In the Oregonian’s recent anti-foodie invective, Lee Williams highlighted Taco Time as a place where patriotic, American-cheese-loving Portlanders eat Mexican food. Todd Pedersen, owner of two local Taco Time stores, though, laid down the gauntlet:
“A lot of foodies don’t want to go to chains even though they might actually have some good food, just because of the thought….They might go to (fast-food restaurants); they just don’t admit it!”
[Pedersen] challenges his menu against the few and favored Mexican carts, trucks and taquerias of the foodies: “Come on,” he says. “Let’s blind taste-test them.”
He doesn’t just claim that Taco Time can compete against some random mom and pop Mexican joint, taqueria, or taco truck. He says it can compete against the very best. Okay, as El Mariachi would say: “Let’s play.”
3 Hermanos (moved and renamed La Chiquita)
Last December, Robb Walsh, a Beard-award winning food writer from the Houston Press, contacted me about a project he was working on. You’ll notice one of his books has regularly been featured on my site in the left column. I own several of his books and respect his work a lot, so I was honored to have him contact me — to even know who I am.
The project? Taco trucks outside the southwest, how they provide “formerly virgin taco territories” the opportunity for some truly authentic comida — an article for Gourmet Magazine. Would I like to help? Hell, yeah.
Mexico Lindo’s Posole
Cinco de Mayo is one of Portland’s better festivals. It has a character. It’s not just another county fair on the waterfront. In 2005 I lamented the event’s cultural decline compared with the wonderful 2004 Cinco de Mayo, my first. There were fewer real artists. There were more commercial promotions selling credit cards and the like. And basically, this year’s is the same. There were only four to six real artists selling Mexican crafts. The majority consisted of the crappier Saturday Market vendors — bad jewelry, cheap imports, and caricature artists.
That said, it’s still worth visiting. The latin musical entertainment is worth the admission price, especially the folklorico and mariachi. And then there’s the food…
May is probably the wrong month to visit Oaxaca. It rains. It’s hot. Many of the restaurants close to take a break while business is slow. But I wasn’t going to visit Mexico City, only a half day bus ride from the culinary center of Mexican cooking, and skip it again. So we took the winding desolate road through the mountains and emerged in an inviting valley with cathedrals rising above the buildings.
(Note: I have one more Mexico report on the markets in Oaxaca. However, it will have to wait a few weeks until I return from Thailand. I hoped to finish it before I left, but the map of the Mercado Central de Abastos was too complex and I need to finish it first. Sorry. For those travelling to Oaxaca between now and then, spend a lot of time at the market. It was my favorite part of the city.)
“2658 North Milwaukee,” I mutter to myself as I look down at the printed Metromix page and walk out of the underground blue line stop. But which direction am I facing? I look at the map and which way I came out of the train. I’m in a hurry. It’s already past nine. I finally choose a direction and start walking. There aren’t many storefronts with numbers and the street is dark here. I pass by a Mexican restaurant and dance club with pockets of young Latinos hanging out around their cars. I reach California and look at the map again. A stocky woman with half a tooth missing in the front, like Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber, asks me if I have any change. I have less than a buck which I hand over. Then she asks if I need help and I tell her I’m looking for Taqueria Puebla and explain that it’s a Mexican restaurant that is supposed to be good, that I’m on a trip for food, etc.
“There’s a Mexican restaurant across from the McDonald’s that way,” she says as she points the opposite direction I’ve been walking. “But I don’t think it’s called Puebla. There’s a gas station over there,” she continues as she points down Sacramento. I thank her and start walking to the gas station. Just as I start to walk off, she asks, “Are you looking for some fun?” It takes me a second before I realize what she’s doing.
Just off the Zocolo, on the tight streets of Mexico City’s Centro Historico, you can find CDs for 12 pesos each, five for 50. DVDs for 300 pesos each. Computer software for a tenth of the price you’ll find it at Best Buy. Of course, it’s all pirated. You’ll also find blender parts, toys, lingerie, socks, and sunglasses. Sure, I hover over the CD pile a bit, but the true object of my desire is the food. Tacos, churros, quesadillas, huaraches….
I wasn’t sure exactly what the Maxwell Street Market would entail. But after only a few steps, I realized: it’s a little bit of Mexico City. Socks, sunglasses, CDs — they’re all there. Duct tape, a wall of pink hats, lawn Jesuses (or is it Jesai?), radios, a selection of posters with Al Pacino from Scarface, bras, toys, tools, and, my personal favorite, the table of comic books and porn. But most importantly, Mexican street food.