Taco USA

How Mexican food became more American than apple pie

(Page 3 of 3)

And then there’s the story of Mariano Martinez, scion of the Cuellars, who in 1971 created the frozen margarita machine. At his Dallas restaurant Mariano’s, which serves heroic enchilada platters, Martinez birthed an empire off the slushy tequila drink, inventing an instant mix that has powered many a house party since. Nowadays Martinez disavows the frozen margarita—he prefers his fresh, with Cointreau. But Mariano’s pride in his creation and his cuisine—long dismissed by “serious” food critics as forgettable—remains.

“I’ve seen them all over the years,” he says. “They come in and do this upscale food.…Some of those places aren’t there anymore. My little old place I have? Forty years later, we’re still pumping the same food. Same phone number. Here I am plugging away at this little Tex-Mex peasant food that no one wanted to play with, that all the ivory tower critics made fun of. And with a drink that no one can resist.” 

Mariano’s original frozen margarita machine is now in the Smithsonian. And Mexican food marches on, a combo plate of freedom giving indigestion to busybodies and authentistas every­where.

Gustavo Arellano, the editor and restaurant critic of OC Weekly, writes the syndicated "Ask a Mexican!" column. He is the author, most recently, of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (Scribner).

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  • Pro Libertate||

    The best Mexican food I ever had--by far--was in Cabo. And it was awesome. Even the chips and salsa were miles ahead of what you usually get here. Of course, I assume the border states can replicate that to some extent.

  • ||

    There is a ton of great Mexican food in Texas but there is a lot of variation in style in and among the border states and actual Mexico. Kinda depends on your preference. Fortunately in Houston you can find pretty much every style.

  • R C Dean||

    You can get terrible Mexican food everywhere. Including Texas.

    West Texas is tough, unless you really enjoy mediocre TexMex.

  • Mo' $parky||

    unless you really enjoy mediocre TexMex

    You know RC, I thought I liked you. Then you turn out to be another Epi-class food snob.

  • R C Dean||

    Hey, I'm a NewMex guy when it comes to Mexican food. I came by it honestly; my family is from New Mexico.

    I gots no beef with good TexMex, necessarily, but fuck me, most people running restaurants just don't seem to give a shit. I'm sick to death of gluey refried beans, stale tortillas, wilted frickin' iceberg lettuce, etc. ad nauseum.

  • ||

    This x1000. I actually have a fondness for cheap New Mexican diner food as well. Especially when they use eggs.

  • Mo' $parky||

    Every time I hear someone I know say "This stuff isn't anything like REAL [Insert ethnicity here] food" I realize that I'm just fine with eating Americanized versions of whatever.

    And I'm just pulling your leg. Nobody is as much of a food snob as Epi.

  • T||

    There's a restaurant here in town that does actual authentic interior Mexican food. I wasn't impressed. I'll take Tex-Mex or New Mex-Mex any day over authentic. El Real and Los Cucos for the win, bitches.

    Cal-Mex still sucks, though.

  • ||

    There are time when I'm ok with eating Panda Express. And then there are times when I got to eat stuff that got C rating from City of Los Angeles.

  • Hell's Librarian||

    I'm sick to death of gluey refried beans, stale tortillas, wilted frickin' iceberg lettuce, etc. ad nauseum.

    It's even more maddening when it's an actual Mexican mom and pop doing it. There are NO good Mexican restaurants local to my neck of the woods (by which I mean a ten/ fifteen minute drive), which is odd because there is a thriving Mexican community around here (near Baltimore, MD, not New Mexico or TExas).

  • ||

    It's even more maddening when it's an actual Mexican mom and pop doing it.

    I honestly blame mass production here, since it tends to dilute the "authenticity" aspect of ethnic cuisine. Since so many fast food and and Chipotle's type places have adapted to the least common denominator of palates in order to increase the largest amount of customers to establish a base in a such a competitive market.

    For example, in UKR, you can order mass produced Borscht (I highly recommend against doing so) in the local Mackey D's. They sell well because of convenience and are relatively inexpensive, since "real food" tends to be a little pricey there.

  • Highway||

    This is so true. There is a complete lack of anything resembling good mexican food around Baltimore (I'm on the north / west side).

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Tex-Mex >>>> Mexican food, even though when we say "Mexican food" we mean TexMex.

  • T||

    If you can't find good TexMex in Houston, you shouldn't be trusted alone outdoors.

  • Brandybuck||

    I was in San Antonio recently, and I failed at finding decent Mexican food of any variety.

  • SIV||

    San Antonio is tough. Practically every thing is a Mexican restaurant and most really suck. The best I had was from a grilled chicken truck on South Flores.

    The food is mostly worse as you head West with a few exceptions. Nora's Tacos in Sabinal is extraordinary.

  • Spoonman.||

    There are some interesting German/French Alsatian places in the towns west of San Antonio.

  • ChrisO||

    Are you kidding??? No good Mexican food in San Antonio? My wife is a latina from there, and trust me, there are some amazing Mexican food places there. My favorite is Pico de Gallo on the south end of downtown. It's not in the touristy part of the city and is just a small neighborhood joint, but it's fantastic.

    I also love the Culebra Meat Market in the northeast suburbs on Nacogdoches Blvd. They make the most amazing tacos with all kinds of interesting meats like tripe and tongue that are 100% Mexican and 100% delicious.

  • SIV||

    It's not that you can't get good Mexican/Southwestern food in San Antonio, its just not that easy.

    after the pollo truck the best I had was from takeout tamale/barbacoa joints.

  • Brett L||

    Just go where the work trucks are parked on Sunday afternoon.

  • ||

    The best Mexican food I ever had--by far--was in Cabo.

    Cozumel, here. Best SCUBA diving int the world, BTW. I highly suggest Palancar Reef. There was also a sunken plane dive, the make and model escape me ATM, that is/was home to an enormous green moray eel.

  • CockGobbla||

  • Robert||

    Isn't that the candy that does not have swirling chocolate in the ads?

  • Robert||

    For a sec. I thought the petition said it was a candy sold by Hitler.

  • ||

    Is this the fabled TacoBrag I've heard so much about?

  • ||

    Welcome to America: the cultural melting pot that has given the world both the dorito taco AND the oreo pizza.

  • Mo' $parky||

    Needs more deep-fried butter.

  • ||

    I'm holding out for a Gummi Bear egg foo yung fusion train wreck.

  • Almanian...still||

    Yum!

    I mean

    *barf*

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    I'm holding out for a Gummi Bear egg foo yung fusion train wreck.

    Here you go:

  • Mo' $parky||

    Oooooh, imagine Gummi Worm Lo Mein.

  • Chupacabra||

    I prefer fried lardo.

  • Brandybuck||

    The Iowa State Fair was selling deep fried butter last summer. I did not try it, as I had insufficient insurance.

  • Mo' $parky||

  • Entropy Void||

  • Jerryskids||

    Eat what you want and die like a man.

    Find some local illegal immigrants and find out where they eat. You may find the 'Mexican' food they eat actually comes from somewhere south of Mexico. If everything is lengua and the tortillas look like pita bread and you have to struggle to get them to understand that 'no cilantro, por favor' doesn't mean 'oh, just a pound or so of cilantro on every goddamn thing' and the Cokes come in a glass bottle because they are imported from Mexico where they use real sugar, then you are in the right place.

  • Robert||

    No place does food mix & mutate like NYC.

  • ||

    Even with captain killjoy in charge? "We must limit salt content in the city..."

  • Robert||

    Hardly a blip.

    Most of the best pizzerias are staffed by Greeks or Dominicans. Italians still run pizzerias mainly as an excuse to watch televised soccer.

    Have you eaten Chino Rican? How about Jamaixican? Pennsyl-Paki? (OK, that last one I made up, but I bet you could get it somewhere in this burg.)

  • Almanian...still||

    God DAMN I love Messican. Food, that is.

    "Mexicali Alli's" in town - local woman runs it. The. Best. Tacos, enchiladas, tamales, burritos, makes her own everything. And the "Secret Dinner" on Mondays for friends (she knows us by or take out order now..."Is this you, Almanian?")

    I don't know if it's "authentic", but it's so good it's utterly spoiled me for anything else. SO good.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    Mmmm... Bacon dogs, I think I am going to go get the fixins for that this evening!

  • Almanian...still||

    Also - shit - now I want some Mexicali Alli's. Tacos only have some lettuce and a bit of that white queso - and the best ground beef that I think is....just beef. I can't tell what, if any, spices are in it. SO good.

    Damn I'm hungry now...

  • Cbalducc||

    It has been my experience that good Mexican food comes from taquerias that serve the local Mexican community. I have eaten in places like that in Memphis, where I thought I was the only one in there who didn't speak Spanish.

  • ChrisO||

    That's true in a lot of American cities, including the Washington DC area. My wife is Mexican-American and swears by a couple of the local taquerias. They're a lot like what you'd get at the "authentic" places on the west side of San Antonio.

  • John||

    Tony Bourdain is always bitching about how he hates fake Mexican food. If you have ever been to Mexico, you realize nearly everything you get in the US is "fake". But that is okay. It can still be good. Just like our fake Italian and fake German food is good.

    Italians never eat spaghetti with meat sauce. They use penne one of the other short round noodles. But so what? Spaghetti with meat sauce is still good.

  • Almanian...still||

    What John said. I've never worried much about "authentic". But I damn well want it to be "good"!

    And Sgetti with meat sauce is GOOD.

  • John||

    And sometimes the "authentic" stuff is a little funky. My wife has a good friend who is first generation Chinese. If ever there was a "fake" American food, it is American Chinese food. But frankly, the authentic stuff can be an acquired taste. I am not really a fan of duck feet.

  • Brett L||

    They're like chewy squash.

  • R C Dean||

    I tried to man up and have the chicken feet (three ways!) at a dim sum joint once.

    Turns out, I'm not man enough.

  • Azathoth!!||

    There is a food fad in China for 'American' Chinese food--and it's really popular.

  • Christ on a Cracker||

    The deep-fried ducks heads were too much for me.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    This is why I like the label Tex-Mex. If it's in Texas, it's "authentic" Tex-Mex by definition, and we don't have to have a taxonomic discussion at all.

  • ||

    + sourcream enchiladas

  • edcoast||

    I recommend "The Border Cookbook" by Cheryl and Bill Jamison. It has recipes from across the Southwest and northern Mexico, all explained in terms of their origins. The nuances of Baja vs Sonoran vs Chihuahuan cooking are explained and presented in different recipes. Gotta agree with RC, though. Nothing beats good New Mexican. Posole at the Plaza Cafe in SF is the bomb.

  • Almanian...still||

    Oh, speaking of the "Americanization" of ethnic foods - best Scottish Meat Pies in the WORLD? No, not Scotland - Ackroyd's Scottish Bakery in metro Detroit (Redford). OMG, the BEST. Way better than what we got in Scotland, ever.

    And their shortbread is to die for.

    And they do an excellent haggis, on par with anything elsewhere we've had.

    USA! USA! USA! Ackroyd's - Serving Up Sheep Innards and Oatmeal Since....For A Long time!

  • John||

    Honestly, sophisticated food is sophisticated food. It can taste just as good anywhere. Where going to the mother country makes a difference is in simple, rustic food. Then the ingredients and the fact that grandma in the kitchen has been making this stuff since she was seven really can't be duplicated.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    Where going to the mother country makes a difference is in simple, rustic food. Then the ingredients and the fact that grandma in the kitchen has been making this stuff since she was seven really can't be duplicated.

    ☝ THIS ☝

  • fried wylie||

    Wylie's Grandma Cloning: Home cooking so authentic, your Original Grandma can't tell the difference.

  • John||

    As embarrassing as it is to admit this, I am a bit of a foodie. I have at some of the best restaurants in the world. But as much as I liked some of them, I like simple more rustic food.

  • ||

    I make better food on my worst day than I have ever gotten in any 5 star joint.

    As for the non-authenticity of Ameericanized foods, that is what we do. We do it with language, culture, food, and all sorts of things. We take the best of what others have to offer and make it our own or improve on it.
    I admit I am a cultural bigot, and I believe that this is the reason our culture is superior in so many ways.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Yeah, the best food I have is what I cook at home no doubt. I do like finding a good bbq joint as I don't usually have 14 hours to smoke a pork shoulder or brisket. The best Carnitas I've had, I made, but again braising pork butt in lard for 3-4 hours takes quite a bite out of the day. We have a place up the street that does a pretty good job with Carnitas and I don't have to wait. I have had some fish dishes out that are better than anything I can do but I rarely cook fish at home other than Salmon so that and growing up landlocked in Ohio probably has a lot to do with that.

  • John||

    You are either one hell of a cook or you haven't ate at the right five star joint. They make some pretty amazing stuff.

  • ||

    Folks, this is also proof that Demolition Man is the most prophetic movie of out time. Suderman and Saccharin Man have both declared this inevitable and this event is yet another broken seal of impending doom.

  • Brandybuck||

    The Taco Bell building in Newport Beach has a restaurant on the ground floor. You can actually go to a Taco Bell for fine dining.

    p.s. Need to watch DM again, to see if they filmed it using the real Taco Bell building as an inside joke.

  • fried wylie||

    p.s. Need to watch DM again, to see if they filmed it using the real Taco Bell building as an inside joke.

    What's your schedule on that? Eh, fuck it, I'll research it myself.

  • ||

    You can actually go to a Taco Bell for fine dining.

    Does not compute.

    Read the threads, they are a fun trip down pre-WI insanity memory lane. The second link has all sorts of fun trivia.

  • Robert||

    What I've liked most about Taco Bell is the ambience. No, really. It's probably just a coincidence of locations, but I like the glassy construction and hence the great views. Inside seems so light airy, day or night.

    But the better chain Mexican fast food around here is The Fresco Tortilla and its similarly named imitators.

  • bowman||

    Brandybuck...the Taco Bell scene in Demolition Man was filmed at Hughes Aircraft facilities in El Segundo. The spent about 3-4 weeks doing the makeover of a large meeting room to look like a futuristic Taco Bell. It was also the first time I saw the current logo sign used.

  • fried wylie||

    Taco shells in the pantry, pie crust in the fridge.

    I'm prepared....well, except for the lack of ground beef and apples.

  • Tonio||

    Fresh tortillas. Once you've had the real thing, you're ruined. It's like the difference between Wonder Bread and a fresh artisanal bakery loaf.

    Personal beef: the *&^%$#@! snow birds in AZ who buy supermarket tortillas when the place is awash in tortillarias (bakeries).

  • ||

    a fresh artisanal bakery loaf.

    *MMM..a fresh artisanal bakery loaf..AAAWWWCH*

    /Homer Simpson

  • Zeb||

    Yeah fresh tortillas are great. But I'm too lazy to make them most of the time and no place to get them locally.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    Taco Cabana sells a dozen hot, freshly made tortilla's for something like 2 bucks. From the drive through. At least go there.

  • ChrisO||

    I love that place!

  • Brett L||

    God I miss Taco Cabana. Drive through food that was better than any Mexican I have in town.

  • ChrisO||

    100% this. My wife is Mexican-American, and she goes ballistic whenever some "Mexican" restaurant we go to uses flour tortillas. The real, fresh-made tortillas are beyond awesome. Really bad for you, of course...

  • SFC B||

    Even the Mexican grocery stores here in Western Wisconsin have the store brands of tortillas; I cannot find a decent tortilla anywhere.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I worked at Taco Bell for a couple years; made some legendary shit with available ingredients before tearing the kitchen down closing at night. (Being a teenager stoned in Taco Bell minus customers, with a chance to make what you want...yeah,it was good as it sounds).

    This was of course before off-book Mexicans took all the Taco Bell jobs when delicate, sensitive teenagers in the USA stopped working. Ah, the irony. God I'm old.

  • ||

    So basically you are the John Connor of this All Taco Bell dystopian/utopian future. Thanks a lot.

  • Tonio||

    Thanks for the article, Gus. Didn't know that govt hostility to food carts was so long-standing or rooted in fear of "foreign" influences.

    Also didn't know that "roach coach" was an ethnic slur; I'd always assumed it was just construction worker snark about the alleged cleanliness of the food trucks that cater primarily to construction sites.

  • Hell's Librarian||

    I didn't know that either, I thought it just meant a probably-not-very-hygenic eatery.

  • Zeb||

    I still think that.

  • seguin||

    TexMex didn't begin in El Fenix or El Chicos. North TexMex did, but there's different varieties of Tex-Mex everywhere - one of my favorite examples is that Nortexmex uses chili con carne on enchiladas, and many SoTexMex places use chili gravy. Fajitas are TexMex, for instance, as is chili con carne...both arose from the Tejano ranching areas between San Antonio and Mexico.

    Think of TexMex as yet another regional Mexican cuisine, and you'll get it.

    Oh, and the battle of San Jacinto was 11 years before the Mexican American war.

  • Brett L||

    Chili gravy is the best shit on Earth. Stacked enchiladas with a fried egg on top is the food of the gods. As the best of our local Mexican places merely rise to the level of decent, I have made use of the Interwebs to produce my own. As soon as I get the tortilla roller set up, there will be no stopping me.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I highly suggest machacas plate if you like a huevos dish. But instead of shredded beef, make it with carne asada. And spice that shit up. Tasty.

  • Ron||

    In our area you can go to crappy Mexican restaurant run by Mexican you can also go to an Asian run English fish and chips place thats great. It's all about pride of ownership and the ability to actually cook.

  • Trespassers W||

    I've had this idea for a Food Network show called "Tres Leches, Un Camino". It's Cake Boss meets telenovela. It'll be hosted by Ricardo Montelban, Bobby Flay and some B-list Mexican TV actress with big knockers.

  • Brett L||

    Won't work. Call Bobby Flay leche all you want, but Ricard Montelban's hair will beat you to death if you try that on him.

  • ||

    some B-list Mexican TV actress with big knockers.

    Don Fransisco approves. Perhaps Odalys Garcia of Lente Loco fame?

  • John||

    So many to choose

  • Sam Grove||

    ...the many food-based ethnic slurs still in circulation: beaner, greaser, pepper belly, taco bender, roach coach,...

    The last is the only one I've heard.

  • ||

    Actually, I have heard all but pepper belly and roach coach as ethnic slurs for Mexicans.

    I don't dispute "pepper belly" as one but the first time I heard "roach coach" was over forty years ago in Canada to describe the food trucks that came around construction sites and other business locations. It had absolutely nothing to do with Mexicans or any other ethnic group.

  • ||

    I see I should have read all the comments before posting that. I still would have but I would have indicated my agreement with those above that "roach coach" is not generally seen as an ethnic slur.

    I should also note that I have also heard the term in the US and that nowhere that I heard it have I believed that the speaker was using it in that way.

  • Robert||

    "Greaser" must have changed its meaning!

  • perlhaqr||

    Yeah, I've only ever heard it used to describe rockabilly kids. As in, the movie Grease.

  • Azathoth!!||

    We are the US. You have been assimilated. We have added your biological, technological and culinary distinctivness to our own. You will adapt to sevice us. Resistance is delicious. You will concur.

  • Being Waterboarded||

    I'm lovin' it!

  • Tejicano||

    I haven't been there in years but Kiki's on Piedras street in El Paso used to be one of the best I've ever been to. I used to take people there when they visited from other parts of the border and they would completely stop telling me about the Mexican food from where they live.

    But sometimes simplicity is best. I once was at a bus stop in Jalisco where this lady had a cart with nothing but tortillas (corn, of course) and beans which could have competed with ambrosia.

  • ||

    Raise your hand if you don't live within the whacked out extreme leftist fringe of Chicano academia and had no idea that this kind of thing was even something that anybody spent their time thinking about.

    Raise your other hand if you find it ironic being called a gabacho (an ethnic slur) by an ethnic grievance monger born in the USA to first generation immigrant parents who thinks the term "roach coach" is an affront to his heritage.

    Fuck you and your identity politics. In America, we go by the old homo sapien biological imperative: if you can't fuck it or fight it, eat it. Consequently we've assimilated and/or bastardized the cuisine of pretty much every country on the planet. You aren't special. You aren't persecuted. Go collect your participation trophy and shut the fuck up.

  • johnd2||

    I figured out years ago that the illegal immigration problem from Mexico was hopeless. The best Mexican food is made by Mexicans. No one with good sense wants to give it up.

  • ||

    After two a half years here, I'm still finding myself disappointed in the Mexican offerings of Tucson. This is probably because I don't go to the right neighborhoods to find it, but still...

  • Brian Denton||

    Tortas de carne con pulque. That is all.

  • jimsakeeper||

    "more insulting to me and my heritage than casting Charlton Heston as the swarthy Mexican hero in Touch of Evil"

    Not to mention El Cid.

  • kanopemainer||

    One more time to a apply the cliche "The dumbing down of America" continues.
    Let's add to the roster of "Italian" is Spaghetti and red sauces, "German" is Sauerkraut and Bratwurst, "Greek" is Feta, "Scandinavian" is Herring and Smorrebrod, "French" must be snails, baguettes and Chablis with Brie. Not to mention "Shrimp Scampi", "Au Jus", "Coquilles St.Jacques". You name it.
    To quote "PM": 'Consequently we've assimilated and/or bastardized the cuisine of pretty much every country on the planet.

  • Nodnarb the Nasty||

    Retired professor Jacques Delacroix has a bit more flavorful commentary on this topic: Hermanos*.

    Basically, it says that Ron Paul is an idiot, Mexicans come here for jobs, and NAFTA has been great for everybody (sorry for the spoiler).

  • Malto Dextrin||

    ¡Ay Caramba! Now I have to get my carne asada taco with guacamole fix!

  • John Galt||

    The best part of this article was definitely the painting of the hard shell taco. mmm

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

  • thiagodaluz7@gmail.com||

    Thanks for sharing this! If there's anything the U.S. could always use more of, it's Tacos. That's a fact. Thiago | http://www.edgewater-hotel.com/

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