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Mexican Food across the USA 2007-describe yours

I didn't want to intrude on Eat Nopal's thread about Mexico's native Cuisine with stuff about the USA, so here's a companion thread.
What's the state of Mexican Food in your part of America in Spring 2007?
Has Latino Immigration expanded your Culinary options? Do you have new Joints & Supermarkets? Places moving beyond Streetfood to elegant Dining?
Has it changed for the better in the last 10 years, or are you still in Taco Hell?
What are the influences? California? Arizona? Texas? New Mexico?
Has Mexican Culture expanded in your area to the extent you are beginning to see a Home-grown Hybrid of your cuisine and Mex, rather than just a derivation on the standards?
Having lived in Oregon for the last 15 years, I'd have to say I'm happiest about the amazing melding of Seafood and Mexican Cooking. Heaven Sent. Completely unknown to me growing up in Beef Territory back in Kansas, but Certainly my favorite now(Especially Crab!)

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  1. Up here in Washington, I imagine the situation isn't much different from Oregon, although given your list, I'd have to say that it is most heavily influenced by California. I'd have to say that in the past ten years, more "authentic" places catering to Latinos and taco trucks have definitely appeared in the area, although the biggest growth area in Mexican food seems to be the so-called "$5 burrito" places (Taco Del Mar, Qdoba, Baja Fresh, Chipotle, Etc.) The places I generally go for Mexican food are well established though, and were here long before I was.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Vexorg

      In Puget Sound the category of Mexican that I usually patronize is the Guaymas family of taquerias. Guayamas is on the mainland side of the the Gulf of California. Even the ones located in converted hot dog driveins have plates with carne asada, pescado frito (whole fried tilapia), menudo and posole on the weekends, plus a number of shrimp plates and shrimp cocktail in the large goblet. For tortas I usually have to seek out a taco truck.

      paulj

    2. I have noticed a big improvement but this is just beginning. 20 years ago most Mexican cuisine in California was like comparing Chef Boyardee Raviolis to Italy's Cuisines. Today its like comparing Spaghetti & Meatballs / Picnic Tablecloth Italian to the real deal. Its certainly an improvement but there is still a way to go.

      I dream of a day when a place called Aztec Grill has an actual connection to Anuhuac Valley cuisine, a place called Maya actually has at least a few dishes from the Mayab, or perhaps a placed Guaymas would feature mostly regional seafood dishes from Sonora.

      I have to admit I am no expert on Italian cuisine but from what I have seen in Italy, in cookbooks etc., Mexico has quite a bit more diversity and concepts from which to draw inspiration... and think it has the potential to displace Italian cuisine in this country. It will not happen until Americans can think of Mexico as a cool country which is a long path of economic development & cultural imperialism away.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Eat_Nopal

        For Califonia, 20 years ago saw the coming of bad Mexican chain food.

        But 50 to 35 years ago there were small, very good family run Mexican restaraunts sprinkled throughout the Central Valley!

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Sam, I couldn't agree with you more. People look at me askance when I say that the Mexican food in San Diego was way-way better when I was growing up there (which was a very long time ago) than it is now.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            DD, abrazos! California had immigrants in numbers, then good restaraunts, and then the insidious invasion of culinary-destroying chains.

            Apparently the process hasn't yet touched Basque food--but it will be sad to see the day when we see a chain such as "Yturri's Sheepherder"

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              Sam, this is one place folks have come. I suspect this scenerio is being repeated
              more often, as native Californians move away to be replaced anew by
              a new Crop of Dreamers.
              Here's my favorite place in the Rogue Valley these days:
              http://www.tacosburritosandmore.com/a...
              http://www.tacosburritosandmore.com/m...
              From Mexico City to LA to Grants Pass all in 25 years.

              1. re: bbqboy

                Thank you bbqboy. What a great story--and one, I think, that repeats how pre-chain Mexican food was in California. There were almost no good Mexican restaraunts in Oregon when I went to grad school in Eugene in the 70s.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Was Casa Toltec still going in Eugene then? To my taste today, it probably wouldn't satisfy, but at that time, it was the best Mexican food I'd ever eaten (and considering that I moved to Columbus OH in 1970, where I spent the next 10 years, Casa Toltec would be the best Mexican I ate until the 1980's).

                  ed

                  1. re: Ed Dibble

                    Yes it was, but regrettably, I wasn't a fan.

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      It probably wasn't any good back then, but after Taco Bell, canned chili, and Mexican TV dinners (my previous Mexican (?) food experiences in 1968), it seemed so much better.

                      ed

                    1. re: bbqboy

                      Thank you!! Another great story. Don't know when, but we'll plan on over-nighting in Medford next time we can get back to the US and make the road trip from Fresno to Wallowa Lake.

        2. 20 years ago in East Central Florida, the only "Mexican" ingredients available came in boxes from Old El Paso.

          12 years ago, the first tacqueias began moving out of the citrus growing counties and began appearing in the greater Orlando area.

          About 5 years ago, the Mexican Consualte opened in Orlando.

          Now, you find mercados and tacquerias in most of the ethnic enclaves. I still can't find tuna stuffed jalapenos, but at least I can get good el pastor! I no longer have to rely on care packages from San Diego to get by.

          3 Replies
          1. re: bkhuna

            Hey I think I have yet to see Tuna or Crab stuffed jalapenos anywhere in California!

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              I use to buy Embassa brand when I lived in San Diego but no one seems to be able to locate them any longer. Another company, Calmex, sells Chiles Jalapenos Rellenos de Atun but again, finding them is almost a Grail like obsession. Thankfully, I have inlaws who pick me up a few cans whenever they run into them, and they can be ordered online: http://www.mexgrocer.com/3702.html

              1. re: bkhuna

                Embasa is still in business and not all that hard to find. Where are you?

          2. I've lived in both eastern Montgomery County (Lansdale) and northern Bucks County (Quakertown) in Pennsylvania. Growing up, Mexican food couldn't be found anywhere in either area. Then, we got Taco Bell. A few Tex-Mex places popped up here and there, but honestly, I thought their food was mediocre.
            In the past few years, upper Bucks has had an influx of Latinos to the area, and Mexican grocers have opened, as well as a few decent Mexican restaurants. There is still a lot of room to grow, but things are getting better there. Lansdale is still stuck with the same mediocrity as far as I know.

            3 Replies
            1. re: QueenB

              The current flavor of self-flagellation in Pittsburgh is our lack of "new" immigrants. We have El Campensino - a local chain a little above the typical combo plate joint, but still a combo plate joint (with the added bonus of decent chilaquiles). We have Mad Mex, a Tex-Mex upscale chain run by the Big Burrito Group (Pittsburgh's version of Lettuce Entertain You), we have two or three more or less authentic Taquerias on the SouthSide and in Beechview serving al Pastor, Lingua, Birria, etc.; and one new restuaurant, Azul, that appears to be promising - the don't pile cheese on top of the fish entrees and don't mash the guacamole into a puree. That's progress....

              1. re: Panini Guy

                If you ask someone about al Pastor in my hometown, they'll direct you to a church.

                1. re: QueenB

                  ^5, QueenB!!!! Almost spit out my coffee, laughing! Here in white-bread Naples, FL, we do have a taqueria that sells awesome al Pastor but I would not have known about it if my son didn't work at a place where the kitchen staff would make a run to this place for tacos and bring back a big bag to share with everyone!

            2. I live in Buffalo, NY and until the last couple of years we haven't had many Mexican restaurant choices at all. Your standard chains were available - Chili's, Don Pablo's, Taco Bell and, our version of Taco Bell, Mighty Taco (which everyone likes better!) - but nothing authentic in the way of fine dining (as far as I know). A few casual Mexican restaurants have opened in the suburbs and have been well received. I've never been to Mexico so I can't say how authentic they are; I'm betting not much but their food tastes good. I never bothered with the chains but I find myself going to the locally owned Mexican restaurants 4-5 times a month. They're all basically combo plate type places but La Tolteca is a standout for me. They have a huge menu with chicken, beef and seafood entree choices. I could basically live on their chips and salsa.

              1 Reply
              1. re: bookgirl234

                Guess we are spoiled here in San Antonio,with a long history of Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking.We even have a new chain that is straight from Mexico called Dona Tota's Gorditas.I haven't found a website for them yet.They do get a lot of business,and we even have mexican meat markets here as well as bakeries.There are a couple of restraunts here offering food from from some different latin cultures,though not many.However that may change in the future.
                So many places,so little time to try them all.

              2. live in Oregon, the biggest change I've noticed is more roach coaches with kick ass tacos.

                Woodburn is like a little mexico now, i bet they have some good places to eat there.

                1. Here in Kansas City, we have a Mexican population of decent size and long standing. Mexican restaurants are fairly common here. Many of those restaurants, though, are the Mexican American kind whose clientele is, to quote a local restaurant owner, the "yellow cheese people". (Not that there's anything wrong with that. Sometimes I have a real craving for a thick blanket of that yellow cheese on top of some enchiladas.)

                  We also have the the real deal, the mom-and-pop joints in Mexican neighborhoods, the fiercely delicious taquerias and bakeries, but when you're talking to a KC resident about good local Mexican, you have to know what kind of Mexican they mean before you note their recommendations.

                  1. The Mexican food situation in MA is pathetic. Really, most peple will not have any idea what real Mexican food is because the only places we have are really southwestern.

                    There may be a couple of Taquerias near Boston, but there's absolutely nothing around my way. I'd be completely shocked to go anywhere around here that claims to be Mexican and see a mole or a real tamal.

                    1. I live in Anaheim, California, which straddles the line -- drive north to Fullerton and it's land of Chain Mexican -- Acapulco, El Torito, etc. Drive the same distance south to Santa Ana and you might as well be in Mexico -- little restaurants, catering trucks, taco tables, regional Mexican cuisine. Anaheim's got both.

                      Of the five supermarkets within two miles of my house, three of them are Mexican (Northgate Gonzalez, Jax Market, and Fiesta Mexicana) and two of them are American with heavy Mexican selections (Albertsons and Ralphs). You can, with no more than 20 minutes' drive, get almost anything you need for Mexican or Salvadoran cooking. Even the restaurant-supply store on State College sells comales, cazuelas, metates, molinillos and molcajetes.

                      Is the average non-Mexican exposed to anything except chain Mexican (including things like Baja Fresh, Sharkey's and Fresca's)? No, probably not... but it's not for lack of availability.

                      The one thing we don't have, which surprises me, is a large number of upscale Mexican places. Upscale Mexican food -- eaten in Mexico, frankly, mostly by chilangos -- is a whole 'nother beast than your typical masa-based antojitos or grilled meats. There are only a few restaurants that I know of in the greater L.A. area that are what could be called "upscale" Mexican -- La Huasteca, La Serenata, etc.

                      1. I live in Chicago. We got some of the best high end Mexican places and some of the best low end Mexican places. I am indeed a lucky and well fed girl!