Tilapia tacos at home.
I remember the first time I had tacos. It was about four years ago in Las Cruces at the Pro's Ranch Mexican grocery store. I was doing some grocery shopping and I was curious of the line of people at the taqueria.
As the mariachi music blared and the cooks behind the counter created their own symphony of spatulas on stainless steel, I went up, uneasy and hesitant because I didn't speak Spanish, and ordered two tacos.
"Two steak tacos, please," I shouted over the counter, careful not to let any spit come out of my mouth and onto the counter.
"Sure," the lady said.
Before that day, I never paid attention to the small tacos covered in pico de gallo, onions, cilantro and accompanied by limes. They didn't usually sell these in restaurants so I didn't have much exposure to them as a restaurant reviewer for the local paper.
"Thank you," I said to the cashier.
I took my two tacos to the toppings bar and covered them in onions, cilantro, pico de gallo and salsa. The little white corn tortillas disappeared under the toppings and I was disappointed; with the size and mess mostly.
I picked one up and it dripped all over. I was more disappointed. I took a bite and juices ran down my chin. I was even more disappointed.
Lightly grilled white corn tortillas. Grilled and smokey meat. Fresh pico de gallo. Spicy, roasted red chile salsa. Cilantro. Lime juice. Some sort of culinary sorcery.
My eyes widened and I stared at my dinner partner, who also never had tacos before that time.
That bite changed the way I thought about tacos. For more than 20 years, tacos to me were these cheap hard-shelled things that fell apart when you bit them and only came with salty ground beef.
These were fresh, spicy, juicy, and full of a wide range of flavors; a perfect combination of flavors.
After that day I always said, "you could put a dead snake in a taco and it would be delicious."
Since then I've had chicken tacos, fish tacos, pork tacos, duck tacos, pig intestines tacos, Spam tacos, vegetarian tacos. I've had tacos in restaurants and in food trucks, but I especially like tacos from small corner-of-the-grocery store joints like Pro's Ranch.
I like tacos with rice and beans. I like tacos by themselves. I even like them with beer or sitting in the car alone at midnight.
I've had a lot of tacos so, I think I can be snooty about it. I've met some bad tacos and some that didn't even deserve to be called tacos.
Tacos are very popular right now. They're a fad, and that comes with some ridiculousness.
Vampire tacos. Pancake tacos. Hipster tacos.
The original recipe, the holy combination of taco ingredients (meat, pico de gallo, salsa, cilantro and lime) doesn't need to be messed with. But the popularity and novelty status of the taco created some really shitty flavors.
The worse taco I had was on a homemade blue corn tortilla that was so thick and hard, it was like that one weird tortilla chip at the bottom of the bag that's all thick and nasty. It was topped with some kind of meat, I don't remember now because it was so bad, I tried to forget it. It had some kind of cactus salsa that tasted like a sweet jelly with no flavor. There was mango stuff but no limes or cilantro. It was the shittiest thing I ever ate. And it made me angry.
A taco truck near my apartment. They set up on weekend nights.
I strayed from the traditional taco a few times and tried some topped with arugula and micro-greens but they were always disappointing. I had to reset myself at the taqueria.
I definitely have a love for tacos, but I stay away from the novelty stuff. It's not worth it and it's a fad that's going to fade soon, I hope.
This summer I'm going to bring the taco to the Eastern Navajo Nation Fair in Crownpoint, New Mexico. My family and I have always been interested in making food at the fair, so we're going all in this year with tacos. And we're bringing plenty of grilled meats, cilantro and limes.
This was my idea because I want to bring something I love home to the reservation. I want to share these flavors because, like me, they might have not experienced a taco. If there's one thing everyone needs, it's a taste of something different and wonderful; something that could change the way they think about food.
A regular occurrence at my place.