A Taco Stand Survival Kit
All roads in Guadalajara lead to the undisputed champ of Mexican street fare – the taco. In Mexico’s second city, the steamy, sizzling taco stands offer more than cheap eats. They promise a unique, authentic cultural experience.
Many travelers in Mexico heed the resounding warnings – no water, no fruit, no taco stands. Avoiding tap water is solid advice and fruit without a peel should be disinfected. Despite the third admonition, passing up eating tacos with the locals is like turning down the bratwurst vendor at Wrigley Field. Missing Guadalajara’s tacos is, simply put, missing out.
Though it might require a slight sense of adventure, taco eating need not be reckless. For the hygienically concerned, Tacos Providencia, in Guadalajara’s upscale Providencia neighborhood, boasts some of the city’s best – and priciest, at about eighty cents a piece – tacos in a completely enclosed, immaculately clean environment with all of the flavor and none of the wariness. Tacos Providencia is for the taco sophisticated.
The mind-boggling number of taco stands in Guadalajara is easily explainable. There are few startup costs, little overhead and enormous demand. Hitting the streets means more than supporting “the little guy.” It means meeting him, shaking his hand, maybe even eating with him. To ease painstaking decisions, know your options beforehand. Nearly all taco stands offer the following: tacos al pastor (marinated pork tacos), tacos de bistec (steak tacos) and tacos de chorizo (Mexican sausage tacos). Some stands have much more, including lengua (tongue), tripas (tripe), cabeza (head), even ubre (udder), sesos (brains) or ojo (eye). Unless you have two iron stomaches, you might want to limit your first round to pork, steak, or chorizo tacos.
It is also important to know what to look for. Yes, tacos are the champ of Mexican street fare, but this doesn’t mean that all tacos are champs. Taco stands range from exquisite to eerie. The best source for finding great tacos is, of course, the locals. Ask them where they like to eat. Walk by a prospective taco stand and look it over. Find another one if it looks unkempt or, more importantly, if no one else is eating there.
Keep in mind that not all stands are equal. Some use store-bought tortillas, cook the meat in a large metal comal (which usually means more grease than grilled meat) with no guacamole. Others pad out the corn tortilla dough and lay it on the griddle before your very eyes, grill the meat on the spot and offer a wide array of homemade salsas, including guacamole.
Once you find “your” stand, know how to order. Complete the following phrase. _____ tacos de _____, por favor. Fill in the first blank with a number, the second with the filling. If necessary, point to the filling you want. Then, do as the locals do and add chopped onion, cilantro, salsa, guacamole and some beans to each taco. Grab a slice of lime, pick out the seeds and drizzle its juice over the whole heap.
If you find yourself in Guadalajara, or in another city of Mexico, remember that tacos present options for both the brazen and the not-so-lion-stomached. Search for a place that you are comfortable with, and then dive into the sights, sounds, and flavors.