Though shrouded in mystery, the origins of the taco can most likely be traced back to Mexican silver miners from the 18th century. At least that is what Prof. Jeffrey M. Pilcher, author of Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, was able to deduce after traveling the world eating and researching tacos for about twenty years, so really, who are we to argue?
It’s actually a pretty
interesting story; the word itself comes from a tiny explosive they used to
use to excavate the mines. They would wrap up little packets of gunpowder with
paper and thus, the very first taco was born. It is easy to see how the same word was
used to describe little nuggets of delicious meat wrapped in corn tortillas,
especially if an appropriate amount of fiery hot sauce is brought in to play.
It also makes sense that the taco has such a humble, working
class background. After all, where else besides a taqueria can you find a meal
that can fill you up easily for fewer than five dollars? Even if you opt for a
fast food version, like Taco Bell, you going to get a hearty meal for
less than what you would likely spend on parking at a restaurant in most
big cities in the U.S. today.
It’s been a long road for tacos. They first popped up in
stateside in the early 1900s, exactly where you would expect them to, Texas and
California. This coincided with the first big migration of Mexicans back into
the U.S. The famed “Chili
Queens” of San Antonio helped to solidify the street foods of Mexico here
in the U.S. but the taco as we know and love it didn’t really become a “thing”
until a few decades later. The standard bearer of all tacos — the “al pastor” — wasn’t even established until the 1960s and it’s owes
a lot to the Lebanese migrants who landed in Mexico while Mexicans were
moving stateside. That’s why the “al pastor” is made using a vertical spit and
techniques similar to what you see with shawarma.
Once Taco Bell blew up in 1962, it was a wrap. Everyone
everywhere came to know and love tacos. Still, it remained a humble food until
recently. How did we get from tamale pushcarts to what’s happening at Dos
Caminos in New York City, where they sell a surf and turf taco plate for $36
dollars? Similarly, The Brentwood, in Los Angeles offers a $38.50 plate of filet
But the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Dallas has
officially dropped the mic on the expensive taco game, offering a
trio at their Café on the Green that costs an insane $100. What
could possibly be in a taco to make it that expensive? Well, there is one Wagyu beef
taco, one Maine lobster taco and one Hudson Valley foie gras taco offered. There’s no denying the quality of the ingredients, it is just
hilarious that a food so synonymous with blue-collar cheap eats has
been co-opted by the country club elite.
You know things are getting real when even Taco Bell is starting to offer beer and wine at their outposts. The fast food company even tried out a new, fancier version of their wares with U.S. Taco Co. in Huntington Beach where they offered brisket and lobster tacos alongside fries offered with ghost chile ketchup and milkshakes.
Here in Los Angeles, it seemed to all head down (or up,
depending on your point of view) hill once the whole Kogi Taco craze took over. Arguably
the brand that started the food truck mania that has taken a hold
countrywide, there is no question of whether or not Kogi Korean tacos are
amazingly delicious. But once Chef Roy took that brave step in fusing flavors
no one ever thought could work, the door was flung wide open for people to do
with tacos what they please … even filling them with foie gras.
We can’t blame Chef Roy for this; in fact, we can thank him for opening the minds and hearts to a whole new group of people to the possibilities of tacos. It’s actually kind of cool that there is only one kind food here in the U.S. that can cost anywhere from one to one hundred dollars, and they're all “tacos.”