Okay, so this whole National Taco Day is a PR holiday so people can get all trendy and taco-y. But if you're going to play the game, then play the pinche game, you know? A couple of years ago, I wrote this list of 10 great tacos in Orange County. I still largely stand by it. But since we at the Weekly believe in continual taco education as well, behold a list of five historic tacos that you can still eat today, tacos that fundamentally changed the course of Mexican food in the United States. Enjoy, and make sure to visit these treasures!
And full disclosure: I'm a Californian—hence the California angle. But Texans: as much as I love San Antonio's puffy and breakfast tacos, and the double order from Chico's Tacos in El Paso, your tacos didn't change the course of Mexican food in the U.S. Sorry!
5. Fish Taco from Rubio's
Believe it or not, Southern Californians, fish tacos are still spreading across the United States, and we can thank the Rubio's chain for that. Before, fish tacos were a specialty of Baja California; if they were ever in the United States, it was mostly in San Diego County. But thanks to Ralph Rubio and his surf pals in the 1980s, the fish taco became commodified, then franchised, and now slowly spreading across the country. You're welcome, America.
4. Taquitos from Cielito Lindo in Olvera Street
The first popular tacos in Southern California, where the taco first achieved popularity outside of the Mexican community, were taquitos, specifically the ones that came from Olvera Street, that fabulous project of gabacho projections of the Spanish fantasy heritage. And all those taquitos originated from Cielito Lindo, the stand at the northern spot of the tourist trap facing Cesar Chavez Boulevard. The recipe, which came from Zacatecas, hasn't changed since 1934, and is as delicious now as it was then: barbacoa, a corn tortilla made in the family's Lincoln Heights tortillería to ensure freshness, then fried in front of you and doused in their legendary avocado salsa. 23 Olvera St Los Angeles, (213) 687-4391; www.cielitolindo.org
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3. Korean Taco from Kogi Korean BBQ
What can I say about Kogi that hasn't been written already? I'll just hit the big points: it was Kogi, truck of OC boy Roy Choi, that launched the luxe lonchera revolution. Kogi wasn't the first to do Korean tacos—they had been a staple at UCI and UC Irvine since the 1990s, and the Kogi team, if you prod them, will admit that they got the idea after reading a blog post by Dylan Ho—but their incredible PR machine mainstreamed them, and made it okay for folks to not only continue with fusion tacos, but make an empire out of them. Follow Kogi on Twitter at @kogibbq
2. Tacos from King Taco
King Taco is the ubiquitous Los Angeles taco chain, the Taquería de Anda for those of you OCers who never dare travel north. But what few people also realize is that King Taco originated from what food scholars consider to be the first full-fledged taco truck. Food trucks, of course, had existed in one form or another in Southern California since the late 19th century, and tacos were sold from food trucks as early as the 1950s. But none exclusively sold tacos until Raul Martinez decided to take an old ice-cream truck and park it on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles in 1974. Friends thought he was crazy; today, King Taco is a bona fide empire, so big that the bigger king tacos will have loncheras in their parking lot to accommodate the crowds. King Taco also helped wean gabachos off hard-shell tacos and into the realm of the “soft”—what the rest of us Mexicans call a taco.
That original truck, by the way? Unfortunately burned in a fire. Find your nearest King Taco at www.kingtaco.com/em>
1. Hard Shell Taco at Mitla Cafe
This is the taco that started it all, the San Bernardino restaurant whose hard shell tacos Glenn Bell would steal to create his empire. The recipe hasn't changed since 1937, since the founders brought with them from Jalisco the recipe for their tacos dorados, so don't you be calling this a pocho creation, indigenazis! You can read the full story here—or, better yet, buy my book, which tell all these taco stories and more! 602 N. Mount Vernon Ave., San Bernardino, (909) 888-0460.