This Thursday, I fly to the University of Houston in what will be the official end of my Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America tour. It's been a great ride that has taken me from the Bay Area to Texas about a million times, the South and virtually all other points, but while the tour ends, the conversation continues FOREVER.
At each stop, someone inevitably asks the following: what do you think will be the next big trend in Mexican food in this country? And, as always, I have an answer. For those entrepreneurial readers out there: capitalize on one of these fast, and you'll become a millionaire many times over--interested?
5. The Continued Spread of Regional Mexican Food
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Here in Southern California, we're awash in the food of nearly all regions of Mexico--but the majority of the country still must endure a Tex-Mex/Cal-Mex duopoly over their Mexican food. That's slowly changing as the Reconquista spreads across the United States, and each region will attain their own focus. New York is already the capital of Pueblan food in the United States, the South is slowly turning into barbacoa estilo Hidalgo central, and I remember going to Philadelphia years ago and finding a Michoacán dish so rare that I can't even remember the name (it came from the Purépecha, though). Expect rare regional specialties to continue, and avaricious chefs to continue appropriating said dishes.
4. Mexican Sweets
Americans are already crazy for Mexican Coke, and Jarritos is making inroads into that market as well. They are good gateway drugs into the rest of the Mexican sweets galaxy on the mainstream level. On the subaltern front, there's a growing demand for Mexican artisan chocolate and vanilla, the OG Mexican sweets, and you're already seeing the growth of paletas slowly go up (there was an effort a couple of years ago to make it the Next Big Cosa, but that didn't pan out--too early). I'm not sure if tamarind or candies with chile will take hold soon, but they will--millions of Mexican schoolchildren sharing their Lucas candy can't be wrong.
3. Children of Mexican Immigrants Becoming Chefs and Taking Their Parent's Food to the Next Level
Carlos Salgado (at right) of Taco Maria and Soho Taco's Gabriel Zambrano are emblematic in Orange County of the next wave of Mexican chefs--those who are classically trained but want to work within the confines of their parents' food to take it into the next level. It was Roy Choi of Kogi who really led the way, but no longer will we have to rely on gabachos to teach Mexicans what alta cocina is about--not that there's anything wrong with gabachos cooking Mexican food...unless they're porcelain-skinned divas, of course!
2. The Continued Gentrification of Mexican Alcohol
This is a trend that'll never die, and has existed in a way since Prohibition with the rise of tequila and the margarita. And Mexican beer in this country has been in an upward trend since the 1980s and spring break. But I never imagined that mezcal--mezcal!--would become hip. Mezcal was historically so working-class that even my wab of a dad never dared touch the stuff--although he was a raging alcoholic, he wasn't that low-class to sink to that level.
And that's just one Mexican spirit. Sotol from Chihuahua is slowly making its way up to bars, and we're already inundated with three-figure tequila bottles. And I guarantee that next year, more-adventurous hipster bars in New York and Los Angeles will begin to offer pulque, the legendary drink of antiquity that taste like warm milk mixed with spit. If that takes off, we might as well re-cede the Southwest to Mexico.
I have been proclaiming this all year, and guess what? It's happening already. On my last trip outta John Wayne Airport, I saw a Carl's Jr./Green Burrito outpost advertising tortas--that ad wasn't there earlier this year. And while it seems so obvious to those of us in Southern California, let's not forget that Mexican restaurants here have only served tortas in earnest for the past 20 years, and that it's yet to take hold anywhere else other than here and in Chicago. And then remember that tortas are incredibly easy for Americans to assimilate--sandwiches! With Mexi ingredients! And while Cook's Tortas up in Los Angeles are good/great, they've yet to take the model to a nationwide audience. Whoever becomes a millionaire off of this trend owes me royalty fees--or at least a torta de chorizo--as payment.