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
We’re all over the map this week. Nick filed a two-in-one review of Las Casitas and Ome Calli. He declares the former establishment one of the best taquerias in Oregon and exclaims the deliciousness of corn-flavored dessert (C’mon, America, get with the program!) at Ome Calli. I spent a Sunday lunch at a meat market and found what I expected, damn good meats. You see, carnicerias (meat markets/butcher shops) tend to have better-than-average taco fillings because they’re the source used by surrounding taquerias. Get the barbacoa. Then, get more barbacoa to go.
Elsewhere, the Simpsons go into the lonchera business and OC Weekly is jazzed about an impending taqueria opening.
The Jolly Oyster Kitchen Has A Fried Oyster Taco That Will Haunt Your Dreams (In the Good Way) 〜 Ventura State Beach — L.A. Taco
Restaurant review: Taqueria, London W11 — The Telegraph
Duffy Brewery, Lard Lad, Bumblebee Man Taco Truck NOW OPEN in the Simpsons Theme Park — Eater
2 Weeks Until Taco María Opens — Stick a Fork in It
And don’t forget TacoCon (Cerveza) at Four Corners Brewing Co. This week, the NTTF released its latest in its festival-related loteria card series. Collect them all.
Welcome back to the weekly roundup on The Taco Trail. This week, José visited Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop, serving the best breakfast tacos in Austin. Nick spent some time at Los Alambres in Portland and shared the good news coming out of the lonchera: tacos de canasta on Fridays, beginning today.
Back in Texas, CultureMap Dallas shares news about the Taco Dog, a crispy taco inside a hotdog bun available now at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The North Texas Taco Festival folks continue to release their loteria card series in the run up to TacoCon (Cerveza) at Four Corners Brewing Co., Friday, Sept. 6. And then there are the taco-related headlines from across the country, including a kosher taco truck along the border.
Ricardo Diaz and Fam Launch Colonia Taco Lounge Aug 1 — Eater LA
First Look: Agave Taco Bar opens in Washington Park — Cafe Society
Taco Bell dropping kids meals, toys — USA Today
MXDC, vaguely Mexican and utterly forgettable — Washington Post
Kosher taco truck highlights little-known Jewish roots of Spanish (Video of Conversos y Tacos Kosher Gourmet Truck from Your Jewish News/ABC 7) — The Jerusalem Connection Report
Another Friday, another Taco Internet roundup of the week’s news. Around these parts, I reviewed Taco Party—a Mexico City-influenced lonchera serving up a couple of gems, including fried potato tacos—and the fish tacos of new Oak Cliff sports bar PhD – Pour House Dallas, baby sister of the 17-year-old Pour House in Fort Worth, that finally secured its liquor license. While tacos as a whole were pretty good, they were oversauced but wrapped in terrific, locally-produced tortillas. James Scott of DallasVegan.com took time to chat with me about tacos and the third annual Texas State Veggie Fair, a free, outdoor festival he founded in part because even after going vegan, he pined for the State Fair of Texas’ fried food.
Nearby, Dallas Observer food critic Scott Reitz, stops into Monica’s Nueva Cocina and shares how to cut off hangovers at the pass (hint: it involves Velvet Taco’s breakfast tacos and crazy-good elotes). Teresa Gubbins calls out bully Tex-Mex-for-rich-people chain Mi Cocina for suing family-owned Honduran restaurant Mi Cocina Hondureña in Garland. Kim Pierce at the Dallas Morning News sings the praises of queso, while restaurant critic Leslie Brenner calls them awful. You know what’s not awful? The Arizona Taco Festival, going down this weekend. The producers are an inspiration who have lined up a wonderland of tacos, tequila and awesome for two days of required attendance for anyone in the vicinity of Scottsdale. And then there’s this: Continue reading
Friday on the trail means Taco Ticker, a selection of light, taco-related reading from around the web. This week’s pickings include free tacos, tacos on film and one town’s culinary transformation. Around these parts, I reviewed two amazing San Antonio breakfast taco joints as well as Mi Tierrita in Oak Cliff, where I found regional treasures (in flour tortillas). Over at Nation’s Restaurant News, Ron Ruggless announced Chili’s is testing a taco pizza in the Dallas market and Teresa Gubbins gave us a pre-opening look at Soleo Mexican Kitchen that will specialize in tacos and food from Jalisco, Mexico. Before we take in jalisciense cuisine, let’s take a trip to the Garden State.
Blueberries to tacos: South Jersey town’s shift de cuisine — Philly.com
Documentary Filmmaker Chronicles the Lives of Local Taco Truck Operators — Columbus Underground
Taco Cabana Celebrates Free Taco Day With 30,000 Chickens — QSR Magazine
Taco Bell expanding Cantina Bell menu — The Orange County Register
Taco Bell thrives inside a Cobble Hill hospital — New York Daily News
Friday on the trail means Taco Ticker, a selection of light, taco-related reading from around the web. This week’s pickings include hipsters, Canadian television and lighting a fire under the rear of an Austin-import in Houston. Closer to home, it’s been great for tacos. Tacos La Banqueta and Tortilleria La Nueva Fresh & Hot, my top two taquerías in town, were given Best Of nods by the Dallas Observer. Cafe Maya, my go-to restaurant for tacos de cochinita pibil was listed as having the best queso. Also, the weekly’s food critic, Scott Reitz, added a barbacoa de cachete taco to his 100 Favorite Dishes of the year. Goghee re-opened in a larger space and will celebrate its grand opening tomorrow. Farther afield, in Roanoke, Chef Jason Boso unveiled his new concept, Tacos & Avocados, giving the suburbs a taste of the specialty taco craze that is running its course in cities. Taco Bell’s popularity, however, is unwavering.
Passion Pit Address Taco Bell ‘Take A Walk’ Controversy: “It’s An Amazing Opportunity” — Fresh 102.7 FM
Tepid Torchy’s: A beloved Austin food truck goes corporate, and while much of the charm is lost, the breakfast tacos still deliver — Houston Press
‘Taco Wars’ Is Coming to Tuscon — Tuscon Weekly
What to Eat in Austin: Breakfast Tacos — The Daily Meal