The Best Taco in Jalisco

When I go to Puerto Vallarta on the Mexican state of Jalisco’s Pacific shore, I am driven by a memory.

Many years ago, visiting the area with my pal Gary, I had what may have been the best taco of my life.

Al pastor at Pepe's Tacos, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

Al pastor at Pepe’s Tacos, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

“I’m not eating there,” Gary said as I made a bee-line for the grimy little sidewalk stand, feeding more flies than patrons, bottles of crema baking in the sun. I smelled fish tacos.

“Dos, por favor,” I told the leathery woman dropping fillets into oil. More

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Tacotopia, Episode #3: In Praise of Gringo Tacos

My family loves Taco Bell. “Can we stop at Taco Bell!?” the kids yell anytime we drive past one. And sometimes we relent, because we love Taco Bell too!

Taco shells and Taco Bell seasoning

Taco shells and Taco Bell seasoning

Not in the same way we love a good Baja fish tacos, or al pastor tacos on the street in Jalisco. But the comforting crunch of a gringo taco, as I like to call them — hard shell, spiced ground beef, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, a few tiny cubes of flavorless tomato and taco sauce — is its own piece of nostalgic heaven. More

Sidekicks

A friend of mine with a production company said he wants to make a TV show out of my food blog.

“That would be a gas,” I said. “I have good sidekicks.”

My best sidekick might be my 5-year-old daughter, Imogen. She’s foodier than many foodies I know.

Imogen at 2 years old, mistaking the serving utensils for her own

Imogen at 2 years old, mistaking the serving bowl for her own

“Something smells good,” she said the other night, strolling casually into the kitchen, gazing into the primavera I was making and zeroing in past the asparagus, kale, onion and carrot.

“”Dad, what’s that white stuff in the pan?”

“That’s lobster.”

“Do you think I would like it?” she said coyly.

That’s like the lion asking if you thought he’d like the antelope.

“Yeah, I would guess you might.”

Another night she came into the kitchen, and there was a rather large dry-aged rib eye sitting on the counter.

“Who’s that for?” she inquired.

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What are the qualities that make for a good sidekick? For the purposes of culinary adventures, I would guess they differ somewhat from what the Lone Ranger might’ve appreciated in Tonto. You needn’t be a good scout or tracker for example — except for finding the next great snack or meal.

Sidekicks extraordinaire, Don & Bob

Sidekicks extraordinaire, Don & Bob

A culinary sidekick should bring joy to the drinking and dining experience, should have an irrepressible joie de vivre, and should be ready to follow a culinary adventure wherever it may lead.

(Although I will point out that one of my favorite sidekicks, childhood pal Gary who now lives in Portland, once winced as I dragged him toward a particularly grimy-looking roadside stand in Mexico where I discovered the best fish tacos I’ve ever tasted. “I’m not eating there,” he grumbled.)

It’s easier to find culinary sidekicks than it is to find a good-quality Indian tracker sidekick or a life-of-crime sidekick. Just about everyone wants to be a culinary sidekick. And the job requirements are fairly easy: Must have sense of humor; must enjoy trying new things; must not be gluten-free or vegan or lactose-intolerant or of otherwise delicate constitution; must be able to have a drink in the morning, if asked.

Patas negras under the bridge, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Patas negras under the bridge, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

A culinary sidekick anecdote: I was in Mexico once with one of my favorite sidekicks, pal Don Schneider. “We need to find patas negras,” he said emphatically as we stormed into old town Puerto Vallarta, stopping only briefly for a roadside al pastor taco en route. He had been talking of little else than these mythic black clams for days. It being a warm day out, he suggested we grab a couple Modelo beers to keep us cool while we walked. Then, as we strolled along the waterfront malecon, he stopped suddenly — as if sensing something I couldn’t, or perhaps picking up a scent on the wind.

“This way,” he said, leading me down an embankment and under a bridge, where there sat a very jovial-looking couple and a table piled to the sky with oysters and black clams.

These are the qualities I seek in a Skinny Girls & Mayonnaise sidekick. No application necessary — just grab your favorite bottle, pick up some cheese or charcuterie, a few tacos or some fresh sushi fish, and come on over for your interview.

Year of the Taco

In the Chinese zodiac, 2016 is the Year of the Monkey.

In our house, I’m pretty sure it’s shaping up to be the Year of the Taco.

Taco al pastor, The Taco Stand, La Jolla

Taco al pastor, The Taco Stand, La Jolla

I made many a taco in 2015. But I believe that was just a lead-up to what will be the taco year to end all taco years.

Because over the past 12 months, I’ve gotten good at tacos — really good. Beyond the standard gringo tacos, Baja fish tacos, carne asada and pork al pastor, I’ve branched out into dried beef machaca tacos,  birria goat tacos, fried cheese and shrimp tacoschicharrones and tomatillo tacos, crab tacos and dry-aged rib-eye steak tacos. More