Five More Influential Cities in the Development of Mexican Food in the United States

This country needs more panocha!
This country needs more panocha!

Wow! I didn't expect my post on the my choice for the five most influential cities in the development of Mexican food in the United States to inspire so much debate and so much anger from Houstonians aghast that their eternal rival, Dallas, beat them (it's obviously a Texas thing; funny how no Californians gave me shit for putting three Lone Star cities over two Californian entries). So to continue the discussion, and to throw in another gratuitous plug for my upcoming Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, behold five more influential cities, this time in descending order of importance.

IMPORTANT NOTE BEFORE YOU BITCH ME OUT: This list involves cities with influence, not cities with the better Mexican food scene. If that were the case, San Diego and Denver would be on this list. Now, onward to the rant.

6. Houston

Buy this book now--and then buy the rest of Robb's books...
Buy this book now--and then buy the rest of Robb's books...

Yes, Houston: your wonderful city is important in the annals of Mexican food in this country--but not for what you think. You think it's because of Felix Tijerina, a beloved restaurateur who became an iconic civil rights pioneer--but it's not, as his specific Tex-Mex never spread out of Texas (think about it: who outside of Houston has heard of Felix's? Sad, but true) and was codified earlier by the El Chico and El Fenix families over at your beloved Dallas (and that bit about Felix's creating Americanized Mexican food by Mexicans for Americans? Research Olvera Street--I know, that means you'll have to pay attention to something in California for like the first time ever). And you think Houston important because of Ninfa's, the iconic restaurant that introduced fajitas to mainstream America--but the restaurant was a vehicle, much like Chipotle introduced the country to Mission-stye burritos and Kogi helped to popularize loncheras. An important vessel--but a vessel.

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Those points buttress your real contributions to Mexican food in this country: the scientists over at NASA, who have created a tortilla that can last a year, which ensure tortillas will one day land on Mars, and Robb Walsh, the Houston-based writer who has long fought the good fight against pendejos who deem Tex-Mex an abomination. Just wait 'til you read what Robb has to say about "authentic" Mex-food meanie Diana Kennedy...

7. New York

Awesome, super-cheap, super-big tacos árabes at Tacos El Ídolo in the Village...
Awesome, super-cheap, super-big tacos árabes at Tacos El Ídolo in the Village...

New York--per the old Pace Picante sauce commercial, New York City? The city that, until about a decade ago, was notorious for its lack of good Mexican food? Yes: New York. Whenever I get to do a book signing in NYC, I've already promised the Village Voice a cover story on the secret history of Mexican food in the city--but all I'll say right now is that New York was the stage for one of the first famous pop-up Mexican restaurants in the United States, was where a Mexican immigrant received the first patent for a taco shell-making machine, and was the base for Zarela Martinez, one of the country's first famous Mexican cooks. And, of course, there's famed New York Times critic Craig Claiborne, who did more to highlight Mexican food for the United States than any food critic of his era--it was Claiborne who introduced the country to Diana Kennedy, to Martinez, to the margarita and so much more...



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