The Taquito Makes a Comeback
The family that froze taquitos is back to save them at El Tianguis
Look at that taquito. Love that taquito. | Photo: Troy Johnson
I remember sitting down to my first plate of them. It was at Roberto’s, in Del Mar, near Torrey Pines Beach. The sun was shining and cherubs tanned themselves nearby. They were perfect. Just three cigars of Mexican-ish food. Tender meat lovingly rolled in tortilla shells, deep-fried, and then topped with an irrational amount of cheese and guacamole and sour cream and hot sauce. I think there was lettuce there, too. That pale lettuce that looks like real lettuce got frightened and all the color drained out of it.
Shaped like thin hot dogs, they were perfect for a 14-year-old who still prefered eating with his hands like an animal. You could eat them sandy and bare-chested and everyone would say, Well hell, that’s the way you’re supposed to eat them. They are a down-to-earth, shirtless food.
They are taquitos. And they are tired of you talking bad about them. How they’re about as authentically Mexican as a Wal-Mart zarape. They do have a history in Mexico, and even a name (flautas).
Sure, they don’t have the rich, Pueblan history of mole. Mole is sexy because it scares non-Mexicans. “They put chocolate in their meat soup? Disgusting.” And so learning to like mole became a badge of honor, an exotic stamp in your mouth passport. And after Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern proved one way to enlightenment and elan is to eat cobra gonad sushi, we’ve all wanted to eat the hard-to-like foods. The durians. The monkfish livers. The moles. Taquitos, meanwhile, were just a basic missile of meat-corn you used to scoop your guacamole-sour cream-cheese fondue. Nothing challenging or nouveau sexy about them.
Taquitos watched as “street tacos” became the Brad Pitt of Mexican food, hip and sexy and too rich for my blood. They chuckled, sadly, as you paid $47 for three street tacos in the mean streets of the Ritz-Carlton.
They’d been through the 1970s, after all. Being the most freezable Mexican food, taquito after glorious taquito was stuffed into a box with 39 other taquitos, blast-chilled, tossed into some truck headed for your surplus retailer, sold to moms who hated to cook, but were kind of sure their children could operate a microwave to heat taquitos. That really took the glamour out of them. No self-respecting food looks at itself in the mirror and says, “let’s become frozen food, that’ll feel nice.” Taquitos hated America as much as America loved them.
The toppings didn’t help. Any food that needed to be buried under that much cheese and guacamole was probably trying to hide some pretty grisly crimes. It’s like trying to get a kid to eat broccoli by reducing it to a mere log floating down Ranch Dressing River. Taquitos were just vessels for the guac-cheese-cream trinity. And, honestly, most of the restaurants serving taquitos were criminals. They were serving us the same frozen bullets of kinda-Mexican food that mom did. Only they were charging more than mom. The fried tortilla was dense and tasteless as particle board. Only reason we ate them is because we didn’t know any better, and plus look at all that cheese and guac.
Yet, while all of foodie America was swiping left on old taquito, the taquito was planning a comeback. And I might have found the place. And the thing about El Tianguis in North Park is that that’s all they serve. You don’t want a taquito? Go overpay for a Brad Pittian street taco somewhere else, my friend.
Ironically, El Tianguis is owned by the family that made its name with frozen taquitos. Their company Delimex, since sold, was the same one I disparaged earlier in this story, since they’ve been supplying places like Price Club and Costco for 30-plus years, and are the top frozen taquito maker.
So I’m sure I’ve tried their frozen taquitos. All of America probably has. But don’t worry about that. Now that I’ve tried their fresh ones—what a difference. The shell is lighter, more tender, less concrete-y than frozen ones I’ve eaten in the past. Almost flakey and airy like pastry dough. Maybe this El Tianguis is their penance for making the freezer the natural habitat of the taquito.
At El Tianguis, you can order four different kinds—beef, chicken, potato, and vegan (lentil and quinoa). Tianguis isn’t perfect. I’d like spicier meats, or even more meat so that the flavor comes through the shell (charge me more, that’s fine). And I’d like tons of sauces to dip my taquitos into (cremas and salsas for days!). But the guac is very good. The salsa is solid. And, most importantly, as a kid who grew up on frozen particle board taquitos, the fresh rolled shell is a revelation.
The taquito will be shunned and marginalized and chuckled at no more.