15 Signs You Grew Up Eating Mexican Food in Southern California

The listicle of why Southern California Mexican food is the best to come...
The listicle of why Southern California Mexican food is the best to come...
Courtesy of Soho Taco

Someone can easily make a list of "50 Signs You Grew Up Eating Mexican Food" and get a kajillion hits--but we're not going to do that. Instead, we're going to get as provincial as possible and revel in the quirks and delight that is eating Mexican food in Southern California and Southern California alone, whether Mexican or not--the rest of the world can watch and drool. Some of the following 15 might hold appeal across Taco USA--but most of them will mystify everyone else, as they should. Enjoy, and let the arguments begin!

15. You Wonder Why Other States Don't Have Fish Tacos or Breakfast Burritos Everywhere

Breakfast burrito from Troy's Drive-In in Orange
Breakfast burrito from Troy's Drive-In in Orange
Photo by Das Ubergeek

Because we invented them, you know? (Kind of). And they're so damn delicious.

14. Your Cousins Invented Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs

15 Signs You Grew Up Eating Mexican Food in Southern California

What's slowly spreading across the country first officially became popular in Los Angeles in the 1990s via Tijuana via Tucson via Sonora--but any Mexican will always swear that their primo Rudy (or was it Chito?) was grilling them up back in Montebello in the 1980s.

13. Sunday Means Menudo, Pozole, Birria, or Chilaquiles

Mmmm...birria
Mmmm...birria
Photo by The Glutster (I think)

All are dishes that first hit the United States in Southern California during the 1920s due to the Mexican exodus from central Mexico. Their ubiquity here is such that even gabachos know and love these meals more than in other regions. And speaking of gabachos...

12. (If You're White) Your Great-Grandpa Ate Tamales from a Wagon, Your Grandma Ate Tamale Pie, Your Mom Ate Tamales from a Can, and You Eat Tamales

XLNT Tamales, SoCal's favorite tamale brand for nearly a century
XLNT Tamales, SoCal's favorite tamale brand for nearly a century

Gabachos have been tamale-crazy as long as they've lived in Southern California, and they'll continue to be, even subjecting themselves to oddities such as tamale pie, which...

11. (If You're Mexican) You Have No Idea Why Anyone Would Willingly Eat Tamale Pie or Tamales from a Can, and Don't Believe they Ever Existed

Tamale pie from Avanti Cafe
Tamale pie from Avanti Cafe

...continues to mystify and enrage Mexis whenever I mention tamale pie or tamales in a can, who refuse to believe Americans would ever subject themselves to such depradations.   10. You Still Remember When a Visit to El Torito/King Taco/Kogi was an Event

15 Signs You Grew Up Eating Mexican Food in Southern California
Wikimedia Commons

Every generation in Southern California has obsessed over a Mexican restaurant chain that reflected the raza reality of the time and allowed us to communally experience comida. El Torito was many gabachos' first experience with a sit-down Mexican restaurant; King Taco, the first true taqueria for Mexis and gabachos alike; Kogi, the grand common denominator of our 21st-century selves. And if you really want to go old-skool, look up Casa Verdugo...

9. At Least One Family Function has been Catered by Tacos

15 Signs You Grew Up Eating Mexican Food in Southern California
Photo by Bill Esparza

Okay, so maybe this is common to Mexicans across the United States--but I'd argue we're the only place where gabachos and chinitos also partake in this tradition. The former group is increasingly catering weddings with tacos; the latter's love for them at college parties inspired Roy Choi to create Kogi.

8. You Do Your Mexican-Food Shopping at Northgate, Vallarta, Superior, or Cardenas

15 Signs You Grew Up Eating Mexican Food in Southern California

Northgate González Markets (where my daddy works as a truck driver) rule Orange County and (increasingly) Los Angeles; Vallarta rules the San Fernando Valley; Cardenas is the market of choice for the Inland Empire; Superior is everywhere. Just as long as you don't shop at El Super, you're fine...

7. You've Always Wondered What Exactly is Inside Jack-in-the-Box's Tacos...but Never Questioned Why Jack-in-the-Box Sells Tacos in the First Place

Our birthright
Our birthright

Our communal guilty pleasure.

6. You Grew Up With This Guy

Looks just like your Tío Ezequiel, no?

  5. You Remember When You Had to Drive to Tijuana to Buy Mexican Coke or Jarritos

15 Signs You Grew Up Eating Mexican Food in Southern California

Believe it or not, gabachos, Mexican sodas were not widely available in Southern California as recently as the early 1990s. I still remember our family having to keep all the bottles of Jarritos or Mexican Coke so we could redeem them in Tijuana for the next shipment of the sweet sodas. Now, you can buy them in liter jugs, a fact that alternately disturbs and delights me.

4. You Still Don't Know Why Combo Plates Come with a Salad

15 Signs You Grew Up Eating Mexican Food in Southern California

Okay, so this photo doesn't have the salad I'm talking about, but every Southern California knows what I'm talking about: that pathetic jumble of lettuce and a couple of tomato pebbles that no one ever actually eats. I'm sure that the eater in this picture just tossed it in the trash before taking the shot.

3. You Remember Taco Trucks Before They Were Cool

The magnificent Alebrije's
The magnificent Alebrije's

Which would've been before 2006.

2. You Miss Naugles...or Don't Know What the Hell It Is

It's coming back--details to come...
It's coming back--details to come...

In my Mexican food adventures in Southern California, I've discovered that there's no more unlikely indicator of a generational gap than Naugles, a once-mighty fast-food chain gobbled up by Del Taco in the 1990s. Those who grew up with it, Mexican and gabacho alike, still speak wistfully of Naugles and freak out at any and all mention of it, proclaiming it was the one fast-food chain besides In-n-Out that worked. Those of us who didn't just look at them funny.

And the #1 sign you grew up eating Mexican food in Southern California? Come on, it ain't hard to figure out...   1. You Hate Tex-Mex Food

All of Southern California: "HERESY HERESY HERESY!" Unless you live in Whittier
All of Southern California: "HERESY HERESY HERESY!" Unless you live in Whittier

Even if you've never eaten actual Tex-Mex delights like puffy tacos, al pastor burgers, rolled tacos, breakfast tacos, migas, or barbacoa. You don't have to--it's Texas, and everything that comes from Texas is EVIL.

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