When it comes to taco hot spots in the United States, there is no spot more incandescent than Southern California, with Los Angeles as its bright center where every type of taco is seemingly within reach and where the taco’s boldface proselytizers congregate. Among them is the crew behind L.A. Taco, a website established in 2005 to shine the spotlight on all that is great in LA via the taco and taco lifestyle. The mission has resulted in a vibrant mix of urban photography, interviews with artists, musicians and writers. The latter has included taco scribes Bill Esparza, Gustavo Arellano and Jeffrey M. Pilcher. Along the way there has been plenty of fun, including a mascot, bracket-style competition Taco Madness and the contest’s subsequent taco festival.
That festival took place on April 20—the same day as the Taco Trail co-founded North Texas Taco Festival in Dallas, Texas. In the run up to our shindigs, L.A. Taco’s Blazedale and I struck up a correspondence.
We caught up with Blazedale again this week for a Taco Week interview.
Taco Trail: What was the inspiration for L.A. Taco?
L.A. Taco: L.A. is such a diverse city and while there are thousands of things which unite different communities, there are fewer which bring the city together. By far the tastiest of these is the taco. We wanted to create a place to document our favorite unsung parts of the city such as street art, dive bars, and of course tacos. At that time, these things weren’t nearly as celebrated as they are today.
TT: L.A. Taco supports the taco lifestyle. What is the taco lifestyle?
LAT: To us the taco lifestyle is about getting out of the house and exploring your city. Checking out a new bar, an art show, live music, or hunting for a new taco spot you’ve never tried before. Finishing up a great night out with a taco is really the best thing ever, and an experience that is quintessential Los Angeles.
TT: L.A. is the taco capital of the United States. What are your thoughts on the rise of the taco across the country? Continue reading
Jeffrey Pilcher has a thing for tacos and Mexican food. So much so that he has dedicated much of his research to tacos and Mexican food on both sides of the border. He came to popular attention with his 2012 book, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, a sequel of sorts to ¡Que vivan los tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity, a tracing of the development of Mexican nationalism through a history of its food from the domestication of corn to the 20th century.
Pilcher, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, took the time to answer a lengthy set of interview questions from Taco Trail HQ, providing answers both light-hearted and rigorous. We cover taquerias outside of North America, favorite salsas, the future of tacos, the need for a beer after eating more than one’s fill in tacos and loads more.
Taco Trail: If pre-Hispanic peoples have been filling tortillas for more than a millennium, why is it important to distinguish that food from the taco?
Jeffrey Pilcher: Food is not just nutrition. It is also culture. Just think about what maize means to Mexicans and compare that with most folks in the United States. We know that ancient Mexican civilizations worshiped maize and ate tamales as a form of communion. They believed that if they did not make sacrifices to their gods, the maize fields would not grow and people would starve. These are deep and important meanings, but they are very different from the taco shops that first appeared in Mexico City about 1900. Historical context is essential for understanding what was important in people’s lives, and I think the taco tells us a lot about working-class people in modern Mexico.
TT: What’s the inspiration for your study of the taco?
JP: Precisely that it gives us such a good opportunity to study the lives of ordinary people.
TT: What are the marks of a great taqueria and a great taco?
JP: Freshness. Fresh tortillas. Meat just off the grill. A really good salsa (that smooth guacamole is my favorite). A squeeze of lime. A Mexican beer. It’s all about freshness. And having a lively scene, with people waiting in line for tacos, is how the taco vendors can serve fresh food and still make a profit. Continue reading