Behind my taco obsession

At some point in my life – I’m not really sure when – I became completely addicted to tacos. I grew up in Southern California and no doubt had many a taco there. However, I didn’t really grow up in the most chow-centric home, obsessed with authenticity. My mom was a great cook and we ate a home-cooked meal every night. We had tacos weekly, but they consisted of ground beef, fried corn tortillas, refried beans, tomatoes, lettuce, cheddar cheese and sour cream. Now, I still find that to be quite comforting, but somewhere down the line, I became totally and unapologetically obsessed with Mexican food. Real Mexican food.

Partly it started when I was on my mission for my Church. I served in Sydney, Australia, which is a tremendous place to get introduced to nearly every culture on earth. Except for one: Mexican. In my two years of knocking on doors and speaking to every person I could see, I met a total of one Mexican. So, with such a dearth of people from the home country, needless to say what passed as Mexican food in Australia was poor at best. When the general pronunciation of taco is “tack-o” you are in for some trouble. (Don’t get me wrong, I credit Australia with turning me from someone who simply loved food into someone obsessed with the cultural and ethnic variations of every kind of food).

But, for two years, I was on a Mexican food fast. I tried to make it myself, but as an inexperienced 19-year old cook, I had no idea what I was doing. My taste buds suffered.

So when I came home from my mission, I was starved for Mexican food. Within a week, my friend and I took a trip down to Mexico, which we’d done a number of times in High School, to go to the beaches and towns south of Rosarito. Somewhere near K-38 there’s a little taco stand, “Surf Taco” where a guy sells Tacos al Pastor. Thinly sliced, marinated pork, skewered and roasted on a vertical spit. The middle-aged man behind the stand, who had probably been doing this since he was a teenager, deftly shaved off the meat with his machete onto the corn tortilla, threw on cilantro, onions and salsa and within 10 seconds I was eating the best thing I’d ever eaten in my life.

At that very moment, I was hooked. Ordinary tacos wouldn’t do. The crap passed off in most “Mexican” restaurants and taquerias just didn’t cut it any longer. I needed to find tacos that reminded me of that first taco. Surf taco.

Now, more than a decade later, I’m more obsessed than ever. Living on the East Coast makes satisfying this obsession more difficult, but the process of searching, exploring and, in rare cases, finding a great taco makes the prize that much more rewarding.

And so you have it. My taco obsession. It’s insatiable qualities motivates me to explore each promising neighborhood, pursue every vague tip and scoure every possible source to find that perfect taco. That K-38 Surf Taco. And when I do… I’ll talk about it here, and on chowhound.com. Then… it’s on to the next one.



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