Back in 2007, national TV network Televisa came up with the idea of declaring March 31 as the Día del Taco Mexicano. The new culinary “holiday” never gained much traction because, after all, every day is a taco day in this country.
It was around that time that a foreign lady approached me at a local supermarket and politely asked, “Excuse me, do you know where I can find Old El Paso taco shells?” I knew they were stocked in the next aisle, but just couldn’t fathom why anyone would search for such a ghastly product in the land of the authentic taco. So I couldn’t resist a deadpan reply, “Why yes ma’am. Just hop in your car, head north and as soon as you cross the border you’ll find them on the shelves of any supermarket.”
A world apart from those uniform cardboard flavored shells filled with ground beef and topped with shredded yellow “cheese food,” a bit of lettuce and bland canned salsa, real tacos are made in a huge array of forms and flavors. As an incorrigible taco gobbler, here’s a short list of my personal favorites, in no particular order of preference.
Tacos Dorados: Starting with the closest type to boxed or Taco Bell versions, these are crispy, deep-fried single tortillas rolled around different fillings such as picadillo (spicy flavored meat), papa (potato), frijoles (refried beans), requesón (ricotta) or the incomparable rajas (poblano pepper strips). Garnished with shredded cabbage or lettuce, a healthy dollop of thin tomato sauce, a sprinkling of white cheese and hot sauce of choice, they soften quickly for a party in your mouth. Vendor stalls on Chapala’s main drag dish them out at just three pesos a pop. At the going exchange rate, get a full meal for less than two bucks!
Tacos al Pastor: Next, because they’re a universal favorite, these a bite-sized treats are made from slabs of pork rubbed with adobo marinade and spit-grilled to lightly charred perfection. The chopped meat is portioned out into a pair of small doubled over tortillas, softened on a greasy griddle. Top with minced onion, cilantro, hot sauce and a squeeze of lime juice. Tacos Moya, night time stands located opposite the Ajijic Pemex station and outside Chapala’s cemetery walls on Pepe Guizar, stand out in this category.
Tacos de Lengua: Yup, soft tortillas stuffed with slices of that fat organ from the cow’s mouth. Tongue is appreciated as the most flavorful of the so-called variety meats, scoring on my palette far ahead of brains, lips, eyes and other odd parts of the animal’s head. Go for standard toppings, as above. Pricey, but generous, sample them at Chuy’s after dark taco joint on Madero at Degollado, Chapala.
Tacos de Barbacoa: A classic Jalisco dish. Slow cooked beef, goat or lamb, shredded up inside a double layer of tortillas bathed in the slightly spicy juices. The prepared tacos are tossed on the griddle, finished to taste for a dorado (golden, crunchy) or blandito (soft) exterior. Try the stand open every morning at the corner of Aldama and the highway service road across from Pemex, Ajijic. Order a cup of consumé (broth) for a tasty chaser.
Tacos de Canasta: Soft tacos, a.k.a. tacos al vapor or sudados. Tortillas coated with chile-flavored oil are doubled over a spoonful of frijoles, papa, chorizo sausage, chicharrón (pork rind) or other guiso (cooked filling). The tacos are layered in a basket or cooking pot, wrapped up inside a cloth lining and allowed to slowly steam to doneness. Look for a couple driving a maroon van who circulate downtown Chapala from mid-morning to midday.
Tacos de Huevo: Scrambled eggs with salsa, wrapped into hand-made tortillas, a great breakfast treat, as far as I know only available from Doña Eva, who sets up for business every morning in a car port on the Ajijic Carretera, just west of Oxxo, next door to Pinturas Prisa.
Tacos El Crucero: Another hole-in-the wall, located just off the highway in the center of San Juan Cosalá, offering great grub enveloped in hefty tortillas patted out by hand before your eyes and cooked the old fashioned way on a clay comal over a wood fire. Favs there are costillitas (riblets), rajas and plain cheese quesadillas.
Tacos Estilo Ensenada: A Baja California speciality. Crispy batter-coated fish or shrimp served in a plain tortilla, with a dollop of mayo-based dressing, fresh salsa casera, shredded cabbage and a squirt of lime. Lake Taco, behind the Libramiento Pemex station, and the big taco stand at Ajijic’s Wednesday tianguis, do these well.
Tacos de Huitlacoche: Corn smut, that seasonal delicacy found in markets towards the end of the rainy season. Since it’s rare to find this exotic dish at local taco outlets, this one amounts to a do-it-yourself combo of the black fungus cooked up with corn kernels, rajas, onion, garlic and a bit of epazote (wormwood).
Tacos de Mole: Last, but not least, because I’m an absolute fiend for anything concocted with any variety of the luscious chile and chocolate flavored sauce. Toss on thinly sliced onions soaked in salted water and lime juice and some toasted sesame seeds to enhance the taste.