Another year, another overview of what Americans can expect with Mexican food this year. But instead of telling ustedes what’s going to be hot this year, how about we tell hipster chefs what’s not. The following are trends that long ago left the realm of paisas and has obsessed foodies for years, leading to all sorts of tasteless heresies in the name of being either “authentic” or “innovative.” While I’m catholic in my evangelization of Mexican food belonging anywhere and everywhere and cooked by everyone, the following dishes usually get lost in translation and deserve a break. Or, better yet? Just order them from the paisas who do them right instead of the IG-buzzy hot spot with 4.5 stars on Yelp based on 699 reviews, maybe 10 actually written by Mexicans.
Now, in somewhat particular order:
Ever since Roy Choi launched Kogi nearly a decade ago, chefs have taken the wrong lesson: throw anything into a tortilla, and you have a “new” style of taco that deserves to get a business launched around it, right? No. Few tacos work outside the hands of actual taqueros, whether your tortilla is heirloom, made of jicama, or filled with some demiglaze Berkshire chingadera, and no amount of degrees or ripping off the recipes from your chilango line cooks will ever change that.
Simply put, almost all churros suck. No matter how many times young chefs travel to Spain or Guadalajara to try and emulate the dessert, the results are almost always rubbery, over-fried and over-sugared, and no amount of cajeta or chocolate to drown them in changes that. BTW, lest the haters think I’m just picking on white snowflakes, this particular entry is directed at Chicano chefs, who bizarrely try to replicate churros in everything from ice cream to cafe de olla to—I’m not kidding—dessert tostadas. Bruh, those are called BUÑUELOS.
A personal zacatecano peeve. I’m from a culture where pumpkin seeds—whether in a pipian, in a taco, or eaten salted, enchilado and unshelled—are so ubiquitous that we just call them semillas (seeds) even though their technical name is pepitas. This nomenclature is so embedded in the zacatecano mind that when my mom’s family first came to Tijuana nearly 55 years ago, they had no idea why the markets there advertised semillas as pepitas, and I had no idea when I started seeing them pop up in high-end non-Mexican restaurants a couple of years ago. I’m still not sure why restauranteurs insist on labeling a Mexican food product by its proper Spanish name for the first time, or why they use them, period: they know as much about proper semilla culture as Donald Trump knows about taco bowls.
7. Chile Peppers in General
Heat freaks have made it so that chefs overload on the use of chile de árbol, jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, ghost peppers and all the other trendy chilies. The problem is that said chefs only treat peppers as fire missiles, instead of the distinct vegetables each are. Quick example: I just tried some peanut brittle spiked with Trinidad scorpion peppers that were so hellish, they were inedible—and I love peanut brittle and scorpion peppers. Non-Mexican Chefs don’t know to pull out the habanero’s citrus undertones; they just want to nuke ya. They don’t bother with the smokiness of chile de árbol; they just want to nuke ya. And someone should pass a law that any chef who wants to use Hatch chile should spend two weeks in Hatch, a week in Deming, and be forced to inhale the smoke that comes out of a chile roaster in Las Cruces every September so that Hatch chile culture seeps into their DNA once and for all.
A drink so fiendishly difficult that the super-majority of Mexican restaurants are content to use machines to make it, desserters nevertheless think they can make their own, or make a sauce out of it, or make a cream, or turn it into a beer. No.
The popularity of aguachile comes, of course, gracias to Taco Maria’s Carlos Salgado launching a career out of it. But, kids: You ain’t Carlos. Proof? Your disgusting attempts at “ceviche,” a seafood cocktail inevitably destroyed (even in mariscos spots) with bad seafood, too much tomato juice, and clamminess—and not almejas.
It seems any restaurant that serves a boozy brunch now serves this beer cocktail. But throwing Worcestershire sauce, chile, and pepper into a pint of Negra Modelo doesn’t a michelada make. Besides, if you’re not using the premade mix by Fernando Lopez, Jr. of the Guelaguetza empire or premade by Joe Valdovinos, guarantee you it won’t be much.
3. “Street Corn”
Weekly contributor—and the best chronicler of street food in Latin America, period—Bill Esparza had the ultimate takedown of esquites and Mexican corn on the cob, which restauranteurs laughably combine to call “street corn.” In an article we cowrote for First We Feast about secrets of Mexican food no one wants to talk about, he said this about fetishizing Mexican corn: “So congratulations, you’ve just fetishized pinche corn on the cob—do you see us Mexicans running to the state fair to Instagram hot buttered corn? Elotes, paletas—they are great snacks, but they are as interesting to us as corn on the cob is to you.” BOOM.
The Galactus-like appetite that Americans have for anything they begin to favor is wrecking havoc on the mezcal industry in Mexico, a centuries-old tradition that can literally be wiped out with one little bug wrecking agaves that are basically now clones of each other. The demand for mezcal has made farmers take shortcuts to match demand at the expense of taking care of their industry, has made millionaires out of gabacho douchebags who take fancy pictures of mezcaleros with old-school names like Viterbo or Hipólito and put them on their Instagram feed yet don’t share with them the millions in profits made off their sweat and knowledge, and letting those with the most money eclipse politically down and sustainable brands like Ilegal or La Niña del Mezcal. But even the hell that is the mezcal industry doesn’t match the tragedy that is…
Just know this next time you order your avocado toast, or extra guac, gentle reader: Unless your local restaurant is getting their avocados from the farmer’s market or that huge tree in your tío’s backyard, you’re supporting an industry that’s leading to the deforestation of the trees where monarch butterflies make their winter home in Mexico, an industry held hostage by narcos, and one now so dependent on Mexico that just one plague wipes out 90 percent of the avocados that Americans eat. Globalization at its finest, but hey: you need that extra guac!