Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Novice Foodie's Taco Crawl

Posted By on Tue, Sep 1, 2009 at 3:30 PM


Any foodie can tell you there is just as much satisfaction to be had from delicious food on the cheap as there is from a multi-course haute cuisine dinner. One way to find reliably delicious, cheap food is to hit up the ethnic areas of town, so I decided a taco crawl down Cherokee Street, home to several Mexican taquerias, would be apropos. While I've never done a taco crawl, per se, I'm no stranger to the bar crawl, so I figured I could knock out tacos from at least three establishments, possibly four.

I enlisted my friend Christine to accompany me on a gorgeous St Louis Saturday to the land of agua fresca and meats of all kinds. The parameters were as such: no food other than tacos (except, perhaps, chips and guacamole); agua fresca is the only acceptable beverage. My own personal parameter was that I must try at least one type of meat I hadn't before.

click to enlarge KELLI BEST-OLIVER
  • Kelli Best-Oliver

Lesson #1 when attempting to complete a meaningful, successful taco crawl: Don't blow your symbolic wad in the first taqueria. Which is exactly what I did. I essentially fasted before heading down to Cherokee for what ended up being a later lunch, so when we examined the menu at our first stop, Taqueria el Torito, I threw caution to the wind and ordered three tacos (chicharones, carnitas and al pastor) and a strawberry agua fresca. The lovely teenager working the counter asked if I wanted a small agua fresca. Mistakenly thinking I was exercising moderation, I ordered a medium, which was gigantic -- at least 44 ounces.

Agua fresca is a cold, sweet, fruit-based beverage, often creamy, always delicious. I knew I wanted strawberry, and Christine got lime, and neither disappointed. We slurped these, with free chips and salsa verde, while waiting for our tacos, which we could see being prepared in the large kitchen behind the counter.

I think a lot of people might feel intimidated visiting ethnic enclaves like those on Cherokee. Everyone speaks Spanish, and I'm always painfully self-conscious that I'm "doing it wrong" because I'm not an insider and no habla Español. I got over this while living in Germany for a while, where I'm sure most Germans I encountered regarded me as just another idiot American speaking broken German, subsequently shattering any pride I had in terms of intercultural fumblings. Now, when I go places where I'm the minority, I just go with it, ask questions and eat whatever I end up with. I like to observe everything happening around me so that next time, I'll be slightly less of an idiot.

There's plenty to watch at El Torito. The giant kitchen behind the counter was a hub of activity. A man stacked and packaged tortillas spit out by a machine, while several women stirred giant cauldrons of stewing meat. Neighborhood people came in and out, getting to-go boxes from the buffet.

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