Why are people so passionate about their version of Mexican food?
Food is such a personal and intimate thing. Everyone is always going to think that their type of food is better than anyone else’s. It’s human nature. It’s like when you say, “My mom makes the best _________,” [and someone disagrees]. It’s not that it is Mexican food per se, people are like that with food, period.
The problem that I have is that, while everyone has their favorite food, you don’t have to deride other people’s traditions. But that is just part of human nature, it just insists that you be a jerk to everyone over their cuisine.
This seems like a theme in talking with you – is that one of the reasons you wrote Taco USA?
Once I had those epiphanies, then part of doing the book was not just to give a voice to a part of history that was never told, but also to stand up and say look, “All tacos are created equal, but some tacos are more equal than others.” Not all Mexican food is going to be equally good, but it is still all Mexican food. Whether it is Taco Bell, Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, Korean taco, brisket taco, whether you’re eating in Main or Oklahoma, it is all Mexican food one way or another. To say that there is something that is “real” Mexican food as opposed to “fake” Mexican food is a silly debate. It’s a ridiculous debate really.
Where are some of your favorite places to stop in San Antonio when you are lecturing or visiting?
I go to Ray’s Drive Inn for my puffy tacos, though I like Henry’s as well. I mean, how can you not love a restaurant that has a jalapeño and a puffy taco as a mascot for a baseball team. There’s another place, I think it is called Teka Molina and that’s another great spot for puffy tacos. Basically, whenever I go to San Antonio I eat what I can’t get out here in Southern California, so I overload on puffy tacos and migas.
I always have to go to Mi Tierra because, come on, you have to go there. I have to see the painting of Bill Clinton jogging, that’s just classic. Every time I go I just have people take me [around town]. I always love going to San Antonio, I have friends there now and the food is always great. I go to the places where I can get good Tex-Mex food, [not the places with food] that I can get out here in freakin’ California. I want to get my puffy taco fix on.
I know that it missed your publishing deadline for Taco USA, but I have to ask, what are your thoughts on Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco?
You know, I am a humongous Doritos fan. I love Doritos, I always have and I always will. In my book I talk about how Doritos were invented at Disney Land. I was looking forward to eating this Doritos Locos taco. I have never liked Taco Bell’s food, and not because it is a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that is “destroying Mexican food,” it’s because it is just not good food.
So I gave the Doritos Locos Taco an honest chance and it just doesn’t work, and the problem is it is just Taco Bell. It is too salty and the meat is disappointing. I still think that if Doritos sold the shell as is and you put it in the hands of other folks, oh man, you could make some awesome tacos out of that.
Makes you wonder why some food truck hasn’t gone over to Taco Bell and ordered one hundred Doritos Locos Tacos, hold the taco, just give me the shell and then resell it.
One more question before we get into the lightning round. What do you think will be the next big Mexican food trend in America?
I keep telling people that you could become a millionaire if you were to start selling tortas. I’m surprised that they haven’t yet blown up. Think about it, a torta is a Mexican sandwich with obviously Mexican ingredients inside that are familiar to most Americans. As Americans, we love sandwiches. A torta is made with a French roll, we know what a French roll is, and we know the [Mexican] ingredients inside.
It is the perfect meal. They’re big and Americans like big food. I’m really surprised that more people aren’t making tortas. That’s changing though; I am starting to see some fast food spots starting to make tortas. But I keep telling people, you should make your torta empire, I’m letting you know right now.
On the last page Gustavo answers questions in the lightning round about some of his Mexican food favorites.