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Stop Cheapening Mexican Food

Just stop it.
Yellowtail taco on blue corn tortilla at Galaxy Taco

Both are four-door sedans. Both have six-speed transmissions, airbags, antilock brakes, air-conditioning, cup holders, and cruise control. Both of them will get your kid to soccer practice. Yet the Kia Forte retails for about $16,600. The 2018 Aston Martin Rapide retails for $244,740.

Doesn’t matter whether or not you think the Aston Martin is worth it, or if you could think of a quarter million things you’d rather do with that quarter million dollars. Fact is, no one would claim that the Kia Forte is as good of a car as the Aston Martin. Not the CEO of Kia. Not even the wildly drunk CEO of Kia.

Because doing so would demonstrate a certain imperviousness to facts, and possibly a brain lesion. It would show a disassociation with reality—the same kind that afflicts people who claim that no taco should cost more than five dollars.

It’s time to end the epidemic of devaluing Mexican food. Time to let our city’s most culturally important cuisine off the bottom shelf.

Many San Diegans were raised on inexpensive fast-food Mexican, or street tacos that cost about the same. I love street tacos. But most of my favorite street taco vendors use bulk, store-bought tortillas out of a bag. I can taste a drastic qualitative difference between those and the non-GMO heirloom blue corn masa Galaxy Taco uses for their fresh-to-order tortillas. Spoiler: Galaxy’s tacos cost more.

The bottled hot sauce from my Mexican drive-thru is not on the same flavor planet as the “white widow” sauce made from scratch by chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins at El Jardín. Spoiler: her taco costs more.

I have a special place in my heart for Roberto’s. It was every level of my food pyramid as a teenager. But the quality of the fish in their fish taco is several rungs below the quality of the fish in Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill’s fish taco. Spoiler: costs more.

Pre-shredded cheddar cheese from Restaurant Depot costs significantly less than the cave-aged Cotija cheese on Juniper & Ivy’s Carne Crudo Asada.

Then there are the other costs. A formica table at a fast-food joint costs much less than the live-edge wooden tables at El Jardín. A free beer poster is a lot freer than the mural commissioned by a local artist at Death by Tequila. Hiring a line cook is significantly less expensive than hiring a cook from Per Se (Anthony Wells, Juniper & Ivy).

There is Kia Forte Mexican food, and there is Aston Martin Mexican food. Both have their place and their value. I would never tell a fast-food Mexican joint that they need to be using organic heirloom tomatoes. And I wouldn’t tell a top chef to use out-of-season tomatoes grown in Florida sand with all the flavor of red water.

By asserting that tacos, tostadas, birria, or any other Mexican food specialty should only cost so much, you ghettoize a cuisine. In Southern California, home to the largest per-capita Hispanic population in the US, that’s an especially cruel thing to do to the chefs and eaters who love it.

Let Mexican food be better. Let it out of the limited sphere of your spare change.

Stop Cheapening Mexican Food

Yellowtail taco on blue corn tortilla at Galaxy Taco

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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