“Baby let’s make a run for the border,
I’ve got a hunger only tacos can stop.
I know exactly what I’ll order
Three tacos two tostadas and a soda pop.”
~Jennifer Lopez (Eric Cartman from South Park)
Ironically, every time Taco Bell has made its own run for the border, it invariably winds up scurrying away like a frightened cur (the chalupa-loving Chihuahua), its nachos bellgrande tucked between its legs. Mexico hasn’t even had to build a wall to keep Taco Bell away. During multiple forays into the Land of Montezuma, the Mexican dining public very loudly and very clearly derided “America’s favorite Mexican restaurant” for what it is—uninspiring Mexican-inspired food. Cultural critic Carlos Monsivais likened Taco Bell’s attempt to bring tacos to Mexico “like bringing ice to the Arctic.” Most sentiment wasn’t quite as kind.
Mexico is very protective of its rich culinary culture…and rightfully so. Its distinctive ingredients, omnifarious diversity and palate-pleasing qualities are unsurpassed. So much so that in 2010, traditional Mexican cuisine became the very first ethnic cuisine to be honored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO declared “Traditional Mexican cuisine is a comprehensive cultural model comprising farming, ritual practices, age-old skills, culinary techniques and ancestral community customs and manners. It is made possible by collective participation in the entire traditional food chain: from planting and harvesting to cooking and eating.”
The next time you hear someone expressing holier-than-thou sentiments about Mexico and its people, remind them of that lofty recognition. Remind them that because of the great pride the Mexican people take in their cuisine, there are no–that’s zero, zip, zilch–Taco Bells in Los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Sadly, the same can’t be said about the Land of Enchantment which itself was part of Mexico until 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. Despite the fact that New Mexico is overrun by Taco Bell restaurants, I’m not advocating returning our home state to its previous provincial master. What I’m saying is that from Mexico we can certainly learn a thing or twenty about choosing authenticity over convenience and deliciousness over mediocrity.
A great place to start is the venerated Taqueria Mexico which largely in diminutive downtown digs has been serving the Duke City for nearly a quarter-century. During its storied tenure on Lomas, blue-, white- and black-collar (judges in full regalia) loyalists either braved life and limb to cross frenzied Lomas for their taco fix or they’d make pilgramages from all over the city. They would then line up like bettors at a race track’s parimutuel windows to place their orders at a take-out window. Some would then ferry their bounty to the nearest park bench or office while others would adjourn to the comfort of their vehicles to enjoy their repast.
In September, 2019, Taqueria Mexico vacated its familiar hole-in-the-wall digs and moved northward to a nondescript strip shopping center on Menaul between 2nd and 4th Streets. According to KOB, the move was precipitated by racially motivated vandals continually targeting the restaurant. For habitues, the trade-off for walking distance convenience is a much more capacious restaurant, one in which you can actually take a seat indoors, peruse the menu leisurely and place your order with a server. For the skeptics among us who don’t especially like standing in line or not having a comfortable place to sit, the new location is a godsend.
Taqueria Mexico has one of the most comprehensive menus of any Mexican restaurant in the area. Breakfast plates and breakfast burritos get your day started off on the right food (SIC). One of the unique aspects of the menu is that there’s an entire page dedicated to “Combination Plates” and another page devoted to “Combination Plates Plus.” All combination plates come with rice and beans, some with warm tortillas. Burritos (filled inside with onions, cilantro, salsa, beans and rice); tortas (served with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and jalapenos) and tacos a la carte (topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and cilantro) occupy page 4 of the menu while page 5 is the domain of hot sandwiches, soups and stews. Seafood, salads and a kid’s menu live on page 6 while the last page lists daily specials, fountain drinks, sides and homemade desserts. There’s something for everyone.
4 December 2019: Diane Kennedy, the doyenne of Mexican cooking, once denounced the practice of serving salsa and chips as a prelude to a Mexican meal as inauthentic (sort of like Taco Bell). That practice is, in fact, much more common across the fruited plain than it is in Mexico. In that respect, there’s certainly no reason to cross the border. Not when you can get terrific salsa and chips at restaurants such as Taqueria Mexico. The chips are still hot when they arrive at your table while the salsa is also hot in the other way the term is defined. Some would describe it as “muy picante.”
20 December 2019: Diana Kennedy also decried adding lime to guacamole because it spoils the delicate balance of flavors. In her estimation, the “perfect” guacamole is made with such ingredients as ripe avocados, finely chopped white onions, Serrano chiles, cilantro, sea salt and unskinned tomatoes. The perfect guacamole is also made in a molcajete, a volcanic-rock mortar and pestle. Taqueria Mexico’s guacamole isn’t perfect, but it isn’t bad, especially if you don’t especially like a lot of personality on your avocado mash. For those of us who prefer it with a tinge of heat, spoon in a little bit of salsa and it’s instantly improved.
4 December 2019: As frequently chronicled on this blog, Mexican tortas defy definition. At their essence, tortas are a sandwich…or rather a panoply of magnificent sandwiches as varied and diverse as any tacos or burritos. That’s largely because the very same fillings commonly used on tacos and burritos are used in the construction of tortas. The largest difference, of course, is that tortas are served in a crusty bolillo or a soft telera roll. Taqueria Mexico’s tortas are made on pillowy soft, toasted telera rolls. There are nine tortas on the menu, my favorite of which is the Torta Mexicana (ham, avocado, Jack cheese, mayo, tomato, jalapeño and lettuce) served with fries. It’s a well constructed sandwich with the soft telera roll warmed up on a griddle, and all the accoutrements working wonderfully together.
20 December 2019: Throughout Mexico, Central and Latin America, you’ll find an endless variety of fish (and shellfish, octopus and other seafood) “cooked” in citrus juice and tossed with other ingredients used to create fresh, delicious ceviche. Taqueria Mexico offers ceviche in two forms–a shrimp ceviche plate or shrimp tostada – ceviche. If, like me, you appreciate hand-held foods, the latter option is usually best, however, this version is so whelmed with citrus and tomato juices, that there’s no way you can pick it up. Even though the tostada is rendered soggy, you can still use your chips for the same purpose.
20 December 2019: Linda, my sagacious boss (and delightful dining companion) who teaches me something valuable every day, has long contended that the very best chicharrones to be found in the Duke City come from Taqueria Mexico. For years she’s enjoyed them only from the comfy, climate-controlled confines of her truck so she jumped at the opportunity to join me for an actual sit-down experience at the restaurant. Comfortably ensconced at a table for two, she assiduously studied the menu at greater length than all those visits to the take-out window location during which she just ordered the chicharron burrito. This time she ordered a combination plate (three flautas, a tamale, a chile relleno, beans and rice) with a chicharron burrito to go.
The chicharron burrito is roughly the size of a piece of firewood, a tarpaulin-sized tortilla enveloping a small swine’s worth of chicharrones, chopped green chile, diced white onions and somewhere in there, Taqueria Mexico’s creamy, delicious refried beans. It didn’t bother me so much that the green chile would rate just above a bell pepper on the Scoville heat index, but the relative absence of beans saddened me (they’re some of the best beans in town). Thankfully, a copious bounty of chicharrones improved my mood greatly. Taqueria Mexico’s chicharrones are crispy, crunchy, meaty exemplars of fried pork, truly porcine perfection. After we finished our meal, Linda picked up her to-go chicharron burrito and unwrapped it in her truck. Lo and behold, it was replete with beans. Taqueria Mexico must have given her my share as well as her own. Grrr!
The next time you feel like making a run for the border, do yourself a huge favor and visit Taqueria Mexico instead. This is inspired Mexican food that for nearly a quarter-century has earned the loyalty and love of Duke City dining devotees.
300 Menaul, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Website | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 December 2019
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Torta Mexicana, Salsa and Chips, Guacamole, Tostada de Ceviche, Chicharron Burrito, Agua Fresca de Melon, Combination Plate