Vitamin T: Hold the Salsa, New York Times! We've Got Something to Taco ‘Bout - Digest - Los Angeles magazine

Vitamin T: Hold the Salsa, New York Times! We've Got Something to Taco ‘Bout

An elegy for tacos and Mexican food in New York.

Photography by Bill Esparza

Welcome to this, a special edition of our Vitamin T (vitamina T) column in which we address some recent claims about the tacos in Los Angeles.

Ligaya Mishan's latest piece in The New York Times isn't the first time a New York writer has sought validation in the taco department. Before Mishan’s piece, the last attempt came from First We Feast, who dreamt the notion that there was a great debate between New York and L.A. over Mexican food. We let that one slide by because, frankly, there’s nothing to debate.

New York City, your inferiority complex is wrapped in a flimsy, dry tortilla made from Maseca, and covered in ketchupy salsa. But it’s cute that you keep trying over there.

Even the hipsters that frequent tacos trucks in Silver Lake and Highland Park would yawn at the likes of Reyes Deli. Reyes Deli, who proudly displays a Boar’s Head product logo on their menu. Reyes Deli, who sells wraps. Wraps—are you kidding? Taco Mix, El Bronco Truck, El Coyote Dormilon, and the rest are homogenous, adulterated taquerias serving sad tacos, hamburgers, combo plates, wraps, and fajitas.

The carnitas at El Coyote Dormilon were dry because they were boiled, then fried in some fat before serving (otherwise known as the cheater method). We could do better here at the touristy Olvera Street downtown—and pick up some marionettes to perform a mockery about your outrageous claims while we're at it.

Here’s a newsflash New Yorkers: most of your tacos are made by Poblanos, but Puebla is not known for its tacos. There’s barely a taco culture there outside al pastor and tacos arabes. And, we have that same Poblano cuisine here in L.A., too.   

The Southern Cuisine Hypothesis

There are those that would argue that New York has a formidable taco scene because of the presence of southern Mexicans. Let’s get real here—Los Angeles is the third most important Oaxacan center of cooking in the world, after Oaxaca and Mexico City, because L.A. has more Oaxacan cuisine than Mexico’s second, third, and fourth largest cities combined.  

We’ve got one Oaxacan restaurant—Gish Bac—that is a branch of a barbacoa stand in Oaxaca’s Tlacolula Market. The cook is a third generation barbacoa artisan. Need more proof? Allow me to point you in the direction of the Mercado Olympic.  

The Northern Cuisine Hypothesis

The comments section of Mishan’s article had some deep speculation about northern Mexican food. There is no real northern Mexican cuisine in the U.S.—besides Baja fish taco stands in California. (There's also the Sonoran-inspired Mexican food in Arizona, but that consists mainly of hot dogs.) Los Angeles not only has the best southern Mexican in the country, but the base of our local Mexican cuisine comes from Central Mexico (Jalisco and Zacatecas) and the Pacific (Sinaloa and Nayarit).    

L.A. has fried shrimp tacos from Mariscos Jalisco that are as good as you’ll find in the states of Sinaloa and Jalisco, and in other regions along the Pacific Coast. Coni'seafood brings in smoked marlin from Mexico for Nayarit-style tacos de marlin. Our best al pastor trucks, Tacos Leo, and their relatives at Tacos Tamix, bring in pedigreed taqueros from Mexico City.

Ensenada’s native-son, Ricardo Piña, of Ricky’s Fish Tacos, runs a fish taco stand using mostly ingredients from Baja California. Mexicali Taco Co. sources their flour tortillas from Mexico for traditional carne asada cooked over flames.  

We have Michoacan and Mexico City-style carnitas cooked in cazos (large copper and stainless steel pots), tacos de cesina from Oaxaca, Puebla and Morelos; tacos de canasta from Mexico City and Jalisco; tacos de guisado from Mexico City; and barbacoa masters from Hidalgo, Guerrero, Puebla, and the State of Mexico. L.A. has specialists like Flor del Rio where Zacatecas-style goat birria is the only thing on the menu. I could go on, but it would be overkill.

You’re right about one thing Ligaya—it’s not just about quantity, it’s about quality, which is another area where L.A. has a crushing advantage in terms of produce, products, specialization, traditions, and artisans.

I understand you’re a poet, Ms. Mishan, so consider this my elegy to your thesis on New York tacos. Next time you’re feeling like a food fight, make sure that it’s a slice of pizza that’s in your hand. New York, All Wrapped Up in a Tortilla [The New York Times]

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  • 10
  1. Cyndy posted on 10/01/2013 12:09 PM
    I'm sure any taco stand in the Los Angeles county can beat NYC in the best tacos or Mexican food. There is no comparison. Were the best.
    1. elas posted on 10/02/2013 12:00 PM
      @Cyndy Grammar and all! A lovely reminder of the Los Angeles education system!
  2. Cyndy posted on 10/01/2013 12:09 PM
    I'm sure any taco stand in the Los Angeles county can beat NYC in the best tacos or Mexican food. There is no comparison. Were the best.
  3. Food GPS posted on 10/01/2013 03:00 PM
    I had the misfortune of eating at Salvation Taco, a dreadful nouveau taqueria from April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, earlier this year. Empellon Taqueria was more ambitious, interesting, and moderately more successful, but missed the mark in some key areas, and if that restaurant opened up next door to Petty Cash, I suspect Petty Cash would draw bigger crowds. Hopefully there are more good Mexican restaurants opening in New York, but even if that trend continues, it would take years (if not decades) for New York to draw legitimate comparisons to L.A.'s Mexican culinary spectrum. The infrastructure and traditions are more firmly rooted in Southern California, not the Tri-State Area.
  4. Taco Lover posted on 10/01/2013 08:41 PM
    Tell 'em.
  5. Eric posted on 10/02/2013 11:36 PM
    I don't see an article here championing what is great about L.A.'s wonderful tacos. I see anger, elitism and condescension dished out under the guise of food journalism. The arguments are valid, but I ask, why write from a place of anger? I'm proud of the L.A. food scene. I love taking visitors on tours of the various food scenes we are so fortunate to have in our town, including the incredible Mexican options. But I don't talk down what I dislike. I instead champion what I love. Consider this my thumbs down to vitriol, warranted or not.
  6. bryan posted on 10/06/2013 09:02 AM
    I live in NYC and we're not known for our tacos, why anyone would even try to claim this is stupid. We know what foods we do well and while there may be a stand here or there thats a gem on the taco scene, it can't possibly compare to LA tacos. Now, if this article was about pizza...
  7. pablo posted on 10/12/2013 10:02 AM
    Bill, you've pointed me to some seriously beautiful Mexican food, including Mariscos Rubén, Tacos Kokopeli y Aaron in Tijuana. I live in NY and agree that Ligaya completely overstates how far the taco scene has come here (though it is getting a whole lot better). The other night we took her advice and biked out to Bushwick, Brooklyn, for longaniza and pernil at Cholula and barbacoa at Cocoyoc. The results were sad, miles behind what you can get in LA or San Diego. But in your broad-brushed condemnation of tacos made by Poblanos in NY you miss the mark by dismissing Tacos el Bronco in Sunset Park. Their buche is an insanely good version of chitterlins, and their suadero is fine too, especially if you get it at their sit-down restaurant dressed with guacamole to counteract the dryness of the cut. I can't wait to get out to SoCal or down to Mexico for a worthy taco excursion, but in the meanwhile we'll be hitting El Bronco on the regular.
    1. Bill Esparza posted on 11/09/2013 06:13 PM
      @pablo Pablo. Hello, I'm glad you've enjoyed some great eats in Tijuana and L.A. Chitterlings are small intestines, in Mexico they're called tripa de leche, but buche is hog's maw, which is hardly ever done badly. It's just packed with flavor, but buche is still done much better by chilangos, and taqueros from Arandas, Jalisco--suadero, too. We have so many chilangos here, and many taqueros from Arandas. And, suadero should be juicy without need for any condiments to provide moisture. But, you gotta do what you gotta do--we'll see you on the streets of L.A. next time you come to town.
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