Enough with etymology 101. This arsehole needs to put forth his belated; mira, most days I have only one free hand for about an hour max – the other mano diaper/tortilla model/despot of cute bound – and usually covered in grease..hence I gallo peck, peck, peck my tardy opinion on a top 40 list landing in my inbox, crimeny, has it already been two weeks?
Next slide: The top 40 tacos according to some email/blog featured several Chicago and New York variations y nunca from the Grand Canyon state.
We will return to the arsehole after this commercial interruption redux:
Sure I know better than to believe everything I see on TV and especially commercials made in the 1980s, in NYC. But cover me in whipped cream and feed me to the Tijuana Brass if there ain’t at least a chunk of truth in what the good people brewing Pace were pushing (a relatively sound salsa in a pinch or on a budget + Costco gallon jugs make brilliant repurposed spicy sun tea breweries – Mexi-Chai anyone?).
We will return to the whip cream covered arsehole after this brassy musical interlude, hit it Herb:
Gracias for that timeless jam El Jefe. And now I will attempt to get out of my own way, avoid getting dragged asunder into the riptide of my mind (take that Jim Morrison) and taking you dear readers along with me to a geology lecture and instead get right down to it….
Mi favorite Three North American Mexican tacos in no particular orden:
2 Tacos for .99 cents @ Jack-in-the-Box (several locations)
For several reasons as to “Por Que?” link to a previously, equally confounding posting para mi here:
Additional support points:
1. Viva La Raza: The lovely Mexi-chefs who make them can actually afford to feed their family several dozen for dinner and still have some cash left over for dulce, heck JITB may even provide benefits.
2. Authentically Mexican American: vs. a snarky remark in the top 40 article about “deep fried tacos”: all the Mexican families I know make their tacos at home by deep/pan frying them, usually with ground beef, iceberg lettuce, cheese, hot sauce and beer (served separately).
3. Authentically Aztec: I did once detect hummingbird notes and blood.
4. Location, location, location: This one goes out to all those paises left out of the top 40 List, including, oh yeah, Arizona? Seriously?
5. Taco Sauce – trust me, you’ll make a second pass through the drive-thru for extra envelopes – and “two more tacos for .99 cents por favor”
El Zaragosa – Avenue A/14th St – NYC
This now hip (LOL) taqueria opened one block south of my apartment the year I moved into an illegal sublet I probably should stop blogging about ahora, the apt that is. If I close my eyes I can still see their shiny red/green/white vinyl awning from my window. But I am blogging in a public space where you get kicked in the shin by a security guard for so much as yawning, so scratch that daydreaming bullshit.
I do need to blog this though, I perfected several of the recipes I’ve blathered on about, most notably enchilada sauce, living la vida illegal. El kitchen mucho grande – seriously, for NYC #%@&ing yuge – allowed for several dozen culinary excursions “South of the Border”, though really I only got as far as the Four Corners (ye olde Mexico) with occasional forays through the American South (ye olde Dixie) i.e. chipotle/roasted garlic/smoked cheddar grits loaf, green chile corn bread, chorizo gumbo, bourbon.
Due to the tangential nature of both my living quarters and income, El Zaragosa moslty became a hub for essential AzMex ingredients (Mexican oregano, canned posole, El Pato, caguamas, etc.). They hadn’t yet branched out into serving comida tipica Pueba and I wasn’t making enough money to eat it anyway. The Zaragosas (alias so as not to implicate them in my clandestine rental arrangement) also hooked me up with help in conversational Espanol over cold Tecate caguamas in the back, where we also swapped cooking tips and shared a love of their pais de origen, Puebla.
The Zaragosas y yo grew together as neighbors and friends. I got more and more in touch with my inner-abuela en mi cocineria gigante. The Zaragosas embraced their outter-capitalists and acquired the permits to serve hot comida in a makeshift kitchen about the size of a gas station counter. They must have illegally pre-prepared some foods at home or had some Garbriel Garcia Marquez magical realistic method for cooking in their crotches and armpits, for the Zaragosas were as round as they were tall and yet offered a complete menu. Stuffed in there among the Narcorrido CDs and cigarettes, there wasn’t enough room to safely sneeze, let alone smoke a goat. I blog still baffled, but who am I to talk shit, everything I did in my apt was illegal.
This was the Fall of 2001 when the whole world was trying to put itself back together again.
Enter: Summer 2002, I am gainfully employed for the first time in several years and the Zargosas might as well have been taking reservations, business bustled so. As a reward for my patience and deftness at dodging bill collectors I’d treat myself to tamales fresh from Mrs. Zaragosa’s armpit and/or microwave – green and red and sabrosa and 2 for $3 – with me newfound liquid capital.
The absurd sacrifices Mahattanites make for apartment porn bragging rights borders on a pathology worthy of a DSM entry or at the very least a Sex In The City app. Escuche: Most often heard response to the size of my illicit lodgings: “Oh. My. Gawd.” Sure, 13C was huge but it was also – running the sexual subtext into the ground – incredibly hot. As temperatures rose so did my kitchen slowly shut down. In addition to having faulty appliances I could not call in a supe to repair without risking incarceration or eviction, one other “without” I went with was absolutely no A/C.
By July I have no doubt I was paying the note on the Zaragosa’s new pick-up truck. It’s also possible I was making a goat farmers in Queens quite rich. Over the course 6 weeks I must have eaten at least 100 tacos chivos, while also introducing several friends to one of Mexico’s most divine – and underappreciated – comidas. Each bite was like soaring through smokey clouds over a Puebla zocalo while exotic odors arose from below. Unbelievably, not until the Gods hooked me up with cheap rent and Satan took away my icy summertime BTUs did I ever put voca to chivo. Incredibly, I was a virgin. By the end of Summer I was a serial killer.
The Queens goat smokers struggled to keep up with the demand en mi El Barrio. Weekends, when the chivo and menudo were at their freshest, in orden to beat the crowds, I had to start taking my lunch earlier and earlier until at last I was eating tacos chivos for breakfast (and lunch) (and sometimes dinner). I’d draw a bead on the line of mostly Mexican families from my bathroom window through a paper towel tube periscope rigged up….JK…about the periscope. Until one slightly excruciatingly hungover Sabado I missed the last of the chivo by un pello.
Gods look after drunks and poets and so a handmade sign advertised a weekend special: my beloved ceso. I blathered to Mrs. Zaragosa in broken Spanish my astonishment that of all the taco stands in NYC I should have walked into one serving this sacred Sonoroan dried beef dish I mistakenly believed was unavailable outside the confines of my beloved Southwest. Mrs. Zaragaso, as was her custom, nodded enthusiastically through a smile that would melt Pluto while ladelling full an aluminum para llavar tin. The thickness of the crowd and mild late-morning temperature sent me back to my casa grande to inhale my mana in peace.
We interrupt this blog to present a phone call from blogger to amigo respectfully renamed anonymous from said date with ceso…
Me: “Hola anonymous. What’s up?”
Anonymous: “Nada. You up early for a Saturday?”
Me: “Yeah, I grabbed almuerza at the Avenue A goat taco palace but they were out of chivo and you won’t believe it but they had or at least I thought they had carne seso but it doesn’t look anything like the carne seca I know or even machaca for that matter.”
Anonymous: “Did you say ‘seca’ or seso”?
Me: “Seso. It’s all the same, right?”
Anonymous: “Seso is brain.”
So I ate my seso, every last drop. And if you’ve ever eaten hot rubber band bits stir fried in potting soil, then you too have enjoyed this rare – and by the looks of the line still leading around the block – extremely plata populare. I even went so far as wiped the tin clean with one of Mrs. Zaragosa’s microwaved corn tortilas. A few hours later I called anonymous back for bragging rights:
Me: “Yeah, the whole thing. And then I shit my brains out.”
I labored over that last bit about the brains – it kind shows through in both the syntax and diction I am sure – to make a point about how to best measure not “the best” of anything. Soapbox please: There are more varieties and variation of Mexican food – and let’s be honest here, it’s really Mexican American food – available it hardly seems fair, let alone accurate to judge one taco stand or restaurant against another. Rather I rather like what I concocted here which is to measure a stand’s tacos against one another. They’re cheap and small enough for anyone to do this. And really, you owe it to yourself to at least try the lengua once or even the seso because – ready for a really onslaught – really, a bad taco is better than no taco any day.
And because I once again have a cocineria grande en Chicago, I’ve yet to eat any tacos outside of my own casa which is why number tres is:
Tacos en Dulce Casa: Chicago
My home is where my favorite tacos are served nearly daily. It’s why I blog and if you are still with me, need to check out some of my taco styings and hustle up a batch on yer own.
If you want ’em to keep coming back for more, always, but always toss in a little Spanish Fly, I mean Flea dammit, flea (though I bet Herb meant fly – or maybe go-go dancers):