Taking a stand against substandard tacos

by Brian Clarey

That’s it. I’m taking an oath: No more crappy tacos. No more brittle, corn-chip-tasting taco shells that crumble with the first bite or fall apart at the seams. No more orange-y seasoned meat in unrec- ognizable crumbles that gives me heartburn just by looking at it. No more shredded iceberg lettuce and waxy, yellow cheese. No more of this nonsense that passes for tacos in this country, and has for far too long. It doesn’t have to be this way, particularly in the little corner of Greensboro where I work, a multicultural section of town with a Latino presence strong enough to support an industry of bodegas, carnicerias and taquerias, ensuring that I never have to go to Taco Bell ever again.

La Milagrosa is maybe two miles from where I am sitting right now — my desk at the YES! Weekly offices; I can drive there in just a couple minutes. Sure, there’s no drive-thru window or high-profile promotions or free toys for the kiddies. And that’s just fine with me. Like many taquerias in town, la Milagrosa shares space with a Hispanic general store, selling groceries, exotic cuts of meat, laundry supplies, cow- boy boots, quinceañera dresses, piñatas and virtually every other trapping of the culture. Adjacent to the main store is a sparse dining room with empty coolers and display cases; a single attendant works the counter. There are no menus — a dozen color photos of every dish available hang on the wall: tacos, empenadas, tortas, tampiqueña, fajitas, carne de puerco, sopa and the like. These were actual pictures of the food, not falsified products of an advertising department in some big city somewhere.

Prices start at $5 and top off at $8, cheap enough to compete with all the Mexican pretenders out there, but in another world in terms of taste, authenticity and quality.

I was there today, occupying a booth along the wall while a four-top of Hispanic men shared another nearby. We were the only ones in the place, save for the Latina behind the counter who took the orders, made the food and served it fresh from the kitchen.

I ordered the tacos, carne asada style, which you can’t even get at the fast-food joints; a similar dish in the Americanized Mexican restaurants in town look and taste nothing like the dish with which I was presented. Four tacos, loaded with big chunks of seasoned beef, raw diced onion and big piles of fresh cilantro, placed lovingly inside soft, thick corn tortillas that I know were made that day, in that very kitchen. I knew because I could see the griddle marks, and because I know you cannot buy a commercial tortilla like these. I have tried.

The tacos taste like something straight out of someone’s abuela’s kitchen — every ingredient made itself known from the corn tortilla to the onion to the refreshing cilantro that muted the spices in the meat. I loaded my first few with green and red sauces, hot enough to make my eyes water and take deep pulls from my tamarind soda.

I could barely finish the meal — though I did — and unlike my fastfood taco experiences, I did not immediately feel nauseous. In fact I felt fantastic, my blood alive and roiling with hot spices and fresh food. You can’t get that from a drive-thru.