The Great USA Taco Encyclopedia
- Eat_Nopal Jan 15, 2007 08:35 PM
I remember in the early 90's, meeting people in L.A's suburbs who had never had an authentic Mexican taco. All they knew where the 1950's / Taco Bell variety... hard shell, "taco seasoned" ground beef, yellow cheese etc.,. I then proceeded to evangelize dozens of gringos. Shortly thereafter immigration from Mexico accelerated... and within 10 years, most Californians knew about the real deal.
Fast forward to a Sunday in 2002, as I stumbled along Broadway in Manhattan - had met a business colleague in the SoHo district for lunch... two Martinis, two bottles of wine (shared), a lemoncello then a McCallen tour of SoHo jazz clubs & lounges - I see a sign for Mexican Food... and its said tacos etc., so I walk in.
I realized the place was run by Chinese people right off the bat, but I somehow reasoned that Manhattan - with all its sophistication & cutting edge cuisine - surely had authentic tacos, right? Well I order in a haze, and then waited for what would turn out to be the worst tacos I had since eating Los Angeles United School District's worst rendition. And no, it wasn't isolated. The rest of the week I noticed terrible renditions of Mexican cuisine all over Manhattan with rarely a whiff of authenticity in the air.
Fast forward roughly 4 years later... some credible 'Hounds talk about authentic tacos showing up all over Manhatttan. In my own travels since then... I had some decent tacos in the Greenpoint neighborhood, as well as places like Raleigh, Atlanta & Centralia (Washington).
So the marvelous, unequaled, simple & humble taco has truly made its way from sea to shining sea. But what is the state of the taco? Do Chowhounds all over the country have good sources of the representative continuum?
I am hoping for two things:
(1) We can use this thread to document all the variety of tacos available in the U.S.
(2) We can document the geographical dispersion of tacos.
To accomplish these goals, please participate in the following way.
(1) I am going to list the standard tacos that I see in most places, then everyone can add additional taco variations (not yet mentioned). Please include your Board, a description of the taco, and what is best version you've encountered (in the U.S.).
(2) Those that are from regions where large scale Mexican immigration is a relatively new phenomenon (within the last 10 years) please let us know what which types of tacos have made it your domains.
To start, I would describe the basic taco as follows:
> Two Soft Corn Tortillas (either steamed, griddled with fat, or griddled without fat)
> Broiled, Griddled, Grilled or Roasted Meats
> Garniched with your choice of chopped raw onions, cilantro, wedge of lime, and your choice of salsas.
The basic varieties:
Carne Asada (Faux)... usually griddled chuck, chopped into very small squares, seasoned only with salt. (In Mexico these are typically known as Carne a la Plancha)
Carne Asada (True)... usually skirt or flank steak, grilled, seasoned only with salt. When they are grilled over wood, they carry the additional label of Al Carbon which is the more common name in Mexico.
Al Pastor.... usually thin pork steaks, alternating with a onion slices roasted on a vertical spit. The pork is marinated in a complimentary Adobo that usually has Achiote, Dried Chiles, Vinegar, Allspice, Garlic, Mexican Oregano etc., In addition, a pineapple is placed at the top of the spit.. so that the juices will keep the meat moist & glaze it.
Adobada aka Faux Al Pastor... similar to Al Pastor but griddle or grilled with no Pineapple juice baste.
Carnitas... slow cooked, crisped pulled pork. The cooking liquid is usually seasoned with orange juice & garlic.
Pollo al Carbon... Grilled Chicken Breast.. just s&p.
Lengua.... broiled beef tongue... s&p.
Cabeza.... usually cheeks carved from a baked beef head.
Other Beef Head cuts... brains, eyes, lips etc.... s&p
Other popular - but not quite as ubiquitous - varieties include:
Barbacoa (Faux).... usually beef that has been marinated in a dark chile paste, flavored with cloves, allspice, garlic, thyme, marjoram, Mexican oregano, vinegar etc., Then slow roasted until fall apart tender. Its Faux because its not cooked in a pit like they do in Mexico lacking the important smokey dimension... and because the preferred meat in Mexico is lamb.
Tripas.... fried intestines.
Chicharron... fried pork skins.
Buche.... broiled tripe.
Baja Fish Tacos.... White fish in beer batter, fried garnished with raw cabbage, cream sauce, salsa & a wedge of lime.
Now for my contribution of less common taco varieties:
At Taqueria La Super Rica in Santa Barbara, California (this was the place that Julia Child frequented)....
Rajas... (Poblano Strips in Cheese Fondue)
Ongos con Chorizo (Mushrooms & Chorizo in Cheese Fondue)
At Loteria Grill near Beverly Hills, California:
Deshebrada (Slow cooked beef) designated by Conde Nast as one of the top 5 dishes in North America.
Setas con Epazote (Crimini Mushrooms with Epazote)
At Huarache Azteca in El Monte, California
Tinga de Pollo (Slow cooked shredded chicken, sauteed with onions, then sauced with Tomato-Chipotle, garnished with Queso Fresco)
Suadero (Basically griddled hanger steak)
At Birrieria La Barca in El Monte, California
Birria (slow cooked goat in a complex dried chile, herb & spice sauce)... served with its spicy Au Jus.
How does the durado ... deep-fried taco fit into all of this. I had them first in the San Diego area, but now that I'm looking, I find them in real Mexican joints in the Bay Area.
I think maybe the Taco Bell taco got based on this. The Jack in the Box taco, if you thing about it, is a durado ... deep-fried.
As to fish tacos, there seem to be variations in different parts of Mexico ... as well as Mexican joints in the Bay Area ... I mean Mexican joints ... not the places that would ever make Zagut or usually even Chowhound or other food forums.
I've been finding that al pastor sometimes just means marinated in the Bay Area.
Suardo is available in the Bay Area and just seems to mean a particular part of the cow.Sometimes called rose meat in the Bay Area. The link to this discussion seems to got lost in the migration to the new site. Another taco filling topic.
Dorado is definitely a legitimate variation. The Jack in the Box tacos tend to be a bit more authentic than Taco Bell even though they still feature yellow cheese. But the "meat" flavor is similar to a Picadillo con Adobo (which is also kind of like a spicy sloppy joe)... and the combination of greasy & crunchy (without the uniform crispness of Taco Bell's uber processed shell)... should be familar to most Mexicans.
In addition to Picadillo tacos dorados... you will also find a fish version of tinga, as well as vegetables that are the most common filling in dorados.... parboiled greens with garlic, coursely mashed potatoes or beans etc.,
Yes, there are multiple variations on fish tacos. I kind of like the fish in red, creamy sauce at the stand in Emeryville (the food court with all the independent vendors).... the only bad thing about it was the bell peppers... otherwise pretty tasty... o yea its also a fun mess!
Come on K.... you are one of the top sleuths... I am sure you have some to add here. If you don't have anything to add, I am afraid this is going to be a very short-lived thread.
A lot of those fillings sound so good- we usually don't get that kind of variety, at least not where I frequent in the Northern NJ area.
My faves are usually the lengua, chorizo and cecina, which is beef that has been dried out a bit to concentrate the flavor. (I love the salsa verde on that one) The marinated beef is generally called carne enchilada, and is usually the spiciest of the fillings served.
I ordered some yesterday and watched closely this time as it was cooked- it doesn't seem to be. What they put on the flat top was a pretty vibrant red, and not just from the chile powder. It also doesn't have that deep, almost livery, quality that the cecina has. I'm assuming that they use the same cut as the bistek, only marinated.
I lived in Austin, TX between 1996-99 and devoured breakfast tacos on a weekend-ly basis. I miss them very much as well as migas (which are not chilaquiles no matter how many Californians think they are). I write about this time & place since you seem to have the LA scene down.
My favorites were at Tamale House #3 on Airport Blvd. You could mix and match fillings, I usually got one rice and cheese and one potato and bacon. Loaded with this completely delicious fresh, finely chopped salsa you'd squirt out of plastic bottles. I think they used small flour tortillas rather than corn, but I could be mistaken.
I wonder if any current Austinites or Texans could give an update of the breakfast taco scene?
re: ks in la
Yeah, Migas rarely make it into California menus... its more of a Chihuahua dish... which of course is right across the river from Texas. I also see Migas show up quite a bit in Portland & Seattle where people are more likely to eat a hearty breakfast. Californians are more like Sashimi, Non-Fat Cream Cheese & Herbal Tea :)
Migas for those curious, are dried bread cubes sauteed in with spicy scrambled eggs.
And migas, the Portuguese dish (at least as I've had it in Portugal when dining with locals), is basically just a pile of lightly flavored bread crumbs, served as a starchy side dish, no eggs.
Edit: Oops! Just noticed this is another two-year-old post resurrection. Please add your voice to this request: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/578371
Thanks for the informative post, Nopal.
I would've never known there was such a thing as faux and true carne asada; I encountered my first faux version at one of the local taco trucks here just a bit ago. I had been wondering why the meat was all cubed up like that, and your post just enlightened me on that.
Yeah... I don't mean to disparage it all. I think - just like inexpensive Chinese places - they bring great value by taking an inexpensive, tough, grizzely cut of meat and making it quite edible.
In Mexico, they are more likely to name & seperate the various cuts that would normally end up like this... diezmillo, palomilla etc., so you know what you are getting and can appreciate the various difference... and I really don't understand why taqueros here don't do that.
Is the Huarache Azteca you mentioned related to the one in Oakland? The one in Oakland also has chicken tinga, and they also have real barbacoa on the weekends.
I've also had beef tinga.
There have been several discussions about what part of a cow "suardero" is, and it was finally determined that it is what's most commonly called the "plate": the belly cut to the rear of the brisket and under the ribs.
re: Ruth Lafler
Its possible they are related, but Huaraches are so ubiquitous in Mexico City... and Tinga, Barbacoa & Suadero are such an institution there... and of course chilangos (that is what other Mexicans refer to us as) are usually steeped in all things Aztec... that I am sure the Huarache Azteca name graces many, many places around the world.
Personally, I am always confused by the terms... I used to think Huarache was a Mexico City term, Chancla the Oaxacan term & Tlacoyo the Tlaxcalan term... but someone assured me that is not the case, in Tlaxcala the Tlacoyos have some fundamental difference (which currently escapes me).
My favorite taco place is the Mi Pueblo on the west side of Cleveland in the ethnic neighborhood.
They make a great cabrita(goat)taco, and their alcarbon is better than I have had everywhere, except for a 1st generation Mexicans friends kitchen. They also have great Mole poblano and fruit shakes.
Having a extensive grocery store next door doesn't hurt either.
Eat Nopal, This is a link to the restaurant. http://cleveland.citysearch.com/profi...
It is a classic taqueria,unlike the Mi Pueblo, owned by the same family, but in the University circle/Case Western Univ. neighborhood.
The mole simmered chicken is usually served as a enchilada, but if you ask nicely and maybe speak Spanish, they will put it on a taco.
Hey Steve... if I wanted to I could list out 100 or so varieties I've had... but I am interested in seeing what gets around from other 'hounds. So don't take it like I am dissing Chorizo.
BTW, I am glad you pointed Chorizo out. It is rarely on L.A. taqueria menus, so that is an interesting regional difference. Health conscious L.A. doesn't eat much sausage so Chorizo tends to end up only in Hard Hat environs. What makes Chorizo popular in D.C? Are you guys a sausage eating city? Do the taqueros in your city buy the higher quality stuff made in the meat markets, or are they using the offal rich, dirt cheap commercial versions?
I'm suprised to hear that this is uncommon in L.A, as most of the little taquerias I know of in the Sacramento area offer (delicious) chorizo. I couldn't accurately tell you if it's high quality or not, but it's damn good...usually greasy, bright red, crumbly, and very spicy.
I had chorizo at a very meh burrito place in Great Barrington MA, but it bore no resemblance to the chorizo I eat here in Sacramento. It was grey (!) and much more bland. Is this common on the East Coast?
I also find it interesting that you don't find Chorizo in LA. I lived in OC/LA in the 70's and formed a great appreciation for chorizo while living there, especially chorizo con papas y huevos. It is sort of a bench mark for me if a place sells chorizo, I know the other offerings will be closer to the type of mexican food I like and grew up on.
re: free sample addict aka Tracy L
Don't get me wrong... Chorizo is gets a lot of play... but usually as a breakfast item. The only time it shows up in tacos are at places that tend to cater heavily to the construction workers and other physically demanding jobs... so they have basically been delegated to the more industrial parts of town.
¿Que? I disagree with your generalities. There's plenty of places in LA & OC that serve Mexican chorizo in tacos, and lots of us non-construction worker types that like it. It's not just for breakfast anymore, and when done well, sublime.
Chorizo: the other mystery meat.
Chorizo: ¿como se dice "lips and anus" en español?
re: Professor Salt
Good call me out. Where in LA & OC have you eaten Chorizo tacos... and what percentage of the places offer them?
Personally, I would say Chorizo tacos end up on no more than 10% of taqueria menus... maybe 25% of the trucks or carts, and these are usually parked around construction site, day laborer spots, factories etc.,
I have never had it before but I have heard of a regional poblano specialty known as taco arabes. This is a taco with an almost pita-esque tortilla component and 'Joque?' a thin yogurt-like sauce. I believe it is a bastardization of the schwarmas Lebanese Immigrants may have brought to Mexico.
Taco Arabes are starting to make their mark in L.A., with the recent immigration from Puebla... mostly around South Central. Yes, the Taco Arabes use a thin type of Pita similar to the bread used in Gaby's Shwawermas (Culver City).
I've Al Pastor version of Taco Arabes, as well as a sort of deconstructed Chile en Nogada taco arabe. And yes, Puebla has a relatively large concentration of Lebanese immigrants.
In a coindince, I saw a pushcart with "tamal torta" from the bus on the way to work this morning and wondered what it was. Can you describe it?
I see chorizo on about half the taco trucks around Oakland, so I guess we aren't as health conscious as you think! But actually, the highest and best use of chorizo is in a breakfast burrito.
re: Ruth Lafler
It is what it sounds like ... a torta roll with a tamale in it. I thought I mentioned it for some joint in San Pablo or Richmond, but can't seem to find where. IIRC, it is a breakfast item. Didn't try it though ... partly because there was nothing on it ... no sauce, no condiments ... plain tamale stuffed in a roll.
Another topic on the popularity of hot dogs in Mexico makes me surprised it never shows up in tacos though hot dogs show up in almost eveything else.
At the Texas taquerias I go to, adovada (adobada) is cubed pork in red-chile sauce (i.e., carne de puerco con chile colorado), and chicharron is stewed back fat--soft and slippery. I don't recall ever seeing the fried skins (chicharrones) served in a taco. Lengua also sometimes appears cubed and stewed in a green sauce. That is one of my favorites. Muy delicioso!
re: Jim Washburn
Thanks Jim... yes you hit on a good point. Adobo means paste, or marinade. The Adobos vary quite a bit from the Adobo used in Lamb or Beef Barbacoas (on which Barbecue sausces are based)... to the lighter Adobos for chicken etc., So Adobada just means meat sauced with a heavily seasoned paste... so we are bound to see various regional variations.
Chicharrones... I didn't mean they are added fried hard... the better places use already fried pork skins, then sauce them like Chilaquiles so that they have some structure to them. Other places just simmer the pork skin & sauce.
(Actually I think you might have implied the stewed Chicharron is not sauced).
Lengua sauced in Tomatillo... another good one that rarely makes its way to California.
Lengua in tomatillo sauce is all over the Calif Central Coast. Don't know about Santa Barbara south, but just north in Santa Maria and Nipomo, throughout the 5 Cities area (Grover, Pismo, Arroyo Grande, Oceano) San Luis Obispo, and points north in SLO CO. Sometimes lengua is just in a richly flavored broth, but most times it's got tomatillos in the sauce. I'm a lengua fan so I order it everywhere around here.
There is some really good lengua in East Paso Robles. 5 minutes east of 101 on 13th St and you're in a good neighborhood for some authentic taquerias. Senor Sancho--eat your heart out!
As we’ve discussed in other threads there is a vast array of Mexican food available in Chicago. All of the items mentioned above are found in Chicago (except I haven’t seen *tacos* de mole poblano, -- as sopecitos yes.)
Here are some other taco options I’ve seen around the city:
cecina de venado
chorizo y papas
papas con huevo
chorizo con huevo
nopales con huevo
rajas con huevo
pata de puerco
guisado de res
costillas en salsa verde
torta de camaron
asado de puerco
kare raisu: a poblano place here has not only the tacos arabes but also tacos orientales (with corn tortillas).
Here is a link to a good report on the Maxwell Street Market. About 2/3 of the way down there is a photo of the menu at Rubi’s, one of the best stands, with tacos de mole verde and tacos de mole rojo.
For more about Chicago Mexican, search Chowhound for posts by RST, the most intrepid explorer of regional Mexican here.
Now, I know that when cheese goes inside a tortilla one says “quesadilla” rather than “taco” but I have to mention a lovely quesadilla de requesón I’ve had here with a handmade tortilla (photo 1/3 of the way down):
Really, the furthest possible thing imaginable from the quesadilla of gringo bar food with its plateful of melted cheese inside a flour tortilla.... And then there’s a quesadilla de flor de calabaza (photo halfway down):
I better stop before I get too hungry!
Saludos a todos y buen provecho!
E.N.: Mattheson I don't know at all, but west of there in Joliet is Amanecer Tapatio, run by a family from La Garita, Jal. Daily specials (e.g. mole cosechero), handmade tortillas and the beans are mayo coba... Search on the Chicago board for many posts on A.T., especially by Mugs.
Now, that I think about it, based on everything I have researched. I shouldn't be surprised if Chicago has a more varied offering of authentic Mexican cuisine. You have a lot of Mexicans... and no long term legacy of Faux Mexican to battle with.
The big problem in California is that back in the 1920's to 1960's... people decided what Mexican SHOULD be. New immigrants that open restaurants find the path of least resistance to be imitation.
"Mexican" restaurants are some of the most profitable & viable in California with a simple value proposition:
> Colorful, casual atmosphere + Good Margaritas... means high liquor sales (very high margin products, few can rarely screw up)
> Food even the most timid, non-adventurous eater can like (Quesadillas, Fajitas, Rice, Flour Tortillas, Flan) while allowing people to think they are branching out.
Its a very clear business model, that works, over & over & over again. Why should people take a risk on something with more depth?
And don't discount the Rick Bayless effect. Bayless has been a strong advocate for "real" regional Mexican cuisine for years and with the success of his restaurtants, he's proved that Chicagoans will pay for it.
Plus, he's been importing Mexican cooks to work in him restaurants for years. Many of them go on to open their own places and they stay true to the regional food model.
cecina de venado (dried deer meat)
machitos (stuffed, deep fried sheep intestines)
moronga (blood sausage)
chorizo y papas
papas con huevo
chorizo con huevo
nopales con huevo
rajas con huevo (roasted poblanos with eggs)
pata de puerco (pork feet)
guisado de res (braised beef)
costillas en salsa verde (braised ribs in tomatillo sauce)
torta de camaron (shrimp fritters)
milanesa (ultri thin round top steak, fried Milanese style)
asado de puerco (Eat Nopal Don't Know!!!)
lomo (sauteed ultra thin sirloin usually with a little tomato & onions)
pierna (roasted pork leg)
Tucson's El Charro Cafe makes a Carne Seca taco, which is beef (probably skirt steak) marinated in lime juice, garlic and spices, then dried on the roof of the restaurant and shredded and grilled with tomato, green chile and onion.
Reporting from northwestern Iowa...
The Latino immigration is a fairly new thing here. But in Storm Lake there is a little taqueria right downtown--in amongst the businesses that have always been there, the boot shop and the jewelry store and the ladies' clothing and the fabric store--called La Juanita. It's actually a second location of a business that began in Sioux City. They say they're "Jalisco-style." I wouldn't know the difference between Jalisco style and anything else, personally, but their tacos are pretty good. As you described in the original post, with a little onion and cilantro, some really hot non-chunky salsa, and lime wedges to squeeze over them. You can get them with a variety of meat options, including carne asada (faux, I suppose, from your description, since they cook it on a grill), al pastor, carnitas, pollo, and I think camarones. They're fairly inexpensive and really good.
There's a little Mexican grocery there in downtown Storm Lake now, too. My husband is their Orkin man, so he's gotten acquainted with the guy somewhat (despite his only rudimentary knowledge of English and Mike's only rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, they get by somehow). I go up there frequently to get produce and meats. I like to get skirt steak from him and have him cut it up for me, then bring it home and make my own tacos, pretty much just like the ones we get at La Juanita. He's the one who told me to marinate it in lime juice and achiote verde.
The taco truck at the bottom of my subway stairs offers:
and vegetarino, which I spend a lot of time wondering about.
Carnitas, bistek, pollo, pastor, and lengua I can firmly grasp in my little brain, but the others are unfamiliar to me. Any ideas?
I think these are most of the taco varieties available at trucks in Western Queens, but I guess I can't speak for all of them (though I would like to find out).
This is an awesome project, by the way. Go taco!
Suadero... we've discussed in the bay area is an inexpensive, tender cut of meat... somewhere between the brisket & ribs. I also contend that it includes what is called a hanger steak.
Cecina is some type of dried meat... usually beef or pork.
Enchilada... is probably Cecina that is covered with chile powder.
Mixto could refer to a mixed meat taco... but its most likely a seafood cocktail or ceviche.... because.... Campechano almost certainly refers to a cocktail with shrimp & octopus.
Huarache basically means sandal, and it refers to a thin, sandal shaped corn cake, that is spread with beans, meat & the usual garnishes.
Good info... BTW the places I was referring to in Green Point is right in the Polish neiborhood along the main drag (not the bridge street... that one that is closer to the river). You can a couple more to your list, if you are interested.
see if there are some Latino churches listed in the phone book, then case those neighborhoods for taquerias. Most taco trucks some out only late afternoon till near midnight as working folks finish one job (restaurant shifts) and go to another. Most Latinos immigrants work two or more jobs. Guys where I work put in 16-18 hours a day at two jobs.
re: toodie jane
Thanks for the suggestion toodie jane. You stimulated my creative thinking. We actually have a Latino neighborhood and community center in Lansing. I think I'll check it for taquerias and also go to some of the Latino grocery stores in the area, both for supplies and recommendations!
Ten years ago, when I moved to Orlando (Snowbirdistan), there was exactly one taqueria and one good Mexican restaurant. The taqueria was called Ron's L.A. Taco and it was a labor of love by a displaced Los Angelino. It folded. He tried again and again it went belly up. Authentic Mexican food isn’t popular with the Disney/Retiree/Early bird special crowd. Everyone raved about the joints with the ground beef, shredded Kraft yellow cheese, sour cream, lettuce and flour tortilla offerings.
I wept for a long while…
Times have changed. Now, we have a Mexican Consulate, many Mexican grocery stores, a few authentic taqueria’s and a few good Mexican restaurants. They’re not common, and most Floridians still think of bad Tex-Mex when they of Mexican food, but if you know your neighborhoods, you can find the real McCoy.
Has anyone mentioned machaca yet?
Ok, I went through my Mexican menus to see what else might be in the SF Bay Area that wasn’t on the list
Chile Colorado (beef)
Chile Rojo (beef or chicken) Not sure if this is just another name for Colorado
Chile Verde (chicken or pork)
Cueritos – pickled pig skin ... the stuff you see in jars
Molida – ground beef
Pescadillas – hard shelled fried tacos with stewed fish topped with crema & lettuce
Vegetables asados (yeah, yeah ... but it is a real Mexican joint serving a grilled veggie taco)
It’s been mentioned, but just to note locality
higado (liver) is available in San Pablo.
Potato (potato, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, parmesian cheese ... old-style Mex-American joint thus the parm instead of cojita)
Although Pancho Villa in SF is Mexican, it, uh, accomodates local clientel so, we’ll just list these by themselves
Fajitas (steak or chicken)
Fish Guanchinango – fish, lettuce & salsa
Tofu Ranchero (that old Mexican fav – beans, tofu, salsa)
Veggie – beans, rice, salsa
Other Nuevo Mex-american tacos (Mexico au parc, Rosemary’s)
Puerco con tomatillo (with dill, coriander & cumin)
Salmon & tofu seems popular in this brave ‘new world’
Duck & pomegranite with guacamole & arbol salas (Fonda)
Fish tacos with corriander, slaw & aioli (Fonda)
I’ve never seen these meats outside of taco trucks
Al Vapor – steamed beef
Ojos – eyes (did I spell that correctly?)
Where do 'crispy tacos' fall ... soft taco holding a thin crisp shell. I would have chalked these up to Neuvo, but the hard-core Mexican/Peruvian joint with the Pescadillas served the taco this way.
Thanks RW you came through....
Grilled Veggies get a bad wrap as a weenie, California dish. I agree, I think that is why it ends up on menus. But in Mexico, it is very common to eat grilled Nopales, Cheese, Onions & Serrano Chile tacos - (When I say grilled Cheese, I litterally mean a slice of Asadero cheese that is placed directly on a grill for a little bit... browns on the outside, gooey on the inside) - so they have some legitimacy.
Let me digress... I would like anyone that thinks of grilled vegetable tacos as wussy, go to Mexico State and challenge one of Nahautl speaking female market vendors to a grilled veggie taco eating contest. (I have seen these women eat tacos of nothing but grilled Jalapeno and/or Serrano peppers... and to boot, they top them with a spicy tomatillo salsa)
Your crispy tacos, like the Pescadillas, are absolute authentic and old school - just not consumed as often as soft tacos. I remember as a young teenager doing the bus ride from the Jalisco Highlands to Mexico City... with the obligatory stops along the way... one of which was Irapuato in the state of Guanajuato - the world capital of the crispy taco! You don't even have to step off the bus... vendors rush right up to the door (some drivers will let them make a walk through for a commission)... $2 later you had ten very tasty tacos of various fillings, garniched with the towns superior lettuce & crema and a couple bottles of soda.
The two versions from Fonda are both typical of the "Nuevo Tacos" you find in semi nice restaurants around San Angel, Coyoacan & Roma-Condessa that cater to the young professional classes.
Yes.... you got Ojos correct. Also, I haven't seen Tacos Al Vapor in a long time... should be slow cooked beef that is reheated over steam (kind of like the way Pastrami gets reheated in places that know what they are doing).
Bummer ... wrote this out and it didn't post ... so if it shows up elsewhere ...
Anyway, double-checked the menu of Los Picanos in San Pablo (one in SF too) and the only place cueritos is listed is under the tacos. No tostadas. Their big thing is DF tortas and they have the biggest selection of fillings I've seen to date.
They are the liver taco place too. They don't always have everything every day. Haven't been there on a liver day yet, but it hasn't been a high priority.
What type of liver is usually in a liver taco and how is it prepared?
I don't know why people don't sell interesting veggie tacos like you mentioned. Why does it have to be beans, rice or tofu?
Is there such a thing as a dessert taco? I know there are sweet tamales.
Liver tacos... not my priority either... usually they are Higado Encebollado... basically sauteed with onions.
Interesting vegetable tacos... that is an interesting sociological note. I am sure we have discussed it before... but basically 60% to 80% of people in Mexico are forced vegetarians most of the time. As a result, eating vegetables is equated with poverty... and when people come over to the country of affordable animal protein that is what they indulge in. So you don't get the Mexican versions of vegetable tacos... and the local consumers haven't quite learned what to ask for. Once their is more tourism in places like Mexico State, Veracruz, Chiapas etc., where its easier to find vegetable based tacos... then they will come back demanding it.
Note, even in Mexico.... vegetables are mostly what you eat at home... when you go out... its meats you are going to spend money on... so outside of restaurants & market vendors that cater to people that eat out on a daily basis... meats also predominate.
"Is there such a thing as a dessert taco? I know there are sweet tamales."
In my dad's culinarily backward, inbred, Northern Spanish redneck town in the Highlands of Jalisco - as my cousin says "We in the Highlands are all related" - one of the few interesting dishes as a vermicelli "pudding" like Arroz con Leche... that is served as dessert. The following day its not uncommon to sautee some plain old bananas... and serve them with the leftover sweet, cinammony, creamy vermicili inside a handmade corn tortilla.
More contemporary... the legendary Tijuana haute taqueria "La Ermita" serves up a griddled cheese, shrimp & pineapple dessert taco:
Paco's Tacos in Monterey Park, best lengua and carne asada. Specials every day, varies.
Fish tacos at Tacos Baja Ensenada on Whittier Blvd. near Atlantic. Wash it down with a bottled Coke from Mexico, cane sugar, not corn syrup. This place is a favorite of Calvin Trillin.
Cabeza has recently appeared at a few metro Boston places--a very taco-deprived area. Very adventurous for us!
Nashville, TN was tragically Mexican-deprived for eons; La Fiesta of Mexican Food was the only "Mexican" restaurant, and served not only canned tamales but BAD canned tamales. Marty Robbins once imported a Mexican couple to run Rosa's Cantina across from his racecar garage, and even that didn't pan out because they simply could not get the authentic ingredients. Then in the mid-'80s came a swelling influx of whole families from not only Mexico but Central America as well, and Nashville's first authentic tortilla factory (La Hacienda) installed a small grocery store, then added a lunch counter...and well before we left in 2000 there were good solid restaurants flogging everything from real tacos to birria de chivo. It ain't quite up to the best LA standards maybe, and you still can't find anyplace to get menudo todos los dias, but you can sure get some kickass tacos de lengua, de tripas, de buche, whatever.
You could have had stellar tacos in New York City in 2002... just not in Manhattan (except for the Garment District, East Harlem, and Hamilton Heights). Here's a classic post by Eric Eto from early 2003 on the kinds of tacos available in Queens.
I don't have much to add. I never eat tacos in New York! (I think I tried one ten years ago.) Not a week goes by when I'm in the city without me eating at least once in a Queens Mexican restaurant. But I always go for a mole or other rich, complex, satisfying entree. (Like these: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/247808 ) My meal is the highlight of my day, and if one day I ate two tacos as that meal, I'd be depressed for 24 hours, until my next meal. I've never figured out why people eat tacos, and I hope someone will tell me.
re: Brian S
Hi Brian... it sounds like you only eat one meal day? If so, yes its hard to use it up on tacos. OTOH, some 'Hounds have voiced that Tacos are the world's most perfect food. On some level, I have to agree. I don't know how good tacos are in Queens... but at their highest levels... its hard to choose anything else over a taco. I am talking a hand patted (not machine pressed) tortilla from very fresh masa... a supremely flavored filling that was cooked in the instant before your taco was assembled. Cilantro so fresh its Al Dente.... and spring onions that have been lightly marinated in a vinegar solution (gets rid of any burping & after taste)... and of course a perfectly balanced salsa.... a great taco will please all the senses, and engage all your taste buds. I've had some spectacular tacos that would put some 3 Star Michelin chefs to shame.
I think you've sold me, though, unlike pizza, there seems to be less skill needed for the assembly of the components than for the preparation of the components.
Right now in Mexico there's a crisis as rising corn prices put tortillas (and tacos) beyond the reach of the poorest people.
Fish tacos in Tijuana/Ensenada in the late 1950's/early 1960's were made with a whole small fried fish (no batter) placed in a folded tortilla and covered with veggies -- the head of the fish was hanging out one end and the tail out the other. Never saw the current style fish taco with the breaded filet.
After fleeing the "pop" that was the late LA housing bubble, I landed in Western Colorado, where I wandered into a newly-opened taqueria - the owners were busily writing the menu on the back of the "For Sale" sign they'd just taken down from the window. I waited 'til they'd finished writing, and noticed a few items I'd not seen in LA - the "alambre" (just as TangoRad described below) and "chuleta", which turned out to be sauteed cubes of pork loin chop(?). Very tasty.
I also frequented a couple of taqueria in Provo, Utah years ago, one which did a very nice pierna (chile-marinated fresh ham) taco, and the other which did an interesting panela cheese taco - basically, just a flat slab of hot griddled panela.
No one has mention Borrego (Lamb) Yet.
A tortilla factory in Vista, CA offers this Sundays only from the steam table - still draped with Maguey leaves. Estilo Pachuca, Hidalgo.
And there is a restaurant in San Diego called El Borrego that serves nothing but this (chilaquilies too!).
Picadillo - Escondido
Birria de Res
Tacos de guisados ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/370897
)Question regarding cooking Techniques of Cabeza and Lengua: steamed, baked, broiled or stewed? regional differences? best method? I had a lengua taco the other day that was revelatory - hence the question.
Very nice.... I think that might be the same thing we call Barbacoa... sounds fabulous! I had a consultant client in Vista.... did not seem like a place that would have any Mexican grub around. You learn something every day!
Cabeza is typically baked to gentle donness.... and then steamed to reheat. Lengua is typically poached in water / herbs then griddled to a crisp outside. Otherwise it is seared on a griddle first, then poached in a sauce (i.e., Lengua Entomatada).
In answer to your lengua question- here in the Northern NJ side of the NYC area I have usually had it stewed and have come to expect it to be quite tender. Maybe it is heated on the flat top to warm it up, but I don't recall any that it crisp on the outside. That sounds great, btw.
Since you mentioned Alambres, and since they were defined above as being cooked on a skewer, I figured I had to mention what I have seen served as 'alambres'. FWIW- I just recently started to order this because it is a favorite of the other customers in a place I have been frequenting- one of those "I'll have what he's having" sort of deals. No skewers are involved- the places around here are usually grocery stores with a flat top griddle and countertop in the back that serve simple stuff like tacos and tortas- three meats are cooked simultaneously (beef, chorizo and bacon- yup, bacon), after a minute or two a generous handful each of sliced onions and peppers are added and mixed in. When it is all cooked they also throw in a generous handful of shredded white cheese and allow it to melt. It is served on a platter with avocado slices on top and six corn tortillas on the side that you stuff with the mixture (and the house chipotle sauce!) before, well, pigging out. I could split this thing with someone and still be satisfied- it is so rich.
I do have a question of my own- in this particular place the carnitas are served with the cartilage chopped up into the meat- is this a common practice?. It is the first time I have experienced this, to tell the truth, and am not so crazy about the idea. In all honesty I may never get used to it even if it were the proper way but, heck, at this point is seems to me like I'm getting substandard stuff . I figured I'd ask out of pure curiosity, maybe even an education, nothing more.
Alambre actually means skewer... so my guess is that since they don't have a grill, they are mixing some of the flavors common in the skewers of their town... beef, chorizo, peppers, onions & Asadero cheese (the bacon is probably a bonus) and labeling them Alambres for a lack of a better terminology.
"Lengua is typically poached in water / herbs then griddled to a crisp outside."
Yes! This is how I was served it - fantastic texturally.
has anyone ever eaten tacos de ojo? my favorite window in san francisco listed them on the board, but every time i tried to order them, they said they were out.
i miss the bay area so much on the taco front - boston is a wasteland in that regard. we have one or two decent places here, but nothing that compares.
some of the best tacos i have had outside of california came from a taqueria housed in a school bus in pocatello, idaho. anyone been there?
Hey Hey Eat Nopal! Thank you...I took part in a chowdown at my little Oax dive today with some fellow CA chowhounders. They all seemed to be in consensus that this is one delicious hole-in-the-wall.
Grasshoppers still had the legs attached - I chewed well to say the least! The Oax bean paste is awesome... i can get over the smooth consistency and the Color(!) a perfect rustic morado.
The owner actually offered two chaupalines - small guys and big. Here's Josh's take on it:
This is one thread that makes me happy to see again. The description of the various tacos is invaluable. This time I'm saving it in a folder of Eat Nopal's recipes I've made....
I had NO idea so many different tacos were available.
Yes, we miss Eat Nopal!!
at Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista.
Tacos gobernador-sauteed shrimp,melted cheese, and vegetables in a grilled flour tortilla
Tacos de marlin-smoked marlin tacos with cheese in a grilled flour tortilla(when marlin from Mazatlan is available)
El Paisita in Lynwood
Tacos de birria de res,estilo Tijuana-stewed beef birria with purple onion
Mariscos Jalisco truck,Olympic near Dakota
Tacos de camaron estilo San Juan de Los Lagos, Jalisco-a taco dorado with shrimp, potato, and other vegetables
One of two Mexican restaurants in my area... north of Boston MA lists the following "authentic" tacos on their menu... pathetic, isn't it?
(Hard) Ground Beef or Chicken with lettuce, tomato and cheese
(Soft) Ground Beef or Chicken with lettuce, tomato and cheese
(Hard) Shredded Beef with lettuce, tomato and cheese
(Soft) Shredded Beef with lettuce, tomato and cheese
Carne Asada - Grilled Steak with lettuce, pico de gallo and guacamole
Chile Verde Chicken or Pork with lettuce, tomato and cheese
Fajita Chicken or Steak with peppers and onions
Where's Eat Nopal when we need him?
I gotz me a craving for Tacos de Pechuga Rellena....
Impossibly thin pounded chicken breast... gently sauteed until partly cooked, stuffed with a sautee of chorizo, nuts & dried fruits.... rolled up thinly with bacon... and then sauteed until the bacon is nice & crispy.
The whole roll placed in a corn tortilla... drizzled with some Peanut Salsa & Papalo... divine... not bad for Naco street food.
Great idea, I'd been looking for something like this.
I live in eastern North Carolina- we began getting Mexican immigrants in the late 80s, although these were mostly migrants. I didn't notice many Mexican or Hispanic owned businesses cropping up until the late 90s. I ate in my first taqueria in 1999 or thereabouts.
A taco here is basically as you lay out in the OP at a fundamental level- corn tortillas, steamed or griddled(usually griddled), with raw onion, cilantro, and salsa roja/verde being the most common toppings. A lot of places have a condiment bar that also includes radishes, pickled chiles, and other items.
Carne Asada: very common, you can get this in virtually every taqueria. I'm assuming it is mostly of the faux variety, as I have rarely seen a taqueria that looked to have the space/equipment to cook with real wood.
Al Pastor: Very common, although usually not spit roasted. I have seen spit roasted pastor in two places- Fonda y Birrieria Jalisco in Raleigh, and Tacos y Tortas El Mexicanito in Wilson. There's a place in Greenville where the "pastor" appeared to me to be beef or lamb- it was definitely not pork.
Carnitas: Fairly common. Usually a weekend specialty.
Pollo al carbon: The only place I've seen this is El Azador in Greenville, which is located in what used to be a North Carolina bbq joint.
Lengua: Most places have this.
Cabeza: Fairly rare. The only place that springs to mind is Supermercado El Rancho in Greenville. I once had cabeza at a place in Asheville whose name I've forgotten.
Other Beef Head Cuts: Haven't seen any of them.
Barbacoa: Most places have barbacoa; I would say it's about a 50/50 split between beef and lamb. I have heard ads on Spanish language radio for barbacoa de chivo(goat), but I haven't personally run across it yet myself.
Tripas, Chicharron, Buche: Fairly common. You'll see this in maybe half of all taquerias, usually those attached to a carniceria.
Baja Fish Tacos: I have only seen these in one place in NC. They're called "tacos Nayarit" there, but fit your description to a T.
Tinga de Pollo: I've only seen it at El Autentico in Washington, NC. They also have Tinga de Res.
Birria: Pretty common as a weekend special, although it's usually served as a stew with accompanying tortillas. A lot of places use lamb instead of goat.
Tacos dorados: I've seen them in one place. This is probably my least favorite item in all of my taqueria adventures- it was packed full like a Dagwood, overkill IMO.
Here's a thread I've been posting to on the South board about taquerias in eastern NC:
Having grown up in the deep South, I never knew what Mexican food was until I moved to San Diego in 1975 where I fell in love with and married a chicana who drug my gabacho butt all over Barrio Logan, from torta shop to taquerias and all places in between.
We visited Florida and we were shocked that the only tortillas one could buy were the hard shelled corn in the box variety. There were still no Mexican restaurants, only a smattering of yellow cheese-lettuce-tomato-picante sauce places that catered to what most folks down here though was Mexican food.
Move forward to 1995 when I retired from the Navy and moved back to Central Florida. You could now find the thoroughly forgettable Mission brand corn tortillas and that was about it. The restaurant scene was by then completely populated by Tex-Mex. The one and only authentic taco shop in all of central Florida was run by a guy from L.A. Unfortunately, the lack of yellow cheese, lettuce, tomato, etc. on his food doomed him.
Something great started happening in around 2000. We started seeing a big influx of Mexicans in central Florida. Even though the average resident around here still finds Tex-Mex to their liking, we now have many, many taquerias and fondas. Not to long ago, on one of our weekend chowhound adventures, we discovered a Mexican flea market with a taco truck that had an Al Pastor roaster going on.
Maybe one day they'll spread to the Space Coast an I won't have to drive an hour for find all the wonderful utility meat tacos that I love.
Thanks for this wonderful thread.
I stopped at a small country store with a grill today and stumbled upon the "chorizo con webo"(sic). This consisted of chorizo, egg, tomato, onions, and chiles served in a Southern style cheese biscuit. Really, really good.
Authentic tacos are alive and well in Birmingham, Alabama. Many locals are still wedded to Tex-Mex joints (think glops of cheese on everything), and some locals still droll over gringo tamales made at an old restaurant called Mancha's.
But the city has a surprising number of authentic taquerias, and even markets that also are panderias and tortillerias. The local Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) also does an annual tamale sale for Christmas that is very successfu. Here's our thread on it:
Here also is an article that ran about real tacos in The Birmingham News:
re: Big Daddy
My general sense is that they're all over the South now- I live in NC, travel to VA fairly frequently, have relatives in SC. But they have not really gotten much attention or acceptance outside of the Latino community. I'm usually the only non-Latino around when I eat at a taqueria or fonda around here, even though they usually have English menus and English speaking staff. Even though I speak Spanish fairly well, I don't have to use it much of the time.