Mexican taquerias seem to be springing up everywhere. I have seen them in even the smallest of towns right here in Tennessee. Taquerias offer an opportunity to try an authentic taco that is more flavorful than the Taco Bell knock-offs that most people are used to.
An authentic taco is typically served open faced with fresh cilantro and onions on top. No cheese, no lettuce. There is a wedge of lime for squeezing and maybe some radish slices on the side. Red or green salsa may also be provided.
You will be asked if you want flour (“harina” in Spanish) or corn (maiz) tortillas. Authentic tacos tend to be smaller than the Taco Bell version so you may want to order a few more than you normally would. Typically people will order a few at a time, and then a couple more if desired. Filling options include chicken (pollo), carne asada (grilled beef), chorizo (sausage), barbecue (which may be chicken or pork), carnitas (chunks of pork), or al pastor (flavorful pork cooked on a rotisserie skewer). Tacos al pastor are the ultimate taco and an art form in and of themselves. They deserve a post of their own and I shall oblige this in the future. You may also see ingredients such as lengua which is cow tongue, or tripa which is cow intestine. On the streets of Mexico City, you will see vendors selling tacos of eyes, brains, and a variety of other cow parts.
(above) A taco vender in Mexico City prepares cow head meat for tacos.
I have discovered at a few different taquerias around the Tennessee area that there may be two menus available—one in English with the typical Americanized Mexican food options such as fajitas and crunchy tacos; and one for Latin Americans with authentic tacos, tortas, and aguas frescas (juice drinks). I think that the taqueria owners assume that most gringos will not be interested in the authentic food and just want the Tex Mex version they are used to. I would encourage them to give us gringos a shot because by offering the authentic tacos, I think sales would increase.
Often at taquerias, the bill is not brought to your table but you must instead go up to the counter to pay. So, if you have been sitting, waiting patiently at your table for quite a long time after most other customers have come and gone, trying to send subliminal messages to the waiter, hoping that the check will arrive, this may be why.
I met the ultimate taco aficionados on vacation in Puerto Vallarta recently. A nice couple that seemed to know of all taco selling locations in the city and in their home city of Houston. Mention a taco location in either city and they would immediately be able to provide a full review and list of other locations with better tacos. True adventure dinners these two were, who even dropped off their suitcases at the airport and then ran across the street for one last taco fix, arriving back at the airport just in time to board the plane. They declared the taco stand across from the Puerto Vallarta airport to be the ultimate, and given their passion for all things taco, I would believe this opinion.