Exotic foods are trendy, and probably always have been. Just check the supermarket aisles. Yogurt? Old news. Greek yogurt is where it’s at. Hot sauce? Gimme sriracha instead, please.
And on and on.
Foodies, inevitably, take it another level. Andrew Zimmern has made a small fortune eating bull testicles, and Anthony Bourdain beats the drum of peasant food like a reanimated Keith Moon, heralding the rich, complex character of the passed over bits with unbridled passion. To those guys, Greek yogurt and sriracha are as pedestrian as Kraft cheese. Their eyes are on the horizon for the next big wave.
There’s a push for new flavors, a constant expansion of the American palate. Grandma liked liver and onions. We crave quinoa and kale, staple foods of poorer cultures. We want to feel wholesome, authentic, and unique.
Here in old Detroit, I’ve been on my own indulgent quest, the search for the holy grail of Mexican food: an authentic taco. Lord knows I’ve spent countless hours driving up and down Vernor in Detroit’s Mexicantown like El Dorado was a left turn away, ravenous and frothing at the mouth. But I always left with the taste of defeat on my lips, the perfect taco just out reach.
Little did I know that all I had to was hang a right at rough and tumble Junction and check into Los Corrales. Turns out El Dorado was paved in red brick, a classic two-story urban building. Yes, it’s a little hokey inside, with faux adobe walls and a bathroom designed to look like an outhouse, but it’s impossible not to be smitten by all the photos of gauchos.
Besides, you’re there for the tacos, right?
The anatomy of an authentic taco, Los Corrales taught me, is deceptively simple. Fresh corn tortillas. Cilantro. Diced onion. Meat. That’s it. If someone tries to put a flour tortilla on your plate, or insists on throwing lettuce and tomato on top, you’ve been bamboozled. Hoodwinked. Cheated. Adding sour cream is a grievous sin, processed cheese an even worse offense.
A true taco is a bold experience centered on the individual strengths of a few key ingredients. It’s not the culinary equivalent of a Stephen King bestseller, some magnum opus of sloppy favors. It’s haiku.
Mercifully, Los Corrales does tacos right. And what’s more, the restaurant offers up ol’ school Mexicano meats, from beef head to pork stomach, or tacos de buche. The mere mention of either likely sends chills up the spines of most Americans, but honestly, if no one told you that the meat on your taco was grilled cow cheek, you’d never guess it wasn’t regular ground beef. Although pork stomach might fool you, tasting significantly less – for a lack of a better word – porky than ham or bacon.
Yes, that’s righ – believe it or not, they don’t eat it for shock value. Whether it’s lamb tongue at an Arabic restaurant in Dearborn or tripe at Los Corrales, cooks go to extreme lengths to make the resulting dishes as normal as possible. The real appeal lies in the inventive techniques devised to hide the gamey flavors, a veritable People’s Army of strong seasonings and flavorings. It’s like a big, cosmic fuck you to the crooks that hoard the so-called good stuff that says, “Hey, we still eat better than you.”
For tacos, the magical seasonings are the aforementioned cilantro and raw onions. For menudo, a soup made with beef tripe, oregano and several whole chili peppers are piled on a plate next to the bowl. If only we were this adventurous with chicken breast and steak!
So if you’re ever in Detroit, want a “real” taco, and don’t want to track down an elusive taco truck, give Los Corrales a try. The prices are right and the food is excelente. You won’t regret it, hombre.