Monday, June 18, 2012

In Praise of the Local Taco Shops

Due to the large population of the Hispanic community in Southern California, you are pretty much guaranteed to find a great, cheap, down and dirty taco shop in just about any town you search for one. Not a plastic bench-seat and colorful-walled fast food joint mind you, but a place where food is made authentic and served up fast by those who really know what they are doing, just as if you were ordering from one of the corner food carts or wooden picnic bench outdoor places in the heart of the country itself. The best ones are typically basic counters with the usual bevy of combination plates on the menu, an island full of peppered and pickled hot mix vegetables and salsa varieties from low fire to high, swirling horchata machines and deli cases with some beer where you know you can eat a filling meal for about ten bucks. This isn’t gourmet food or fusion fare found in the high class Oaxacan restaurants or even standard sit down entrees like chili relenos or tamales, but convenience street food meant for a quick bite like simple, carne asada and pork meat tacos, burritos dry or smothered in ranchero sauce, tortas (meat sandwiches) and sopas (buns covered with meat, lettuce and cheeses).

Growing up in Southern California*, these taco shops have always been fixtures on my foodie landscape. Two hard shell tacos filled with shredded chicken meat, rice, beans and a bowl of crispy chips with verde sauce have passed my lips hundreds of times in the last decade.

I always enjoy it when I find one of these shops that goes above and beyond to offer something a little special and indigenous to the particular area it resides in or to the owner’s heart. A recent journey through San Fernando landed us at Tortas Ahogadas Las Originales where I enjoyed the novelty offering of BBQ pork tacos Mexican style aka two wet corn tortillas smothered in BBQ sauce (unlike American ideas of BBQ, this meant Heat rather than Sweet) and filled with copious amounts of shredded pork.

The tortas was filled with nice charred piece of beef and the usual toppings you would find on a hamburger.

A deli case offered many dessert treats like flan, rice pudding, jellos and fruit and the counter above it promised various kinds of frutas frescas, something I don’t often see in places like these, which basically mean all kinds of smoothies and sodas spiked and adorned with fresh fruits.

Our entire lunch was $15.  

*In honor of the Southern-California bred Mexican (by association) in me, here is one of my all-time poems by Sandra Cisneros: 


You bring out the Mexican in me.
The hunkered thick dark spiral.
The core of a heart howl.
The bitter bile.
The tequila lágrimas on Saturday all
through the next weekend Sunday.
You are the one I'd let go the other loves for,
surrender my one-woman house.
Allow you red wine in bed,
even with my vintage lace linens.
Maybe. Maybe

For you.
You bring out the Dolores del Río in me.
The Mexican spitfire in me.
The raw navajas, glint and passion in me.
The raise Cain and dance with the rooster-footed devil in me.
The spangled sequin in me.
The eagle and serpent in me.
The mariachi trumpets of the blood in me.
The Aztec love of war in me.
The fierce obsidian of the tongue in me.
The berrinchuda, bien-cabrona, in me.
The Pandora's curiosity in me.
The pre-Columbian death and destruction in me.
The rainforest disaster, nuclear threat in me.
The fear of fascists in me.
Yes, you do. Yes, you do.

You bring out the colonizer in me.
The holocaust of desire in me.
The Mexico City '85 earthquake in me.
The Popocatepetl/Ixtaccíhuatl in me.
The tidal wave of recession in me.
The Agustín Lara hopeless romantic in me.
The barbacoa taquitos on Sunday in me.
The cover the mirrors with cloth in me.

Sweet twin. My wicked other,
I am the memory that circles your bed nights,
that tugs you taut as moon tugs ocean.
I claim you all mine,
arrogant as Manifest Destiny.
I want to rattle and rent you in two.
I want to defile you and raise hell.
I want to pull out the kitchen knives,
dull and sharp, and whisk the air with crosses.
Me sacas lo mexicana en mi,

like it or not, honey.

You bring out the Uled-Nayl in me.
The stand-back-white-bitch in me.
The switchblade in the boot in me.
The Acapulco cliff diver in me.
The Flecha Roja mountain disaster in me.
The dengue fever in me.
The ¡Alarma! murderess in me.
I could kill in the name of you and think
it worth it. Brandish a fork and terrorize rivals,
female and male, who loiter and look at you,
languid in your light. Oh,

I am evil. I am the filth goddess Tlazoltéotl.
I am the swallower of sins.
The delicious debauchery. You bring out
the primoridal exquisiteness in me.
The nasty obsession in me.
The corporal and venial sin in me.
The original transgression in me.

Red ocher. Yellow ocher. Indigo. Cochineal.
Piñón. Copal. Sweetgrass. Myrrh.
All you saints, blessed and terrible.
Virgen de Guadalupe, diosa Coatlicue,

I invoke you.

Quiero se tuya. Only yours. Only you.
Quiero amarte. Atarte. Amarrate.

Love the way a Mexican woman loves.
Let me show you. Love the only way I know how.

No comments:

Post a Comment