Some of the best taco trucks and taquerias are found next to strip clubs and porn stores. It’s not because perverts are better judges of tacos—I don’t think. It’s that niche ethnic restaurants need cheap rent. In Portland, 82nd Avenue, which acts as a major north-south thoroughfare and quasi-feeder for I-205, has at least three porn stores, a couple strip clubs, and a half dozen or more “lingerie” modeling joints. It also has several of the best Vietnamese, Chinese, and Mexican restaurants in town. One of its newest loncheras is also one of the city’s best: Los Alambres. Continue reading
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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