Thanks to our sister in crime Laura Shunk at Denver's Westword for bringing Taco Bell's new "Cantina Tacos" to our attention. We were apparently asleep at the switch, given that Gustavo, Edwin and I are huge proponents of street food, and this was happening right in our own backyard.
Where do we even start?
For those of you who are new to this concept of street cart tacos, let's explain what they are: chopped meat (in this country usually carne asada or carne adobada/al pastor, and almost never chicken) on two small corn tortillas, which you top with chopped onions, chopped cilantro and salsa from a plastic squeeze bottle. There are always pieces of Mexican lime nearby to add a hit of acid to the taco. You fold them up and they're gone in two or three bites.
The picture Taco Bell has doesn't look like any street taco I've ever seen; it looks, like everything Taco Bell sells, like Fancy Feast™ chunky-style kibble topped with airport-terminal chopped salad. The photo looks like they used actual corn tortillas, which is something of a novelty at Taco Bell, but the chicken and steak have the usual sprayed-on grill marks and the carnitas, which are supposed to be pork cooked in its own fat, look like chopped pork loin.
Here's what chief marketing officer David Ovens said about the new tacos: "Our Cantina Tacos are based upon authentic-style Mexican street tacos, which are designed using simple, fresh ingredients, that customers regard as high quality."
He didn't assert that the ingredients are actually high quality, he just hopes that the customers will think they're high quality. Go to any Taco Bell and tell me whether you would trust the gastronomic opinion of any of the customers. Then again, what do you expect from someone with the greasiest title in a company?
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Next, there's the price: $1.49 each, $2.79 for two and $4.99 if you want two and nearly a quart of soda. If any Mexican street cart or lonchera owner tried to charge those prices, they'd be completely devoid of anything resembling customers. While there's no better bargain than Tacos el Chavito in Huntington Beach's Slater Slums (2 tacos for $1, and free pineapple juice), most loncheras charge $1 per taco or so.
Also, I'll bet you have to pay for your tacos before you eat them, a disturbing state of affairs that is most certainly not like a lonchera. When you eat tacos at a cart, you order, you get your food, and you eat it. If you want more, you order more. When you're done, you tell the cashier how many tacos you ate and what you drank, and you pay for it. The honor system has worked since there were taco carts.
Don't fall for this Taco Bell malarky. Eat real street tacos. Find a truck or a cart with a line; they're busy for a reason. Order a couple of arrachera tacos, or maybe suadero (brisket end), or carne adobada cut from a spit with a little bit of pineapple. Grab a Mexican Coke (they're still made with sugar) or a Sidral Mundet apple soda and scarf the food standing on the curb.
Side note: It's almost guaranteed that someone will respond with something about the supposed hygienic shortcomings of street tacos. Places--bricks and mortar, or mobile--that poison their customers don't last. Real loncheros have pride in their food and want you to enjoy it.