American Mexican Food
April 23, 2019 11:58 AM   Subscribe

The United States of Mexican Food is a project by Eater and Gustavo Arellano about the wonderful varieties of Mexican food in the US that are uniquely American.
Welcome to the United States of Mexican Food: The canonical dishes of regional Mexican-American food, from ACP to hot tamales, plotted from California to Georgia

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Arellano (@GustavoArellano) is the author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food conquered America and also runs the ¡Ask a Mexican! syndicated column. Other Hot and Tasty articles include:


Anyone Saying New York’s Mexican Food Sucks Hasn’t Visited Puebla York
From tacos placeros to cemitas, the delicious contributions of Poblanos to the New York Mexican food scene have been consistently underrated — if not totally ignored


Racism Forced LA’s Oldest Mexican Restaurants to Call Themselves ‘Spanish’: The city’s campaign of whitewashing dates to the 1800s


The Demand for ‘Authenticity’ Is Threatening Kansas City’s Homegrown Tacos: The fried taco, blanketed in Parmesan, is essential to the city’s Mexican food history


California’s Lost (and Found) Punjabi-Mexican Cuisine: Rasul’s El Ranchero created a roti quesadilla for a very specific community — a half-century before Indian fusion food became trendy


In Sonora, and in Tucson, Mexican Sushi Means Boneless Buffalo Wings: How a dish with Japanese roots and American ingredients originated in Mexico, then ended up back in Arizona


There Is Only One Burrito in America Now, and That Burrito, Unfortunately, Is Chipotle
:How 1,200 calories of edible brick became the most ubiquitous Mexican meal in America
posted by vacapinta (52 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
 
I always thought Walking Tacos were something my daughter made at Girl Scout campfires.

And now it's apparently a convenience store item.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:06 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Punjabi-Mexican Cuisine

Oh my god. I need this in my life.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:09 PM on April 23 [17 favorites]


The fried taco, blanketed in Parmesan

It's...beautiful.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:12 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]




> It's...beautiful.

I... wasn't aware Spanish Gardens did anything special with tacos, and parmesan sounds like a not great taco cheese, but I really do miss their taco sauce. It's bottled and sold regionally, but I haven't found it on the West Coast at all.
posted by pwnguin at 12:44 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Parmesan cheese strikes me as a not-unreasonable substitute for queso cotija.
posted by slkinsey at 12:46 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]


Oh, god, the walking taco. At Every. Effing. Softball. Tournament. Truly a midwestern icon. If anyone asks what living in the midwest is like, take them to a high school softball tournament, then hand them a walking taco.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:59 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


Mitch and Murray sent me down here to tell you: burritos are for beginners.
posted by rhizome at 1:08 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


The fried taco, blanketed in Parmesan

Made me think of Tasty Tacos in Des Moines, which has been around since the 60's, but they do fried flour tortillias and no parmesan.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 1:12 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I am perplexed and disturbed by Eater's decision to file DC as "Northeast."
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:12 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Punjabi-Mexican Cuisine

Oh my god. I need this in my life.


And of course this only exists because of people trying to work around some phenomenally racist laws, because America.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:27 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


Grew up in KC, and boy does Spanish Gardens taco sauce ring a bell...

Time to do some googling and see if it's what I remember my mom using on her frozen tacos...

(I came to spicy Mexican food later in life)
posted by Windopaene at 1:33 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Flamin' Hot Cheeto Burrito, or the Chili Verde Nacbos at Tacos La Villa, Bakersfield! Or Grandma's Tamales $1.50 on Thursdays, easily 1/2 pound apiece! Bakersfield is food heaven, around here Mexican Food is just food.
posted by Oyéah at 2:07 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Hanging my head in shame and hunger as a Californian that my current region's contribution to American Mexican cuisine is...Mexi-Fries :(
posted by potrzebie at 2:21 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Is green chile stew and posole from New Mexico not a thing anymore? They were a big deal when I lived there in the 70s. New Mexico Big Jim chiles from Hatch, the August eye watering treat.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:40 PM on April 23 [4 favorites]


Hatch chilies are a "thing" up here in the NW right now.

Which, is a really good thing...
posted by Windopaene at 2:43 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


One interesting thing about walking tacos is that there's a close cousin that's popular in Mexican street food at least as far south as Mexico City: Tostilocos, and sister dishes such as Dorilocos, Fritolocos, and Takilocos.

The concept of a taking an individual bag of corn chips and adding ingredients to make a prepared meal that you eat out of the chip bag is almost exactly the same. The toppings are mostly different and can get pretty over the top - I am extremely too old to make a habit of eating chamoy, jícama, pork rind, fresh fruit and CDMX-style Japanese peanuts in the same dish at all, let alone on top of a bag of Doritos, but it's definitely a memorable experience.

Walking tacos are actually a lot older than Tostilocos, so I wonder if there's some more direct cross border influence there, over and above the fact that it's most commonly US snack chip brands that are used.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:55 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


I grew up in Kansas City and Spanish Gardens was definitely the "taco sauce" we used. We were taco-eating fools in my family. I make tacos from scratch now including salsa but I know if I go to my mother's, there will be a jar of Spanish Gardens in the fridge and their taco shells in the cabinet.
posted by shoesietart at 3:02 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Walking tacos seem like a step up from the really bottom of the barrel nachos served in sports venues for a while. Sure, they're based on Doritos or Fritos, but the toppings, at least can be, much higher quality.
posted by Bee'sWing at 3:28 PM on April 23


I'm still in Kansas City and I've got a jar of Spanish Gardens taco seasoning and another of the taco sauce on hand at all times because It's part of the homemade taco flavor for me.
posted by angelchrys at 3:30 PM on April 23 [4 favorites]


I'd like to weigh in from the Carolinas to say that a grilled peach and very spicy pulled pork taco is a solid A+
posted by thivaia at 4:02 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I love Mexi-Fries. When I go north I always like to get a "bag of potato oles with nacho cheese sauce, please."

And I live in a Mexican food paradise! I can get a taco with parmesan (Jimboy's tacos) and tostilocos (ew.) What I cannot get, nor have ever seen, is a Hot Tamale and I am now obsessed!
posted by Duffington at 4:22 PM on April 23


Baja-style fish tacos are a big deal in San Diego (and assorted other places). They deserve a place on this map.

(Dia de Pesca in San Jose has a variety of fish tacos that are out of this world and almost make me rethink my preference for Baja-style. But I haven't found anything comparable, so I can't call it regional. NB: grilled salmon does not belong in tacos at all. There are better uses for salmon. And tacos.)
posted by sjswitzer at 4:41 PM on April 23 [4 favorites]


Huh, I love Frito Pie (never heard of calling it Walking Tacos) and I never considered it some sort of Mexican-American food variant, I've always considered it variation on chili. Huh.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:17 PM on April 23 [14 favorites]


I wish there was an article here to make me come to peace with Cal-Mex food. I split my time between San Francisco and Grass Valley (near Yuba City, where the Punjabi-Mexican place in the article was). Grass Valley is basically hopeless for Mexican food. San Francisco has lots of places, including its burrito palaces and taquerias. But they're all so bland! Very light on the spice, little or no hearty masa, wanly boiled and steamed meats. The tacos suffer even worse than the burritos. Don't get me wrong, there's good Cal-Mex here and some standouts. But it's all so bland. I grew up on Tex-Mex and lived two glorious years in Northern New Mexico; the California version of Mexican food pales by comparison.

One thing being in Mexico City recently made me appreciate is just how far south the center of Mexican population and culture is. It's a long, long way to the border from CDMX. And a lot of that land is empty.
posted by Nelson at 5:50 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


San Francisco has lots of places ... little or no hearty masa

In SF, you want to go to Gracias Madre for hearty masa. It's a vegan mexican restaurant, which sounds... improbable?... but the masa is out of this world. There is an outdoor porch area out front but I insist on eating inside so I can enjoy the smell of the masa that suffuses the place.

For really good tacos you need to go to San Jose.
posted by sjswitzer at 6:02 PM on April 23


the California version of Mexican food pales by comparison.

Hey now, don't base your whole opinion on the Bay Area. California contains multitudes.
posted by LionIndex at 6:03 PM on April 23 [7 favorites]


The Mexican take out that we took out from The Grand Central Market in downtown LA back when we visited was really good. Would luv to go back and make an order.
posted by ovvl at 6:31 PM on April 23


the California version of Mexican food pales by comparison
Thank the tech bubble for San Francisco being horrible but as you head away from the epicenter things get a lot better. LA has great options, as does San Diego, but you’re also going to find them all over the state once they don’t need to sell margaritas at 8000% markup to make rent. The best tacos I’ve ever had were at a nondescript strip mall north of Temecula.
posted by adamsc at 6:53 PM on April 23 [4 favorites]




I'm just here to rep my hometown 'Berto's (Albertaco, right off the 78 and open 24 hours; food's indifferent but that's not the point). I appreciate their inclusion on the map.

I also wish Arellano--or someone else, I'm not picky--would dig into why in TexMex, churros aren't a snack food available at every taco truck and why every time I ask for horchata, people seem to be actively offended. It's bizarre.

I've made my peace with Tex-Mex (in this cuisine, breakfast tacos are great, carne guisada is great, kimchi fries are the bomb, burritos are not) but there are some weird differences.

The Upper Midwest's Taco John's, on other hand? I'm not going to say a word about potato oles or anything else, but I am going to quietly wonder about their salsa. It's uh, not to my taste.
posted by librarylis at 8:51 PM on April 23


Is green chile stew and posole from New Mexico not a thing anymore?

Here in southern New Mexico, posole doesn’t seem to be around as much as it used to be, but green chile stew is definitely still popular. Green chile cheeseburgers seem to be the most popular item right now though.

And this seems like the place to post the green chile chicken stew recipe we just made, which even my picky daughter thought was outstanding. We substituted masa (for making tamales) for the flour, and it really was wonderful.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:05 PM on April 23 [4 favorites]


I can't believe the case still has to be made (in that second link) that Mexican American regional cuisines aren't some debased perversion of a pure ideal. Robb Walsh really debunks this hard in his 2004 Tex Mex Cookbook. As I recall, the story goes that Diana Kennedy really introduced Mexican food to white Americans and harped on how she was talking about something finer and nobler than dreaded Tex Mex. The word "authentic" is so often the harbinger of some joyless mission of purity.
posted by Smearcase at 9:36 PM on April 23 [4 favorites]


America styles herself as a "melting pot" go towards the cuisine?

Whereas Canada (used to?) describe itself as a mosaic - and aside from "Chinese-Canadian" cuisine (which is an entirely different topic, or is it?) - maintains tastes that tend to be more faithful to the originating culture than "democratized."
posted by porpoise at 9:59 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Oh good, is this where I can have my "Californian burrito" rant?

Because when I moved over here, it was difficult as hell to get Mexican food in the East Midlands. Like, there was a restaurant that had Spanish/Italian/Mexican food. That was what you got.

Things are a lot better now, with Barburrito and Tortilla providing really nice burritos, but they say they're doing "Californian burritos". Which means a fuckton of rice.

Get that damned rice out of my burrito. Rice is a side dish, which you leave, because it is boring. Stop calling it a Californian burrito when it's a Mission-style burrito and therefore inadequate.

(also? We finally got a Taco Bell in Nottingham. Where they fucking grill the burritos shut. Stop doing that! How am I supposed to put more hot sauce in my childhood treat of a bean and cheese burrito if you've turned it into a slightly burnt crunchy brick of disappointment?

And you took the burrito supreme off the menu. What is your problem?)
posted by Katemonkey at 1:49 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


In SF, you want to go to Gracias Madre for hearty masa. It's a vegan mexican restaurant, which sounds... improbable?... but the masa is out of this world.

My Mexican grandma living deep in the state of Michoacan has been mostly vegan for most of her life. Her diet is rich in fruits and veggies - she snacks on fruits all day like mangos, bananas. She will often just have rice and beans, perhaps a tomato stew, cornbread or corn tamales, perhaps a stewed chayote or potato tortas with nopal. She grew up in a traditional culture where things like meat and dairy were luxuries and she never took a liking to them anyways later in her life.

This thread of course is about Mexican American food but the above is another example of how Mexican food contains multitudes. Even in Mexico it is richly varied. What Arellano and other writers are saying is that this is all a cause for celebration. Ultimately the judgement of any food should be "Is it good?" and not "Is it authentic?" and I know I have been guilty of this mis-judgment myself.
posted by vacapinta at 2:50 AM on April 24 [14 favorites]


I was trying to explain to some folks here in my foreign land that Tex Mex is different than the American Mexican stuff. I didn’t even know there was something called American Mexican I just didn’t know what to call it when it’s not Tex Mex but still attempting to be Mexican food.

Also Taco Bell in Spain sucks and I got no nostalgia fix and I haven’t been to one in UK because there’s not one in London.

🌮🌮🌮 the end.
posted by sio42 at 3:05 AM on April 24


Whereas Canada (used to?) describe itself as a mosaic

ISTR they used to describe this as a "Tossed Salad" but I guess they changed that descriptor after that Chris Rock bit about the tossed salad ("I prefer syrup").
posted by some loser at 6:29 AM on April 24


I've been living in Mexico City for a few months now and lots of food is great obvioiusly—I had costra de pastor for lunch yesterday—but I miss Mission burritos and like vegan tacos from San Francisco or LA, topped with a tangy cabbage salad. I'm not sure if I've ever had proper Tex-Mex or New Mexico style Mexican, but now I'm curious to know where it lands.
posted by jomato at 6:48 AM on April 24


The fried taco, blanketed in Parmesan

Temba, his arms mouth wide.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:15 AM on April 24 [5 favorites]


TexMex, churros aren't a snack food available at every taco truck and why every time I ask for horchata, people seem to be actively offended.

Sopapillas are the primary tex-mex snack food. Horchata, inTexMex areas, is more regularly available in Mexican bakeries than in tex-mex restaurants, though it is becoming more common.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:29 AM on April 24



Is green chile stew and posole from New Mexico not a thing anymore? They were a big deal when I lived there in the 70s.


Oh, they are definitely a Thing, still. The same website did a huge guide to Southwestern food a few months ago, which might be why a lot of the foods highlighted in it aren't in this guide. (I was all, WHERE IS CARNE ADOVADA?!?!? when I read the article in the post.)
posted by heurtebise at 7:59 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


There's a Tex-Mex/Ethiopian place in DC on Georgia Ave. up by the DC/Silver Spring border. It's reportedly not very good, but since the reviewer was vegetarian I'm planning to go and see if it's any better with animal proteins. Injera tacos seem like something I need in my life.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:21 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Is green chile stew and posole from New Mexico not a thing anymore?

Well, we don't call it "stew," but yes it very much is.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:35 AM on April 24


TFA alleges that so-called walking tacos are known as "chili billies" in southern California, but I grew up in Mojave and they were always called pepper bellies. I had never heard of a chili billy before this article.
posted by CheeseLouise at 9:47 AM on April 24


Some years ago...
a dive bar in New Orleans...
hunger...
bartender says it's after 2am so they only have one item on the menu...
we ask for 5 of whatever it is...
it comes....
a tater tot po' boy with tomatillo salsa and queso fresco...
it was heaven.
posted by Cosine at 10:01 AM on April 24 [8 favorites]


I forgot to mention the Salvadoran Pupusas with fermented cabbage, at La Costa Del Sol in Bakersfield. I love that place, we can watch the trains from the south windows.
posted by Oyéah at 11:35 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


The fried taco, blanketed in Parmesan

Holy crap, Jimboys Tacos in the Sacramento area sells these. I had them occasionally, but since I moved to Florida I occasionally crave them. I didn't realize this type of taco wasn't just some quirk of theirs.
posted by Badgermann at 11:36 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I forgot about yet another Bakersfield staple, Chili Verde Pizza. Every pizza place has this.
posted by Oyéah at 11:50 AM on April 24


The Demand for ‘Authenticity’ Is Threatening Kansas City’s Homegrown Tacos: The fried taco, blanketed in Parmesan, is essential to the city’s Mexican food history

It's interesting to hear about an apparent specialty of the place you grew up, that you've never heard of before. But thanks for the internet rabbit hole this sent me on!

When I clicked that article, the name "Silva" instantly connected. When I was in high school back in the 80s, my stepmonster ran a store that was all about selling locally made things, so "SILVA'S Spanish Gardens Taco Sauce" was always in the house.

However, us Johnson County suburban folk weren't really adventurous enough with Mexican food to actually go to any place that might have this Parmesan taco... For us, "going out for Mexican" meant Jose's. There were two locations, one in a small strip mall, the other a free standing building made to look like a Southwestern terra-cotta pueblo. The thing that's interesting - particularly in light of the recent thread here about Buca di Beppo, from the Bon Appetit series about "Red Sauce America" - where one of the threads is that a lot of those classic "Italian-American" restaurants weren't even run by Italians - Jose's Mexican Restaurant in Prairie Village/Overland Park was owned by an Italian family.

Thinking about this sent me Googling and what do I find, but that the daughter of the family that owned Jose's has started making the sauce again in response to popular demand from nostalgic folks on Facebook.

I'm in Chicago now, and pretty much a convert to local famous chef Rick Bayless's enthusiasm for "authentic regional Mexican".... but I just ordered some of that Jose's sauce, because somewhere in the back of my mind, when I order a plate of ground beef enchiladas, that's what I really want.
posted by dnash at 4:48 PM on April 24


I'm in Chicago now, and pretty much a convert to local famous chef Rick Bayless's enthusiasm for "authentic regional Mexican"

I might be interpreting this the wrong way, but, boy am I excited for you to discover Little Village, Mi Tocaya Antojeria, and Birrieria Zaragoza!
posted by AceRock at 1:39 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


boy am I excited for you to discover Little Village, Mi Tocaya Antojeria, and Birrieria Zaragoza!

I've been to Nuevo Leon in Little Village area. Mi Tocaya is on the list to get to sometime, have not heard of the other..
posted by dnash at 1:52 PM on April 25


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