Eat It: Taco to Me

By on May 2, 2018

How to tour the valley, one tortilla at a time

Streetfood at the Stagecoach makes a mean trio of beef tacos.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Tacos have been the biggest sellers since the day Streetfood at the Stagecoach opened.

Its carne asada, al pastor, chicken tinga and fish tacos continually best its delicious street food inspired from other corners of the world like burgers, gyros, Cuban sandwiches and fish and chips.

“There was one day where we made 1,000 tacos,” owner Marcos Hernandez said.

Hernandez grew up in Leon, Mexico, where tacos are the quintessential street food. Taquerias and street food vendors line the cities of Mexico, where you can find a taco every two blocks. Most taco vendors have simply a counter with no seats or utensils.

“You don’t get napkins and you don’t get forks,” he said. “That’s what the tortilla is for.”

The simple dish is also a favorite for Hernandez, who said he could eat tacos every day for the rest of his life. His personal record was more than a dozen tacos in one sitting.

“I felt sick,” he said. “But it was a happiness kind of sick.”

Amelia Hatchard, co-owner of Streetfood and Hernandez’s wife, said it was a no-brainer to put tacos on the menu. Their popularity has grown so much that the restaurant bought a taco cart complete with a comal for chorizo and tortillas and a spit for al pastor.

Once the weather warms—hopefully on Cinco de Mayo this Saturday—the cart will hit the deck. Although Hernandez says nothing stops a taco cart in Mexico.

“It’s pouring rain in Mexico and people are standing at the taco stand,” he said.

At its core, a taco is a simple, quick and easy food: a warmed corn tortilla, meat, cilantro, onion, lime and salsa. Traditionally, tacos were made with lesser-desired and cheaper meat products like beef tripe and tongue, doused with spicy salsa to enhance flavor.

“That’s not what we’re doing now, but that’s what brought us to today,” Hatchard said.

Indeed, tacos have evolved and most Mexican restaurants in America, or restaurants like Streetfood that serve authentic Mexican tacos, offer higher-quality cuts of meat.

In Jackson, you can find tacos that sit on almost every part of the spectrum: authentic street style, seafood-based, gourmet, Tex-Mex and Americanized.

If you’re looking for an authentic taco experience, try a hole-in-the-wall restaurant like Fiesta, which is nestled between a Mexican market and music store on Alpine Lane, the newly expanded San Juan Restaurant on the corner of Pearl and Glenwood Street, or the strip mall joints of El Metate and Tijuana Mexican Restaurant.

At these eateries, you’ll taste authenticity. You can try traditional tacos with some of the meat options that seem foreign to most Americans. Hernandez said it’s common in Mexico to have brain, stomach, intestines, tongue or even eyeball tacos. Even the most undesirable cut can taste good with the right amount of cooking and time, he said.

“You can eat a bite of tongue and it’s soft and basically melts in your mouth,” he said. It’s one of the best cuts, though Americans are leery of it.

But for the adventurous, it’s still possible to try the authentic experience: Fiesta has lengua (tongue) tacos and El Metate has buche (pork stomach) tacos.

In the coastal cities of Mexico, tacos are served primarily with seafood and the central regional toppings of cilantro and onions are swapped for slaws.

Pica’s Taqueria’s Baja style tacos are the prime example of coastal fare with an Americanized twist. Shrimp and fish offerings are fried in beer batter to a light crispy golden brown, then layered in a warm corn tortilla with fresh tomatoes, chipotle salsa, cilantro and a creamy lime cabbage slaw.

Pica’s Baja shrimp tacos marry Mexican and American flavors.

Queso lovers might also appreciate Americanized tacos. They often come with cheese.

Merry Piglets, the Tex-Mex restaurant in town, serves up ground beef tacos with iceberg lettuce and shredded cheese. El Abuelito, which serves a variety of Mexican dishes with an Americanized take, makes tacos and taco salads with guacamole, sour cream and cheese.

Hatch Taqueria and Tequilas prides itself on its offering of modern tacos. “We wanted to have this eclectic taco scene,” co-owner Andy Ward said. Sure, they wanted to include traditional chicken tinga and carne asada, but also options that you wouldn’t see anywhere else.

“We wanted some flair,” Ward said.

That flair shows in the smoked brisket tacos, the seared yellowfin tuna and the grilled portobello. Hatch also takes toppings beyond the traditional cilantro and onion. The salmon taco is topped with alfalfa sprouts and the seared yellowfin tuna has a jalapeno lime wasabi sauce and jicama slaw.

The tortillas are just as important as the fillings. At Hatch, the chefs make GMO-free corn tortillas in-house, making the masa, stamping them out and cooking them on the flat top.

“We wanted to keep them as healthy as possible,” Ward said.

Hatch almost steered clear of tacos, hoping to focus more on entrees. But eaters wouldn’t have it. “We tried a bunch of different things,” Ward said. “But we learned that people want tacos. Why would we fight that battle?”

About Erika Dahlby

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