Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tacos and chilis, with a dash of fumes

Paris has its very Left Bank sidewalk cafe Les Deux Magots, on Place Saint Germain de Prés, where the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus sat for hours noodling their own depressing thoughts about the Human Condition, over one sip of espresso after another.

San Miguel has a famous roadside eatery too--Alex Tacos--a here-now-gone-in-three-hours culinary apparition on wheels that arrives every day but Wednesday and Sunday, at around five o'clock, on the road to Querétaro as you're heading out of town.

Not much chatter, existential or otherwise, takes place at Alex's. Folks instead sit on six plastic chairs gathered around a table, or mostly stand, to wolf down various interpretations of tacos. No one seems to have much on their mind except eating, and anyway the traffic noise drowns out any possible conversation.

Alex Tacos revving up for the evening. Tall Caucasian man on the right is Stew.
There's a bus stop and a speed bump just before you reach Alex' cart, so most vehicles are groaning  through first and second gear as they go by, creating a heady mix of exhaust fumes and the aroma of various meats, onions and chilis sizzling on the grill.

Though there are actually three taco carts, lined up about two blocks from one another, we had noticed that Alex seemed to be the main attraction, and so we took Félix, his wife and two kids there for dinner on Friday.

As soon as Alex' wagon arrives, its four or five stagehands assemble the nightly spectacle with the precision and dexterity of a crew of old circus hands: Unhooking the cart from the pickup truck, yanking it on the sidewalk, and blocking the cart's wheels; assembling the tarps and poles overhead; running a thick orange extension cord to a cooperating storefront down the street; firing up the propane under the frying pans and laying out a spread of chopped onions, pineapple chunks and sliced cucumbers, along with small plastic tubs filled with menacing-looking chilis.

In about a half hour, the smoke and aromas begin blowing in all directions and a crowd of fans assembles.

By six o'clock it's standing-room only and customers wiggle past each other and pass plates full of tacos overhead to relatives and friends on the periphery of the increasingly frenzied operation.

As it gets dark, the ghostly-white glare of a string of jumbo fluorescent bulbs flicks on. Then the hubbub around Alex Tacos takes on the appearance of a tent revival, albeit one for the gut not the soul. 

A young waiter brought several bowls of sauces of different colors and varying firepower, and chili cognoscenti confidently spooned out a glob of this one and a splash of that one, or maybe both. Stew and I tried them all, but cautiously.

Most of the menu I could figure out or had tried before. Tacos al pastor (shepherd-style tacos) contain slices of meat from a slowly rotating spit that looks like the gyros ball at a Greek restaurant. There are steak tacos along with "gringas", which seemed to be a mish-mash of various ingredients, and also  quesadillas containing cheese and another ingredient.

We ordered tacos al pastor, which were alright but not eye-popping. Then we followed with quesadillas de longaniza, (quesadillas with Mexican sausage) which were sensational and went a long way toward justifying Alex's nightly crowds. We'd go back to Alex's just for the quesadillas.

Some offerings were a bit more challenging, such as tacos de cabeza or "head tacos." According to Félix, they can contain various things, all from the whole head of a cow, including eyeballs, lips,  brains and whatever.

We stayed away from those as well as the horchata, a drink made with rice, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Its sweetness is supposed to balance out the spiciness of the rest of the food. Yet its murky appearance in an unrefrigerated glass jar didn't seem too appealing, so we stuck with lukewarm Cokes.

Félix's wife and four-year-old girl Alondrita are not talkative types and were particularly mum that night, just scarfing down the food and smiling shyly once in a while. Other than a running commentary on the menu, Félix didn't say much either.

Mexicans don't seem to consider a taco cart by the side of a busy road much of a venue for the fine art of conversation.

Grrr: That's a damn good cucumber slice.
At the conclusion of the meal the young waiter added up the various sodas, tacos, gringas, quesadillas and what-have-you's--however there were of each--and the bill came up to approximately US$16. Not a bad deal at all.

Félix's seven-month-old boy Edgar was the most attentive yet quietest of the diners. He kept his big brown eyes at full-alert, silently checking everyone and everything that went by.

His appetite wasn't much either: Equipped with two brand-new teeth, he just chewed and gummed a slice of cucumber most of the evening.

After that, we drove to MacDonald's where Edgar cautiously slurped a teaspoonful of vanilla ice cream and promptly went to sleep in his mother's arms.

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11 comments:

  1. I usually get tacos al pastor, and add every fixin there is--pretty good stuff. Of course fish and chicken are also wonderful. As of the unusual I did try a tongue taco this year, when I was in Melaque, and who really knows what it was, did not taste like what I thought and have had tongue taste like. I will be sticking to my usuals as far as tacos go, and leaving tongue for a different sort of meal, like in a good Cuban restaurant.

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    1. Tongue is not supposed to be eaten, according to my picky Cuban taste. Stick to the tacos al pastor.

      Alfredo

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    2. Alfredo,

      Pero lengua guisada es tan deliciosa...

      But I will stick to the tacos al pastor as far as tacos go.

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  2. I guess you will simply need to reserve your Sartre until Friday. I am warming up my Friedman.

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  3. How nice to receive a new food recommendation. I used to buy tacos al vapor nearby as this isn't far from my house; now I'll have to try these. Tacos de Cabeza are my son's absolute favorite--will store this up for when he visits. Thanks!

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  4. Victoria: I'm shocked! How can you let your son eat tacos de cabeza! What sort of a mom are you!
    LOL

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  5. Tacos on the side of the road. One of my favorite things in life. BTW - my kids' (ages 10 & 12) favorite is lengua ...

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    1. Mommy: Good for them that they are learning to eat a variety of food. My dad was a very picky eater--we hardly at fish--and he passed that on to me, and now I'm trying to overcome it. Tongue, though, I don't know.

      al

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  6. When my son came back from spending his last year of high school in France, the first thing he wanted as comfort food was tacos de cabeza, his absolute favorite. But not from my kitchen ;) I have heard of Alex's, but never eaten there, though I used to frequent one of his neighbors for tacos al vapor.

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