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 →