“I’m a uniter, not a divider.”
~ George W. Bush, Governor of the Great State of Texas
“No one wants to listen to politicians, but everyone wants to eat tacos. Tacos are the great uniter.”
~ John Fetterman, Candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania
Ideologically and politically, denizens of the land of the free and home of the brave seem incapable of agreeing on virtually anything, but turn the topic to tacos and there’s almost consensus. Americans love tacos! We love them to the depth and breadth and height our appetites can reach…and our appetites can reach bottomless depths, expansive breadths, dizzying heights and tremendous distances. In 2012, we loved tacos to the tune of 4.5 billion tacos consumed across the fruited plain. That’s the equivalent weight in tacos of two Empire State Buildings (775-million pounds). Our appetites surmounted the equivalent of 490,000 miles of tacos, enough–as Frank Sinatra might croon–to fly you to the moon and back.
No one, it seems, loves tacos more than professional gurgitator (scientific word for “power-eater”) Joey Chestnut, who in May, 2017, set a new taco eating world record by downing 126 tacos in eight minutes. His nearest competitor was only able to polish off a mere 103 tacos (the wimp!). Chestnut, whom you might recognize as the nine-time winner of Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest in Coney Island, also holds records for having consumed 54 brain tacos, 30 fish tacos and perhaps most impressively, 53 soft beef tacos from Taco Bell (most people I know won’t admit to choking down even one).
We love tacos every day of the week, but more so on Tuesday. The Moody Blues, a British rock band, even wrote a song in which they extolled the “beauty of Taco Tuesday afternoon.” Okay, okay, maybe the song didn’t mention tacos, but what else (other than the fact that it’s not Monday) could make Tuesday so beautiful? There’s even a holiday, albeit with no corresponding paid time off, dedicated to tacos. National Taco Day falls on October 4th each year. In 2016, National Taco Day fell on Tuesday as if we needed more reasons to love and eat tacos.
Other than Joey Chestnut, perhaps no one loves tacos more than New Mexicans. In the July, 2017 edition of New Mexico Magazine, the Land of Enchantment’s scintillating four-time James Beard Award winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison penned a feature entitled “Tacos, New Mexican Style.” The feature explored “how a quintessentially Mexican street food jumped the border and gained official red-or-green cred.” Cheryl debunked the myth that Taco Bell invented the hard-shelled taco, recounting that in a 1949 cookbook entitled The Good Life, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert “was the first to include a recipe that featured crispy hard-shell tacos.”
Until rather recently, independent mom-and-pop restaurants specializing in tacos—or at least including tacos on their marquees–were few and far between across the Duke City. More often than not, tacos were just one item listed in compendium-like menus at Mexican and New Mexican restaurants. Today, several eateries include the term “taco” or “taqueria” on their marquees, among them: Casa Taco, El Taco Tote, Tacos Mex Y Mariscos, Taqueria El Paisa, Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila, Taco Sal and Taco Shel. In its Fall Food and Wine Issue for 2016, Albuquerque The Magazine (ATM) indicated Albuquerque has “nearly 170 restaurants that create and serve some of the tastiest tacos of every ilk–from New Mexican to gourmet; seafood to veggie.”
These are not your mama’s tacos! These are tacos the likes of which Margaret C de Baca Martinez (author of the first New Mexican cookbook which referred to tacos) would not recognize. When it comes to today’s tacos, it’s catch-as-catch-can. There are no limits to the diversity and inventiveness of the ubiquitous taco. In January, 2016, a new player in the burgeoning taco market entered the fray, poised to enrapt Duke City diners and imbibers with its own take on gourmet tacos. Owned and operated by the same team which brought us B2B (Burgers to Beer) Bistronomy in Nob Hill, the B2B (Brewers to Beers) Tap Room in the chain-riddled Uptown area, has the pedigree to succeed.
With tacos constructed from New Mexico sourced products–beef from Farm Fresh, pork products from Talus Wind Ranch, and even the blue, red and yellow corn (used to prepare hand-made tortillas) from Sunny State Products of San Jon–the B2B Tap Room has earned the right to use the tagline “New Mexico True.” New Mexico True holds true for its beers, too–54 taps, all from local breweries. Your heart may not swell with state pride when you set foot in the 1,600-foot restaurant, but you should take comfort that the menu promises tacos which are “localicious, tacolicious and delicious.”
The menu lists only two starters–blue corn tortilla chips with your choice of guacamole or salsa and fried chicharrones with cilantro, lime, crema and ranchero sauce. There are ten tacos on the menu constructed with some sort of protein: fresca chicken, braised mole, braised pork carnitas, red chile adovada, house-made chorizo, fried tilapia, sauteed shrimp, lamb barbacoa, beer-braised short rib and steak mojo de ajo. Three vegetarian tacos–chile relleno, squash blossom and nopales–also grace the menu. You’ll wish you had half of Joey’s Chestnut’s appetite so you could eat more than the handful most of us can eat in one seating.
The tequila lime guacamole is thick and obviously made with fresh avocados, but like most guacamole in Albuquerque would benefit from a bit of salsa to cut the richness of the “alligator pear.” We didn’t discern much tequila, but did notice the citrusy tang of the lime sneaking through every once in a while. The pineapple pico de gallo is terrific, a sweet-savory blend that pairs red and white onions with small pineapple chunks. If we could offer just one criticism, it’s that both the guacamole and salsa are served in tiny plastic cups about the size of medicine cups in which pills are dispensed. Not only is it difficult to extricate salsa from such a tiny cup, you can fit only so much salsa in such a small vessel. Other salsa options on the menu are green chile tomatillo, habanero salsa, salsa de arbol and pico de gallo.
The term “chicharrones” has different connotations, all based on where you’re from. In New Mexico, chicharrones are almost universally deep-fried pork cracklings. Occasionally and in Texas, you’ll find restaurants serving something labeled “chicharrones” but which New Mexicans might call “cueritos” (a tripe-like pork strips marinated in vinegar). You’ll also see pork rinds (puffy, crispy fried skin) called chicharrones. The third type is what is served as an appetizer at the Tap House. A cilantro-lime crema and ranchero sauce is drizzled on top of the pork rinds. As pork rinds go, these are pretty good, but if you’re craving New Mexican style chicharrones, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
Consider it heretical if you will, but we found the vegetarian tacos–Squash Blossoms, Nopales and Chile Relleno–even tastier than the meat-based tacos. All tacos are served with pickled carrots, onions, jicama and radishes. Of the three vegetarian offerings, the chile relleno taco has the most piquancy and it’s the only vegetarian taco which also includes corn niblets. Squash blossoms, the edible flowers of the squash plant, make a wonderful taco filling. Even fried, they’re soft and delicate with a flavor reminiscent of squash itself. Noptalitos (prickly pear cactus pads cut into slivers) impart a tangy-sour flavor. The blue corn tortillas, made fresh daily, are not only delicious, but good for you.
The braised chicken mole taco (Cotija cheese, roasted corn, frizzled garlic) is terrific. The mole has the type of complexity indicative of a lengthy preparation process while the chicken is tender and shredded. The mole is sweet, spicy and bright. It makes the other ingredients sing. One word of advice–don’t squeeze any lime onto this taco. The tangy citrus of even a little lime tends to obfuscate some of the other flavor notes of the mole.
Life would be just a bit more pleasant and certainly much more delicious if we all lived every day as if it was Taco Tuesday. Now Taco Tuesday–that’s something we can all agree on.
2201 Louisiana, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
1st VISIT: 13 June 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Chile Relleno Taco, Lamb Barbacoa Taco, Squash Blossoms Taco, Nopales Taco