Mexican or pizza. My first cooking memory is my dad showing me how to fry tortillas for crispy taco shells. In college, Mexican was about the only food I could afford to go out and eat that didn’t come from a drive-thru, but even then I wanted to find the best. And then when I started traveling, Mexico being relatively cheap and close and having food that I loved was an obvious destination. It just snowballed from there, especially once I started food blogging, buying Spanish-language Mexican cookbooks, and chatting with people more knowledgeable than me on the internet. I still keep in touch with people I met online and shared a love of Mexican food with, like Steve Sando, Cristina Potters, Sharon Peters, Ruth Alegria, and Nick Gilman. All of us are professional Mexican food nerds of one kind or another now.

TT: How has it changed your view of Mexican food?

NZ: I guess my view has just broadened.  There’s just so much more to the landscape of Mexican food than I could have realized as a 5 year old learning to fry tortillas. I think it can be difficult for an American under the age of 40 to really understand the diversity and regionality of Mexican food because the regionality of American food has disappeared so much. Continue reading

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Filed under interviews, Lengua Sessions, Mexico City, Portland