Patrick Kurp notes a “culinary disappointment” during his recent trip to Portland: the inconvenient closure of the local taquerias. I can sympathize. I don’t know Mr Kurp but I used to live in Seattle, not far from where he lives now, and I can assure you that there is no such thing as authentic Mexican food in Washington State. I’m surprised to hear that it may exist in Oregon, but Kurp once lived in Houston so he ought to know what he’s after.
Predictably, the Mexican food improves the farther one travels down the west coast of the United States. From San Francisco southward is a golden territory. The 38th parallel, as I imagine it, marks an invisible Tropic of Taqueria, roughly coinciding with the historical frontier of Spanish and Mexican settlement. Our relocation to California six years ago was full of gastronomic consolations (local wine, year-round farmers’ markets, fresh artichoke and avocado, etc.) but easy access to real Mexican food was perhaps the most consoling.
A personal favorite is Taqueria La Bamba in Mountain View, not far from the campus of a certain Internet Goliath I will not name. Their al pastor and carnitas (crisped at the edge and tender inside) are tasty perfections. Also recommended are the Salvadoran pupusas, thick corn tortillas stuffed with pork or cheese and eaten with curtido, a fermented cabbage and onion relish. Wash it all down with a glass of sweet horchata to put out the fire. At La Bamba, a taco will set you back a negligible $1.85.
A more recent discovery is Victor’s, not far from my office in San Francisco. While their al pastor failed to impress, the carnitas and sopes have been praised in my hearing. The chief reason to eat here, however, seems to be the saucy compliments (and I don’t mean the salsa). At Victor’s you get to hear yourself called “guapo” (handsome) at least a half dozen times by the motherly ladies behind the counter. “Hola, guapo!” “What’s it going to be today, guapo?” “Hasta, guapo!” This is what Victor’s is known for. To judge by my receipt ($4 for a single taco), the special treatment comes at a premium.
Photo credit: Flickr user mrjoro