Online Issues / Summer 2013 (Vol. 1, Online Issues)

More, Por Favor

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More, Por Favor | By Amanda Tien | Location: USA, 90404

Spending summer in sunny southern California means a bit more than just sunbathing by the beach and walking around in flip-flops—there’s also real Mexican food, which doesn’t quite compare to the Big Apple’s approximations. Good thing this summer affair is only just beginning because this Mexican food will be dearly missed when summer’s over.

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I hate Chipotle.

I know it’s an unpopular opinion and that it may be added to a foodie smear campaign sometime in the future, but it’s time to come clean. Some people say, “How can you hate this venerable institution of suburban and college town cuisine!?”* Well, thank you, Chipotle-lovers; I’m sure the company appreciates your support. Perhaps it’s because I spent holidays in southern California, or because I now get to spend a summer actually living on the gloriously sunny west coast with a wealth of tacos and burritos at hand. Either way I have never been able to accept Chipotle as real Mexican food, so I can safely say that I’ll probably never eat Chipotle again.

taco_combo1My investigation into a Chipotle-less world began when I first moved to Santa Monica at the beginning of this summer. A few blocks from my office is a place called Tacos, Por Favor, and I’ll admit that when I first saw the restaurant, I was a little judgmental. My dad and I were driving around, scoping out the neighborhood, and the faded red sign over the taco shop with barred windows didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. However, I finally ended up stopping by TPF (as it is known to the locals, apparently) on the way back from the beach with my college roommate Allison. Buoyed with confidence by a line out the door even at 2:30pm, the two of us joined the crowd of people eagerly exchanging money for a receipt reflecting orders of carne asada and extra guacamole.

We poured over the large menus plastered in the front window, reading them as closely as we’d read our Aristotle and Hegel this spring. We ordered. We waited. Our numbers were called. Allison and I spent the next 15 minutes scarfing down our food while watching an old George Clooney show that was playing on the TV screen hanging on the wall (being dubbed in Spanish is a good look for him). We spent the next 15 minutes after that praising our food and lamenting its lack of existence both on our plates and in New York.

The great thing about TPF is that their food is delicious and fresh without being overly complicated, and it isn’t a stuffy or pretentious eatery either. Signs inside read, “WE MAKE HEALTHY FOOD THAT TASTES JUST GREAT!!” and “Mole is a chocolate sauce with lots of spices.” The earnestness and friendliness of the signs is also reflected in its staff who works efficiently to produce trays upon trays of tacos and burritos. I’m continually struck by how crisp the lettuce is, how smooth the guacamole tastes, how evenly spiced the meats are. The food has a richness that exists not because it’s heavily saturated with oils or butters or fats, but because it’s so fresh, void of excess ingredients or additives. They leave you feeling refreshed, awake, and ready for more.

taco_combo2There’s something sacred about Mexican food, something that’s even been recognized by the UNESCO for being particular and special in a way that makes it clear to all those who eat and experience it. In 2010, Mexican cuisine was added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage,** and it seems that TPF has given me a chance to experience this cultural heritage. If Mexican food is so sacred then, what cultural heritage do fast food chains have to offer? Will they ever be as beloved as the original cuisine on a national or international level? Can they? Should they? There has occurred, unfortunately a rather large culinary rift between family-owned businesses like TPF and huge Mexican food chains like Chipotle.

Back at school, we suffer from this rift; our immediate options are limited.  Sure enough, there’s a Chipotle on 110th street. Within walking distance are two other options, the Upper West Side location of Cascabel Taqueria and the beloved hole-in-the-wall Taqueria y La Fonda. However, both of these are inconsistently rated and rarely liked across the board. There’s also the recent appearance of Amigos, a restaurant more known for its fish bowl drink than the food. While good, authentic Mexican food may actually exist in New York, I still have yet to find it.  I’m determined that during my senior year, I’ll begin The Great Taco Hunt (patent pending) and find the delicious cuisine that I’m growing to love this summer.

So where does that leave me in the meantime? It leaves me in Santa Monica, California, with the rest of the summer to eat as many tacos throughout the region as humanly possible. See you this fall, New York.

*The first Chipotle was actually started near the University of Denver before finding a major investor in McDonald’s in 1998.

**According to the UNESCO website, the hope behind these lists is that it will raise awareness of “the importance of safeguarding intangible heritage, an essential part of cultural diversity.” Mexican cuisine is the only food-related subject on the list. In case you were wondering, nothing from the United States of America has been recognized on these lists. •

Photographs by Amanda Tien

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Tacos Por Favor

1406 Olympic Blvd

Santa Monica, CA 90404

(310) 392-5768

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To learn more about the “Keep in Touch” online issue, click here.  To see the rest of the articles in the “Keep in Touch” online issue, click here.

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