I remember in the early 90's, meeting people in L.A's suburbs who had never had an authentic Mexican taco. All they knew where the 1950's / Taco Bell variety... hard shell, "taco seasoned" ground beef, yellow cheese etc.,. I then proceeded to evangelize dozens of gringos. Shortly thereafter immigration from Mexico accelerated... and within 10 years, most Californians knew about the real deal.
Fast forward to a Sunday in 2002, as I stumbled along Broadway in Manhattan - had met a business colleague in the SoHo district for lunch... two Martinis, two bottles of wine (shared), a lemoncello then a McCallen tour of SoHo jazz clubs & lounges - I see a sign for Mexican Food... and its said tacos etc., so I walk in.
I realized the place was run by Chinese people right off the bat, but I somehow reasoned that Manhattan - with all its sophistication & cutting edge cuisine - surely had authentic tacos, right? Well I order in a haze, and then waited for what would turn out to be the worst tacos I had since eating Los Angeles United School District's worst rendition. And no, it wasn't isolated. The rest of the week I noticed terrible renditions of Mexican cuisine all over Manhattan with rarely a whiff of authenticity in the air.
Fast forward roughly 4 years later... some credible 'Hounds talk about authentic tacos showing up all over Manhatttan. In my own travels since then... I had some decent tacos in the Greenpoint neighborhood, as well as places like Raleigh, Atlanta & Centralia (Washington).
So the marvelous, unequaled, simple & humble taco has truly made its way from sea to shining sea. But what is the state of the taco? Do Chowhounds all over the country have good sources of the representative continuum?
I am hoping for two things:
(1) We can use this thread to document all the variety of tacos available in the U.S.
(2) We can document the geographical dispersion of tacos.
To accomplish these goals, please participate in the following way.
(1) I am going to list the standard tacos that I see in most places, then everyone can add additional taco variations (not yet mentioned). Please include your Board, a description of the taco, and what is best version you've encountered (in the U.S.).
(2) Those that are from regions where large scale Mexican immigration is a relatively new phenomenon (within the last 10 years) please let us know what which types of tacos have made it your domains.
To start, I would describe the basic taco as follows:
> Two Soft Corn Tortillas (either steamed, griddled with fat, or griddled without fat)
> Broiled, Griddled, Grilled or Roasted Meats
> Garniched with your choice of chopped raw onions, cilantro, wedge of lime, and your choice of salsas.
The basic varieties:
Carne Asada (Faux)... usually griddled chuck, chopped into very small squares, seasoned only with salt. (In Mexico these are typically known as Carne a la Plancha)
Carne Asada (True)... usually skirt or flank steak, grilled, seasoned only with salt. When they are grilled over wood, they carry the additional label of Al Carbon which is the more common name in Mexico.
Al Pastor.... usually thin pork steaks, alternating with a onion slices roasted on a vertical spit. The pork is marinated in a complimentary Adobo that usually has Achiote, Dried Chiles, Vinegar, Allspice, Garlic, Mexican Oregano etc., In addition, a pineapple is placed at the top of the spit.. so that the juices will keep the meat moist & glaze it.
Adobada aka Faux Al Pastor... similar to Al Pastor but griddle or grilled with no Pineapple juice baste.
Carnitas... slow cooked, crisped pulled pork. The cooking liquid is usually seasoned with orange juice & garlic.
Pollo al Carbon... Grilled Chicken Breast.. just s&p.
Lengua.... broiled beef tongue... s&p.
Cabeza.... usually cheeks carved from a baked beef head.
Other Beef Head cuts... brains, eyes, lips etc.... s&p
Other popular - but not quite as ubiquitous - varieties include:
Barbacoa (Faux).... usually beef that has been marinated in a dark chile paste, flavored with cloves, allspice, garlic, thyme, marjoram, Mexican oregano, vinegar etc., Then slow roasted until fall apart tender. Its Faux because its not cooked in a pit like they do in Mexico lacking the important smokey dimension... and because the preferred meat in Mexico is lamb.
Tripas.... fried intestines.
Chicharron... fried pork skins.
Buche.... broiled tripe.
Baja Fish Tacos.... White fish in beer batter, fried garnished with raw cabbage, cream sauce, salsa & a wedge of lime.
Now for my contribution of less common taco varieties:
At Taqueria La Super Rica in Santa Barbara, California (this was the place that Julia Child frequented)....
Rajas... (Poblano Strips in Cheese Fondue)
Ongos con Chorizo (Mushrooms & Chorizo in Cheese Fondue)
At Loteria Grill near Beverly Hills, California:
Deshebrada (Slow cooked beef) designated by Conde Nast as one of the top 5 dishes in North America.
Setas con Epazote (Crimini Mushrooms with Epazote)
At Huarache Azteca in El Monte, California
Tinga de Pollo (Slow cooked shredded chicken, sauteed with onions, then sauced with Tomato-Chipotle, garnished with Queso Fresco)
Suadero (Basically griddled hanger steak)
At Birrieria La Barca in El Monte, California
Birria (slow cooked goat in a complex dried chile, herb & spice sauce)... served with its spicy Au Jus.