Tacos A Go-Go doesn't disappoint when it comes to its namesake food.
Taco this, taco that, taco everything. Food staple? Sure, and when done right, they are things of beauty. Start with a great corn tortilla (I am partial to the maize), hot and moist, then the sky’s the limit. Nopales. Barbacoa. Radish, watermelon, and crème fraîche. Sweetbreads. Flank steak. Chorizo. I could go on and on, but the picture is clear. Tacos are beloved, adored, and worshipped.
National Taco Day is coming your way tomorrow — Tuesday, October 4 — and though no one needs an incentive or an excuse to eat one (or many), I’m celebrating the day by talking all (or many) things taco. For instance, did you know that the leading origin theory is Mexican silver mines?
“Taco” was the name given to the small charges that miners used to excavate ore. Jeffrey M. Pilcher, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, has spent decades studying the foodstuff, and eating them everywhere.
“These were pieces of paper that they would wrap around gunpowder and insert into the holes they carved in the rock face. When you think about it, a chicken taquito with a good hot sauce is really a lot like a stick of dynamite,” Pilcher told Smithsonian. “The first references [to the taco] in any sort of archive or dictionary come from the end of the 19th century. And one of the first types of tacos described is called tacos de minero — miner’s tacos. So the taco is not necessarily this age-old cultural expression; it’s not a food that goes back to time immemorial.”
No, it’s not an ancient item, but it is now a timeless and universal one. You can travel almost anywhere and order a taco, from Baja California to Huntsville, Alabama, to Dubai, and all places in between. One can engage in the “flour or corn?” tortilla debate, and decide on favorite “fillings” and accompaniments.
I like barbacoa and pork, but have been known to make a dinner consisting of vegetarian (sliced radish, arugula, and guacamole) tacos solely. You like sour cream? Cotija or queso fresco? Go for it. That’s the wonder of tacos: They can be anything you desire.
It’s food, however, so everyone has a favorite (and I’m not talking about restaurant or food truck or stall, though that is also a hot topic). As I wrote, I love barbacoa tacos, and my favorite place to get them in Houston is Gerardo’s (click here for a closer look at this family-run place). If you go, go early, and order a chorizo taco as well. (Note: this is barbacoa de cabeza, the real stuff, and they’re available on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays only.)
Another must-have is the barbaco taco at Tacos Tierra Caliente, a food truck that sits in a strip-mall parking lot near the West Alabama Ice House. The goods here are distinguished by moist, thick corn tortillas (I am sure the flour ones are good as well) and rich, almost gelatinous barbacoa. I order two of them, plus a carnitas, and I’m set. Walk the 50 or so feet to the ice house, get a beer, and your afternoon becomes perfect. (Don’t neglect to add onions and cilantro.)
I said you can get tacos everywhere, but what I do not claim is that good tacos are found everywhere. No, they aren’t. Bland meat is a common mishap, as are tasteless tortillas. But next time you find yourself in Paris and you’re hankering for a good taco, I have your place. It’s called Candelaria, and it’s an honest-to-god taqueria. It was a weekly dining spot when I lived in Paris, and the food is good (plus, it’s connected to a great cocktail bar). You will love this restaurant. The tacos — especially the carnitas — are the best you’ll find in Europe.
No matter where you are tomorrow, remember that it’s National Taco Day, so whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, do your part to celebrate.
Here are a few more of my go-to restaurants for tacos in the Houston area (my list is in no way complete, so comment below and let me know where you frequent to consume the Mexican wonder):