This week we’re taking a break from snowy Ohio to explore California’s epicurean landscape.
The success of personalities like Guy Fieri, who touts outrageous dishes including deep-fried meatball subs and bacon and ham– topped cheeseburgers, seems to suggest an upward trend in overindulgent food pairings. However, as popular as Guy and his bleached soul patch are, most people I know couldn’t stomach the dishes he promotes. I have hope that epicurean simplicity will re-emerge.
The prevalence of taquerias supports the notion that a few simple ingredients can go a long way. Even Chipotle, the fast food spin on a typical Californian taqueria, has grown rapidly in popularity over the past decade. This suggests great mainstream potential for taquerias. Many opt for Chipotle even when more traditional offerings are equally accessible. Of course, that is not the epicurean way.
I spent my Winter Term at home in Silicon Valley. Among the array of tech startups, yuppie exercise studios and Tesla dealerships, one can find some of the best taquerias in the United States. While the neighboring towns of Redwood City and Mountain View are filled with taquerias — sometimes several next door to each other on a single block— I believe the best taco can be found in my hometown of Palo Alto, at Taqueria El Grullense M & G. I only arrived at this conclusion after visiting every taqueria within the densely taco-populated 10-mile radius around my house.
Before delving into the specifics of an El Grullense taco, I must define what one should look for in a taco. The traditional taco is a soft corn or flour tortilla with meat, onions, cilantro and salsa. That is all. There are no beans, no rice, no cheese, no cream and definitely no sweet potato. The five ingredients give unique flavor and texture to the dish.
El Grullense churns out perfection with every taco. They grill their traditional corn tortillas a la
plancha (on a Mexican-style griddle) to achieve crispiness and to hold together all the other ingredients. With a variety of meat options, from approachable carnitas and carne asada to traditional tripe and tongue, El Grullense achieves impressive variety while remaining
in the taco domain. At El Grullense I am partial to the chorizo and spicy Mexican sausage, both fried loose on the plancha, and the tripe, which is slow-cooked for hours to remove the chewiness and then deep-fried. Cilantro’s flowery aroma and the sharp flavor of freshly diced white onion add needed bite to a milder, softer tortilla and savory meat.
The eatery’s pièce de résistance is their salsa, though. They serve three varieties — pico de gallo, green and red — which are all freshly made in-house. Each is incredible, but the red salsa is particularly sublime. Their mastery of salsamaking sets El Grullense apart from any other taqueria I have visited — even the other El Grullense restaurants in the area. Their particular salsa is very smoky, and though it is probably imbued with the flavor of smoked chili peppers, it still maintains a subtle sweetness. There is as much artistry in their salsa alone as in the entire taco. Ultimately, the perfect taco comes down to a few impeccably treated ingredients that just work. El Grullense defines this ideal.