Tacos and Tortas Take on the Sub: America’s New Classic Foods Speak Spanish
A sliver of a Mexican spot called Oaxaca just opened up near my apartment in Brooklyn, serving taqueria standards like tacos and tortas… and prompting the typical barrage of blog posts about the state of Mexican food in New York City. Now I haven’t been to this particular place yet myself, so Oaxaca’s carnitas won’t get any analysis of authenticity from me here, but a standard refrain I always hear over the past few years — and especially from any transplanted Californians — is that the stuff just can’t be found here.
Granted, New York City’s salsas don’t look the same as California’s. But that’s because our Mexican population — which does exist, but does not live or open restaurants in Soho or the Upper West Side — usually arrives from the central part of the Latin country, rather than the West. (And okay, most of the year, anything made in the West Coast that involves produce is going to kick our asses.)
But in the past five years alone, our country’s nacho and burrito scenario has changed for the better — meaning those American-style creations are no longer our only options — as thousands upon thousands of Mexican immigrants have moved to urban centers for service jobs, small agricultural towns for farmwork and most mid-sized American cities for construction jobs, back when construction work was always on the rise.
In other words, the Mexican population of the United States has exploded. (There were 28.3 million people of Mexican heritage living in the United States according to the 2006 U.S. Census, and that’s just those on the record.). Some of these immigrants brought their families and their working class food culture with them, starting with Sunday tamale ladies and cinnamon-sugar churros sellers, followed by outposts of Mexican grocery chains like Compare Foods, a small chain of Latino-owned, budget supermarkets that has snuck into growing Mexican neighborhoods from Massachusetts to the Carolinas, coming fully stocked with cactus paddles, crema, and tomatillos. After those come the town tortilleria, or tortilla bakery, along with the panaderia making the tiny baguette-like bolillo rolls, and the Mexican cheesemaker to supply the tricked out taco trucks and the delis now making tortas with mild Mexican quesos and the ricotta salata-like cheese called cotija.
In neighborhoods where you once couldn’t even find a tin of La Morena chipotle chiles en adobo you now have restaurants like Taqueria Lopez (at 3438 Hillsborough Road in Durham, N.C.), Las Tortas (at 5307 Leetsdale Drive in Denver), or even Tulcingo Del Valle (at 665 Tenth Avenue on the edge of Times Square in Manhattan). And at all of them you can now buy a fat, freshly made Mexican sandwich known as a torta for between $4 and $5, layered three inches high with spicy spit-roast pork called al pastor, say, plus pickled jalapeños, tomatoes, lettuce, refried beans, avocados, mayonnaise and the Mexican string cheese called quesilla.
With any luck, the average American will soon be asking for a tlacoyo instead of a chimichanga at their local Mexican joint, wondering aloud whether the epazote in the beans is fresh, or even going out for tortas rather than a hoagie or a sub or a grinder. And if Oaxaca doesn’t turn out to have a banging carne asada taco or a green salsa that’s to die for, I’m not worried: I already know where to find them.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 2 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 3 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 4 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 5 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 6 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 7 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook
- 10 Surgeon General Pleads For Americans to Chew Their Food 3 or 4 Times At the Very Least