Try as I might, I’ve never found a legitimate Mexican-style taco in my wanderings throughout the United States. One would think, what with nearly half of the country being Mexican territory until only 150-odd years ago, that there would be some authentic tacos somewhere. (All due apologies to Voice food scribe Sietsama, but I’ve done the suggested Queens taco crawl, and, even though some were quite good, none came close to the real thing.) That’s not to say there’s no good Mexican-American food: Witness the great and grande Mission-style burrito, which sustained me throughout my three-and-a-half-year sojourn in San Francisco.
The best tacos, though, that I’ve tasted stateside were purchased from a shack just outside the Las Vegas downtown, or whatever they call that hell of a simulacrum with all the casinos. They were done the right way: two small soft-shell (never ever hard-shell) corn tortillas lightly fried with chopped up pieces of beef on top and sprinkled with onion. But those, as good as they were, still were lacking a certain something.
Well, straight off the plane four days ago, when I first arrived in Mexico City, I immediately took the metro to the Insurgentes station and walked up the street to where in the past I’ve found the best street food. Sure enough, at my usual corner (forgive me being so nonspecific, but I lost my notebook on the bus ride to Chiapas), was a taco stand with the typical steel cooking bowl overflowing with several kinds of meat. In the middle of the bowl, surrounded by chorizo, beef, tripe, longaniza, and other fleshy victuals, was a raised section of the bowl on which the cook could splash the assorted fats and grease that accumulated along the sides, with which he gently heated the tortillas. This, I’m convinced, is the certain ne plus ultra of authentic Mexican taco preparation: the grease. We estadounidenses (people from the U.S.A.), as fat as we are, are repelled by grease. But it’s this grease, I think, that makes a Mexican taco so delicious. And at this taco stand, I bought all five of these little sliders for only 15 pesos—that’s less than a buck and a half.
It’s a simple meal that should be so easy to make, yet seldom is north of the border. Adding to the dilemma, the preferred drink of choice, a Coca-Cola, is made with corn sweetener in the U.S. Down south, it’s made with cane sugar. There’s a taste difference there that makes all the difference in the world.
Addendum: After eating this street feast, I was sick for three days. Now, I know certain people distrust all street food, and I know that Mexican sanitary conditions sometimes—OK, most of the time—aren’t up to the standards exhibited in the U.S. Nevertheless, I always get sick in Mexico within the first week, and now, four days later, I am fine. So there. I say enjoy street food and deal with the sickness if it comes.
(In all fairness, Taqueria 'Laura' did not get me sick--in fact, it was closed when I walked by. But it was too good not to take a picture of, and if you can't blame your friends, whom can you?)