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Montebello

An Interview with Gustavo Arellano, Author of Taco U.S.A.

It's the taco's turn for a national made-up food holiday, so who better to speak with then Gustavo Arellano, author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, essential reading for the taco lifestyle.

Your favorite burrito in the USA is Lucy's drive in on Pico, and we know about your advocacy and love of the Taco Acorazdo at Alebrije's Grill, but what's your favorite taco spot inside the LA city limits?

I don't really eat tacos in Los Angeles--if I'm in LA, it's either burritos, Thai food, or one of the new places. Usually, I'm eating at King Taco because my family has this obsession with the place that I personally think is a Proustian response to our blessed childhood stuffing ourselves into a truck and driving off to Eastlos and Montebello.

What will reach middle America first-- the korean taco, or authentic regional mexican cuisine?

You know there's no such thing as "authentic regional" Mexican food; that said "authentic regional" Mexican food has been flooding the United States for over a century, whether it was the chile con carne of San Antonio, the tamales of San Francisco, the tequila of Jalisco, the fajitas of the Rio Grande Valley, and so on and so forth.

Given the extensive history documented in Taco USA, you're in a better position than anyone to speculate on the future of Mexican restaurants in the US. What do you see as the dominant trends 5 or 10 years down the road?

The further spread of regional cuisine that's still not popular in the U.S. The further popularization of tequila, Mexican beers, and other Mexican alcohol. The complete assimilation of breakfast burritos, and the rise of tortas as the next burrito.

What delicious ingredients or dishes have yet to make the transition from Mexico to the USA, and which do you think will be able to cross over?

I still say America has yet to learn it loves the torta. Think about it: Americans love sandwiches and Mexican food—a Mexican sandwich!

What do you think it is about non-Mexican Americans that makes them so passionate about Mexican food?

That it's so delicious, and always replenishes itself. The fads of the past turn into foodstuffs we fully assimilate--and then a new trend comes, and we assimilate that.

Why is Tex Mex doomed and what does that say about current fads in Mexican cuisine? Is there a decent Tex Mex restaurant in SoCal?

Tex Mex is an old fad, and Americans have moved beyond that and want more than combo plates—and I say this as someone who loves combo plates. As for a good one here: I think Mr. Gold identified one good Tex-Mex place in LA, but I don't know the name. Arturo Puffy Taco in Whittier makes great puffy tacos, the pride of San Antonio.

What is "authenticity" when it comes to Mexican food? Is it important?

The only thing that's important in food is if it's good—that's it.

When is a taco not a taco?

When it's a burrito.

Buy Taco USA on Amazon here. Photo credit: OC Register.

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