Tacos Jerez Represents
I’ve only had two true culinary dreams in my years covering eateries: the return of Colombian restaurants to OC and a non-birria Zacatecan dive. Hints of the latter emerged a couple of months ago in Huntington Beach, where Tacos Jerez opened for business. I went on opening day, ate some great tacos and promptly wrote a post on our Stick a Fork In It blog, challenging them to offer, you know, actual Zacatecan food.
It was a personal issue for me: I, like thousands of other county residents, come from Jerez, Zacatecas. I’ve waited far too long for the food of my region—stinky, salty cheeses and furious salsas; cinnamon-scented albóndigas and bitter chocolates; candied yams and a chile-spiked take on the hamburger—to arrive in OC restaurants, and opening a place named after my hometown without following through on the actual food was an outrage. But, thankfully, Tacos Jerez is living up to its nombre—slowly but surely and with aplomb.
It’s a tiny taquería, located on the outskirts of the Slater Slums, with the only decorations being gorgeous photos of Jerez landmarks—the mercado and cathedral, tamborazo bands and the annual burning of a Judas effigy—and massive vats of pickled pig’s feet, ears, skins and lips for munching next to them. Most of its business caters to gabachos (it still offers affordable taquizas and occasionally closes the restaurant early to service a wedding), and the tacos and burritos shine: big, juicy, filling. But don’t expect every taquería meat here—Tacos Jerez only offers what jerezanos like. Carne asada and lengua, of course, but no carnitas, as that’s a Michoacán porcine heresy—we make our pig as an adobada, dried pork marinated in chiles, as juicy as al pastor and as pleasantly desiccated as cecina.
The actual Jerezan meals come as daily specials. One day, it can be nopalitos con puerco—diced cactus, earthy like the best okra, with fried pork. Birria and menudo arrive on the weekend—fine, spicy, with the repollo (cabbage) on the side. But the best dish is the asado de boda jerezano, our impossibly rich take on mole. The chefs fry pork chunks and save the lard to cook into a thick, red sauce livened up by Mexican chocolate and three types of chiles; the mixture is then ladled onto the fried pork. Tacos Jerez’s rendition falls more on the spicy side than the sweet, and it’s only offered on Fridays, but this gives Orange County another culinary laurel—the only restaurant in Southern California that offers a dish usually seen only in labor halls rented out for weddings, a dish that burns slowly, stays on the palate all afternoon and is a marvel of Mexican cooking. . . . Okay, I’m a bit biased here, but it’s delicious.
And dessert? Another jerezano delight: raspanieve, a cup of shaved ice topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, then crowned by warmed guava syrup replete with bits of the fruit. With more specialties such as these, Tacos Jerez can become the most-worshiped SoCal regional Mexican restaurant since Guelaguetza.
Tacos Jerez, 17681 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 837-8244.
This column appeared in print as "A Zacatecan Zing."
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