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Experts Agree: Chicago is Home to the Best Mexican Restaurant in America

Experts Agree: Chicago is Home to the Best Mexican Restaurant in America


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It wasn’t so long ago when “Mexican” food was best represented stateside by a heaping platter of rice and refried beans along with gloopy enchiladas covered in melted cheese, with maybe a couple hard-shell tacos on the side. Thankfully we’ve come a long way, and now the cuisine of just about every region of Mexico is now well-represented in the American culinary landscape. Today, most people realize that the standard menu of burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas, and the like are in fact more Tex-Mex than authentic Mexican, and that once you head south of the border there’s a whole world of flavorful (and non-cheesy) possibilities to explore. Additionally, while authenticity is prized, some of the country’s most highly regarded chefs, like former pastry chef Alex Stupak and Oklahoma-born Rick Bayless, have also turned their attention and creativity to Mexican, which has become somewhat of a cuisine célèbre.

To assemble our ranking of America’s 50 Best Mexican Restaurants, we analyzed results from surveys we sent out to some of America’s leading culinary authorities, writers, and critics, used to assemble our rankings of America’s 50 Best Casual Restaurants and the 101 Best Restaurants in America. We supplemented those with best-of lists both in print and online, and rounded it out with our personal favorites from around the country. We also made sure to include restaurants that specialize in authentic Mexican fare; while some Tex-Mex classics on the menu are acceptable if done really well, the main focus had to be on true Mexican cuisine. We found that from José Andrés’ high-end restaurant in Washington, D.C. to a modest taqueria in Mountain View, Calif. serving some of the finest carnitas you’ll ever encounter, America has no shortage of great Mexican restaurants. As it turns out, 6 reside in Chicago—including the very best in the nation.

Since hosting his 26-part PBS series Cooking Mexican in the late ’70s, Oklahoma-born chef Rick Bayless has been a champion of Mexican cuisine in America. He has even won the approval of the Mexican government — in 2012, he was named to the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest distinction awarded to foreigners. At Topolobampo, the slightly fancier and more ambitious next-door cousin of his popular and groundbreaking Frontera Grill, Bayless serves irresistible Mexican fare of a kind not otherwise found outside some of the better restaurants of Mexico itself, if even there. Red snapper in "red ceviche" (cured with crimson hibiscus), frogs' leg tamal with cascabel chile, lamb in ancho-tamarind sauce, and cajeta crêpes with chocolate and plantains are among vividly flavored attractions in this colorful, well-run dining room.

Now, Topolobampo had some stiff local and national competition. Five other Mexican restaurants in The Windy City placed on our compilation, which means that Chicago plays host to 12% of the 50 best Mexican restaurants in the country; they are: Salpicón (#42), La Pasadita (#37), Birrieria Zaragoza (#25), Maxwell Street Market (#22), and Big Star (#9). So, by snagging the very top spot, Bayless is the proud owner of both the best Mexican restaurant in Chicago and the very best in America.


GLAZING THROUGH CHICAGO'S FOOD HISTORY.

Chicago has always been a food city. After all, how many cities are named for a food, even if it is a simple wild onion? The Potowatomis called it Chicagu. Chicago's existence and its wealth were founded on food. From its incorporation, the city was the collection and shipment center for the Midwest's agricultural bounty. And Chicago grew to become the heart of America's new food processing industries.

With industry came immigrants who brought their cuisines, making Chicago a great ethnic food town. With money from industry came refinement, the arts and the art of dining in famed restaurants.

The story of Chicago's food is much older than this publication, which celebrates its 150th birthday this year. But such an anniversary provides the opportunity to graze through meaningful moments of food history.

1796. French-speaking Jean Baptiste Point du Sable builds a cabin at what will become Dearborn and Wacker near the Chicago River (affectionately dubbed Garlic Creek).

1803. Britisher John Kinzie takes command of trading post and builds Ft. Dearborn. His family intermarried with Potowatomis and likely ate venison, succotash and salt pork.

1812. A Southern branch of the Kinzies arrive. They set up a still, making Kentucky-style whiskey to sell.

1820s. The Clybourne and Hall families, kin to the Kinzies, set up a cattle yard in "Rolling Meadows." They move cattle, meat and hides down what will become Clybourn Avenue.

1827. John Kinzie and Archibald Caldwell build the first real tavern at Wolf Point. Most of the beverages served are hard and homemade.

1830. George W. Dole, later called "Father of the Provisions, Shipping and Elevator Business," opens Chicago's first grocery store at Dearborn and Water Streets. The area will become the city's wholesale market.

Dole begins slaughtering and packing beef at his store. He processes 150 head a day, and the Chicago meatpacking industry is born.

1831. New Englanders settle in Chicago, bringing with them a taste for oysters. Oysters from the East Coast will become a staple in Chicago for almost a century. By 1857, there are seven "Oyster Depots" and four "Oyster Saloons" in the city.

1833. Mark Beaubien operates the storied Sauganash Tavern. Only 16 by 44 feet, the tavern served meals in shifts and sold floods of whiskey. As the merry, fiddle-playing Beaubien put it: "I eats 50 people to dinner, by gar."

1835. Lake House Hotel on Kinzie Street is the first great eating place. It is the first dining room to use menu cards, napkins, toothpicks, and to serve the much-loved oysters in Chicago.

1836. Irish cuisine comes to Chicago with the first large influx of Irish, mainly around Bridgeport. Boiled potatoes and cabbage are staples, but their traditional pickled pork becomes corned beef in cattle-rich America.

1837. W.F Myrick's stockyard on 28th Street is an ancestor of Union Stock Yards. His boarding house/saloon serves cattle drovers food, drink and shadier entertainments. All will flourish in the rapidly growing city, often to the dismay of respectable citizens. The city's first census shows 398 dwellings, grocery and provisions stores and 29 (green) groceries. Taverns outnumber churches but not lawyers.

1838. The steamer Great Western carries 75 bushels of wheat as incidental cargo from Chicago. Within a generation, Chicago will become the greatest grain depot in the world.

1839. Chicago has seven hotels but no independent restaurants. Eating out means hotel dining rooms or less reputable taverns.

1847. Cyrus McCormick moves to Chicago in 1847 to manufacture his mechanical reaper. He sells 450 in the first year at more than $100 per machine. McCormick will make a great fortune, part of which will pass to grandnephew Robert R. McCormick who will run the Chicago Tribune starting in 1914.

The Illinois and Michigan Canal opens. Midwestern farmers discover Chicago's market, and corn exports to the East rise eightfold. Capt. Robert C. Bristol builds the first large steam-powered grain elevator. Within the decade elevator capacity is more than 4 million bushels. Chicago is on its way to becoming grocer to the world.

Chicago becomes a major hog butcher, shipping 683,600 pounds. The city quadruples that figure in 1849, but Cincinnati retains the title "Porkopolis." Unable to claim the pork title, Chicagoans declare their town "The Great Bovine City of the World."

The Chicago Board of Trade is founded. By 1856 it establishes uniform categories and grades of wheat and other grains that are now used the world over.

1850s. Beer and brats come to Chicago. Large numbers of German immigrants bring a knack for making sausages, bread, beer, fine pastry and confections to the city. Peter Rinderer will open perhaps the first beer garden, the Ogden Grove, in 1865.

1853. The earliest existing hotel menu, from the St. Nicholas, dates to 1853--just when the New York-Chicago rail connection is completed.

1854. By 1854 Chicago is the heart to which new railroad arteries connect. Some 83 million bushels of grain are pumped in and out via rail and canal. During the Civil War demand for food at home and abroad will make the city the country's food supplier and shipment center. A third of all rail lines lead to Chicago.

Grocers of period advertise: "Goods Delivered to any part of the City free of Charge." The Age of Delivery Boys dawns. And one William Winter, a cook, appears in the Chicago city directory of 1853-54. He's the first and only person so named. Chefs are not yet chefs.

1855. Always an ethnic city, Chicago's population numbers 25,677 American and 35,879 foreign-born inhabitants. Germans and Irish account for many of the latter. In 1856 Chicago has 10 brewers and 37 confectioners. Lill and Diversy at the corner of Pine Street and Cicero Avenue brewed "Brown, Amber, and Pale Ales" and made "Rectified Malt Vinegar."

1858. The first exclusive restaurant listings appear in the Chicago city directory, 13 of them along with 12 "Eating Houses."

Refrigeration in food processing takes hold when Chicago meatpackers use stored winter ice to keep pork during summer. Cutting and storing large blocks of ice on Lake Michigan and area lakes becomes big business.

1859. 1859 sees 46 confectioners, 9 vinegar-makers, 4 "Pickle Warehouses" (all in the Water Street market) and one B. Hyde at 195 Sherman St., who manufactures "Vermicelli and Maccaroni."

Macaroni often appears on Chicago menus, but pasta awaits the 20th Century.

1860. David Berg founds a meat market under his name on South Wells Street. By the end of the century, he will be one of Chicago's most famous hot dog makers.

1860 sees 27 restaurants. Restaurateurs include Solomon Thompson and the celebrated John Wright. Wright, also a confectioner, will serve every major celebrity to visit Chicago for the next 30 years.

1865. Chicago becomes the slaughterhouse to the world with the founding of the Union Stock Yards.

Chicago Board of Trade establishes formal rules for futures trading. It becomes a significant part of the American food industry.

The first cookbook published in Chicago is called "Household Treasures," by R.R. Landon. Then in 1867 comes "The Cake Baker a book of practical recipes for making cakes."

1868. Haute cuisine appears at the County Ball in Crosby's Opera House. Catered by John Wright, it was an "architectural-gastronomic" extravaganza. It features a pastry chateau, charlotte russe a la reine, pyramid d'Espagnol, a spun-sugar pagoda temple and two nougat temples. These are surrounded by delectables such as prairie chicken patties, boned turkey, boned hams, patties of quail and many others, and de rigueur: a whole boar's head.

1870s. Social decorum rules high-class restaurants. Mr. Whyland, proprietor of Chicago's great game restaurant, St. Elmo's at 145 Dearborn St., refuses to dine with a Mrs. Salisbury on the grounds that she works in a bordello. As a result of this "insult," he's shot by her "good friend," faro dealer Hank Davis. No record on whether Mrs. Salisbury stayed to finish her meal.

1870. Mrs. Francis MacBeth Glessner begins a household journal. Focusing on her Prairie Avenue home, it is an unparalleled 50-year window on foodways in an upper-class family. The Glessner House is Chicago's very own "Upstairs-Downstairs." After a vacation in Mexico, they eat tamales. Seafood also is popular, including lobster newburg, trout in aspic and crab.

1871. The Great Fire of 1871 leaves only 5 restaurants in the city directory.

1872. Aaron Montgomery Ward begins a mail-order business with a one-page, 167-item sheet. Cookware is among the items sold. By 1900 the catalog incorporates many dozens of kitchen and food items, such as "Chicago Honey Cured Hams" and "Giant Acme Gasoline Stoves."

1873. Chicago's taste for oysters is not burned out. Col. John E. Wilson establishes Wilson's Oyster House at Clark and Madison Streets in 1873. In 1890s it will turn into the famed Boston Oyster House and there the great oyster maven, Charles E. Rector, will be trained.

1875. Chicago quickly recovers from the Great Fire. By 1875 there are 176 restaurants. Twenty of them have Italian names, including Bona Caesar at 92 1/2 Madison St. Only 550 Italians live in Chicago at the time.

1877. Italianate but Frenchified cuisine appears on more and more menus. The 1877 New Year's Day dinner at the Gardner House Hotel includes among the usual vast list of meats "Macaroni en Tembole, a la Parisienne," and "Quail en Salmi, Sauce Pericode." But the Palmer House menu in November 1877 is a pioneer in simpler dining. After appetizers of spiced oysters, smoked tongue, and corned beef, a patron could choose from venison steak with currant jelly, breaded turkey wings with green peas, or macaroni with cheese. Side dishes included stewed tomatoes, boiled potatoes, boiled rice and fried parsnips.

1879. Schlogl's saloon and restaurant opens on Wells Street. Near the Chicago Daily News building, it will become a bohemian watering hole after the turn of the century. Famous newspapermen, writers and artists such as John T. McCutcheon, Ben Hecht and Carl Sandburg get free meals there on Fridays if their work appeared in print that day.

1880s. Chapin and Gore at 73-75 Monroe St. is the "in" cafe for the sporting crowd its motto perfectly suited the armchair athlete: "Good wine is an appetizer and stimulant. It lashes lazy blood and creeps within, irrigates the liver and kidneys, and compels them to take exercise. It is a living thing and adds years to the life of man.". 1880s sees rise of cheap eats. Hamburger Steak first appears as "Steak Hambourgeoise" at the Tremont Hotel in 1877.

1880s-1920s. Swedish immigration turns parts of Chicago into Swedish villages. Smorgasbord restaurants become popular all over the city. Andersonville has so many that it's called "Herring Alley." In the 1890s, John Kruger would take a cue from these restaurants, but he found the name smorgen bord unappetizing. He adopted a Cuban word, "cafiteria." By 1895 he has five downtown locations but eventually gambles away all his money on horse racing.

1884. Chicago access to beet sugar, milk and corn syrup makes it a confectionery center. In 1884 the National Confectioners Association is founded here by 69 manufacturers. As Chicago caters to America's sweet tooth, it also becomes home to the American Dental Association in 1918 (founded in 1859 in Buffalo) and the American Dietetic Association in 1917.

H.H. Kohlsaat opens first "dairy lunch room" for a Jewish clientele. It features swivel stools (but not yet a horseshoe-shape counter). He specializes in quick service at reasonable prices.

1885. Charles C. Creator invents a steam-driven combination peanut roaster and popcorn popper. Set on wheels, it makes mass vending of these ball-park and fair staples possible. F.W. and Louis Rueckheim use Creator's peanut-popcorn machine at their Chicago popcorn stand. In 1890 they decide to pep up their product with sweeteners. Experimentation leads to popcorn mixed with peanuts covered in molasses. Upon tasting it one of their salesmen cries out, "That's a cracker jack!"

1886. Richard Sears begins selling watches. Joining with Alvah C.Roebuck, they form a new catalog sales company in Chicago. Like Montgomery Ward, it will become one of the country's retail leaders in kitchen and cooking gear. By 1900 Sears surpasses Montgomery Ward in sales. Home appliances become an important part of the business with cookstoves selling for $11.96 and guaranteed for life. Electric appliances become important when Sears begins selling electric refrigerators in 1922 (the first in America was the Kelvinator in 1918).

1887. Star and Crescent Milling Co. is founded. It will become part of Crosby and Washburn, to be renamed General Mills in 1928.

Also in 1887, the New York Kitchen restaurant at 201-203 Clark St. is a model of middle-class dining, catering to businessmen. Its slogans hint at shortcomings in other establishments: "Cleanliness, Good Cooking, and Quick Service" and "No Scraps Taken Back into the Kitchen and Cooked over again at this Restaurant."

1888. Edward Katzinger founds a commercial baking pan company. It becomes the Ekco Housewares Co., the country's largest non-electric housewares manufacturer, by the 1960s. Ekco builds a huge plant at Cicero and Armitage Avenues in 1923.

1889. President and Mrs. Benjamin Harrison attend the opening of the Auditorium Theatre. The president's breakfast is simple, including parsley omelet, porterhouse steak, mutton chops, bacon. "No frills, but good eating," a newspaper reports.

1890s. The 1891 Standard Guide to Chicago lists 600 restaurants in the city. Rector's Oyster House opens. Of Rector, one of the most celebrated restaurateurs in Chicago history, a commentator says: "If there's any fish you want, go to (Charles) Rector, and he'll get it." Rector's chef, Charles Ranshoffer, will become one of America's early culinary stars. Cocktails at Rector's cost 15 cents.

1892. Aluminum, a new material, is adapted to cooking pans. The Illinois Pure Aluminum Co. is founded in Lemont to manufacture cookware.

1893. The World's Columbian Exposition opens in Chicago. The great event attracts more than 1 million visitors to its amusements, restaurants and displays of manufactures and agriculture. Many products introduced at the fair become staples of the American food scene. Among them: Cracker Jack, Cream of Wheat, Shredded Wheat, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Wrigley's Juicy Fruit Gum.

A small sausage company in Chicago is acquired by the Ladanyi and Reichl families (supposedly won on a bet at the World's Columbian Exposition). With a plant at 470 S. Halsted St., they're successful by 1896. Not long after, they move to 1213-1217 S. Halsted St. and do business as the Vienna Sausage Co.

Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. is formed to make a mechanical horse clipper. In 1910 it manufactures an electric iron, and in 1924 the first combination flat toaster-table grill. Becoming a major producer of home appliances, the company changes its name to Sunbeam Corp. in 1946.

1897. The electric appliance business begins. The Chicago Electric Manufacturing Co. is one producer. It will make juicers, mixers and ice-cream makers under the name "Handyhot." In 1953 the company is bought by Silex and becomes part of Procter-Silex.

1900-1930. Greek immigrants begin to arrive in Chicago. By 1910 their numbers reach 15,000. Many become peddlers selling fruit, vegetables, "red hots" and "hot tamales." By the 1920s many have become amazingly successful. Of 18,000 Greeks in Chicago, 10,000 own their own businesses, including restaurants along Halsted Street.

Between 1900 and 1910 roughly 170,000 Poles arrive, and their food becomes a landmark in Chicago's culinary landscape. Slotkowsky Sausage Co., founded in 1918, sells what will become the most widely known Polish sausage.

By 1930, the Jewish population of Chicago rises to 275,000. Most come from Eastern Europe and settle around Halsted and Maxwell Streets, and Jewish food is a hallmark of the Maxwell Street market. In 1994 the city closes the By-then mostly Hispanic market and opens a "Nuevo Mercado" on Canal Street.

1906. Upton Sinclair publishes "The Jungle." The public uproar about foul conditions in meatpacking plants leads to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act. Oscar Mayer is one of first meatpackers to receive a Federal Meat Inspection stamp that year.

1908. About 1908 the African-American Frinch family begins Frinches Pantry on Evanston Avenue (now Broadway). It is the first integrated restaurant in Chicago.

The first law requiring pasteurization of milk passes in Chicago.

1910s. Chinese restaurants become ever more popular in the early part of the century. The 1910 city directory names 64. One is the celebrated Joy Lo King at 100 W. Randolph St. Seating several hundred people, its waiters wear formal dress with tails while an orchestra entertains diners. Other classic Chinese restaurants in the Loop include Joy Hing Lo on North Clark Street and Joy Yen Lo on North State Street. But downtown Chinese restaurants are most famous for their steaks!

World War I cuts off European immigration and sets the stage for the Great Migration of African-Americans to the north. They bring their foodways with them, including barbecue stands. By 1940 barbecue restaurants and chicken shacks are so numerous that they rate a separate listing in the Negro Business Association Blue Book.

1917. Armour Co. publishes a household primer, "The Business of Being a Housewife." Not surprisingly, the booklet promotes Armour "Veribest" products. In it are some of the first recipes based on canned foods. "Luncheon Beef Stew" is made from sliced onions, potatoes, a can of Veribest Tomato Soup, a can of Veribest Luncheon Meat, a can of Veribest Peas and a Veribest seasoning sauce.

1918. January sees the "Great Patriotic Food Show" in Chicago, given by the State Council of Defense. A book giving all the recipes bears the legend, "It is the patriotic duty of every woman to follow the advice and recipes contained in this book." Among the "meatless" dishes are creamed rabbit, head cheese, tamale pie, potted pigeon on toast, goose rice timbales and "possum" (marinate it overnight in vinegar and lemon juice).

1919. The U.S. Constitution is amended for the 18th time, this time to prohibit the sale of alcohol. A godsend to gangsters, Prohibition sees the end of free lunch at saloons. Lunch counters and soda fountains appear everywhere. as do speakeasies.

1920s. Dario Toffanetti, an Italian immigrant from Trent, buys a small restaurant at the corner of Sheridan Road, Broadway and Montrose Avenue and calls it the Triangle. Moving to the Loop, he builds business by standing in the restaurant's window wearing chef's whites and carving sugar-cured hams. A brilliant marketer, Toffanetti builds a 1,200-employee restaurant chain.

1910-1920s. Shrimp de Jonghe is born at the celebrated De Jonghe Hotel and Restaurant owned by Belgian restaurateur Henri de Jonghe. The restaurant will be closed in 1930 for violating Prohibition rules.

H. Teller Archibald opens his Fannie May candy store at 10 S. LaSalle St. It grows to a large chain with a plant at 1137 W. Jackson Blvd. Who is Fannie May? The origin of the name remains a mystery.

1925. Creamed dishes become staples of the American diet for 50 years. In 1925, Plow's Restaurant menu contains chicken a la king (75 cents), crab meat a la newburg ($1.50), plain creamed chicken (90 cents), chicken au gratin (75 cents) and creamed shrimps and rice (75 cents).

1927. MacLeod Manufacturing Co. of Chicago makes a new electric "household beater" for the Dormeyer Co. They become popular by 1931 when Chicago Flexible Shaft (later Sunbeam) produces the Mixmaster.

Leonard Japp founds a South Side snack-foods distributor. By the 1930s, he's making potato chips under the name Mrs. Japp's Potato Chips. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the name suddenly changes to Jay's Potato Chips.

Leonard Japp founds a South Side snack-foods distributor. By the 1930s, he's making potato chips under the name Mrs. Japp's Potato Chips. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the name suddenly changes to Jays Potato Chips.

1929. Black Friday, the stock market crash of 1929, ushers in the Great Depression. By 1933 family income drops by 40 percent, with 30 percent unemployment. Bread lines appear in every city, and even Al Capone opens one.

1930. Antoinette and Francois Pope, cookbook authors and teachers, open the Antoinette Pope School of Fancy Cookery. In 1951, Francois and their sons Frank and Robert made their TV debut on the "Creative Cookery Television Show," a first for males in an area dominated by female home economists.

1933. Prohibition ends in 1933 with repeal of the 18th Amendment. The Berghoff Restaurant is the first in Chicago to receive a liquor license.

Century of Progress World's Fair opens in Chicago. It introduces many products, including Miracle Whip.

1934. After a visit by English food expert Andre Simon, a Chicago chapter of the Food and Wine Society is formed. Arnold Shircliffe, "The Escoffier of Chicago," presides over this dining society. Among the rules are no cocktails before dinner (because they dull the taste buds), no smoking during dinner (for the same reason), no condiments or bread and butter on the table (they mask the chef's artistry), and no drinking water during meals (because when taken with rich foods, water causes fat to congeal).

1930s-1950s. Henry Davis, ace salesman and production man at Vienna Sausage Co., encourages and even helps build many of Chicago's hot dog stands. When friend Ray Kroc invites him to visit his new hamburger stand in Des Plaines, Davis is reported to have said: "It will never be a success in Chicago without hot dogs." Somehow, McDonald's survived.

1943. Ike Sewell, a Texan, and his partner, restaurateur Ric Riccardo, find a way to make thin-crust pizza into a full meal. They invent (or so they say) the Chicago deep-dish pizza and open Pizzeria Uno to serve it. Pizzerias Uno and Due retain the original pizza recipe and the original one-hour wait for it.

1947. After World War II, a second great black migration to Chicago begins. The West Side sees the appearance of celebrated soul food restaurants such as Edna's on Madison Street and many rib joints.

1950s. Chicago's dining scene is an eclectic mix. Steakhouses such as Charles Foley's at 71 E. Adams St. compete with Don Roth's Blackhawk at 139 N. Wabash Ave. Jewish delicatessens abound in the Loop, among them Gibby's at 192 N. Clark St. near the new Greyhound Terminal where one can order chopped chicken liver, "gefullte" fish, cheese blintzes, breaded pork chops, Southern fried chicken or charcoal-broiled steaks.

1951. George Stephen, an employee at Weber Brothers Metal Works in Chicago, fashions two unrelated metal shapes into a kettle-shape grill and begins selling them as George's Barbecue Kettle. In 1965 a division of Weber Brothers became Weber-Stephen Products Co. Back-yard grilling took off.

1953. Jacques' at 900 N. Michigan Ave. may be Chicago's top French restaurant. One can dine alfresco here during the city's rare spells of pleasant weather.

1960s. In the late '60s, Chicago's Mexican population increases dramatically. Mexican foods and products change Chicago's culinary tastes. The salsa revolution, proliferation of Mexican products, begins in earnest.

1962. Gordon Segal opens a small housewares store in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood. He calls it Crate & Barrel. Segal's empire grows to include 70 stores from coast to coast.

1963. Louis Szathmary opens The Bakery in November. It's a pioneer in bringing a modern Continental menu to Chicago. Chef Louis becomes a national celebrity and famous bibliophile.

1966. A New York import everyone welcomes is Tootsie Roll Industries. A 70-year-old American confectionery icon comes to Chicago with a new plant in the Ford City Industrial Park.

1968. Peter Lo inaugurates Mandarin-Szechwan-Hunan cookery in Chicago at the Chinese Tea House on North Avenue. By the early '70s Mandarin-Szechwan becomes the rage with restaurants such as Austin Koo's House of Hunan, the Peking Duckling House on Howard Street, and later Tang Dynasty and Szechwan House (now Szechwan East).

1971. Restaurateur Rich Melman opens R.J. Grunt's in Lincoln Park West in June, sowing the seeds of a culinary empire called Lettuce Entertain You.

1979. French rules Chicago dining. In Chicago Magazine's readers survey, five of the best seven restaurants are French. Of the 14 in the second tier, eight are French or French-inspired. (Can you name thetop restaurants? The best:Berghoff, Cape Cod Room,L'Escargot, La Fontaine, Le Francais, Jovan, Tango.)

Two farmers markets, the first in Chicago since the 19th Century, open in Lincoln Square and the Back O' the Yards. Over the next 20 years the number will grow as city dwellers discover that tomatoes really can be red and tasty.

1980. The first Taste of Chicago takes place on Michigan Avenue, with a turnout of about 200,000.

1997. The International Housewares Show in January marks its 100th appearance in Chicago. Its debut was on Jan. 8, 1939, at the Palmer House. Among the products showcased over the years: Birds Eye precooked frozen foods (1939) Corning Ware (1958) Popeil Brothers' Veg-O-Matic (1963) Hutzler's Cook 'n Serve melamine tools (winner of the show's Design Award in 1968) and Rival's Crock-Pot (1971).


15 Mexican beers ranked — plus, why they're becoming our favorite import

Chef Diana Davila ran the first part of our meal to the table. It was two tacos, one robustly meaty and salty, the other a nuanced, layered vegetarian delight. She set the plates down with a smile and began to walk off. It was a lively Saturday night in her shoebox of a restaurant, but I stopped her.

"What's your favorite beer on the menu?" I asked.

She began to answer, then stopped herself. Clearly she expected me to ask her favorite dish at Mi Tocaya Antojeria, the Logan Square restaurant that Davila opened in March as a love letter to her time living and traveling in Mexico.

The beer list was built of six Mexican imports — Corona, Modelo Especial, Modelo Negra, Pacifico, Sol and Victoria — and one local craft beer on draft. In the spirit of a menu that seemed to be pushing me toward an imported Mexican beer, I chose Victoria, mostly because I couldn't remember how it tasted.

In a happy coincidence, Davila replied, "Victoria is my favorite Mexican drinking beer."

The label on my beer bottle faced away from her so she spun it around and brightened.

That cold 12-ounce bottle of Victoria had arrived at our small table with a thud — a handsome bottle with a white-and-yellow painted label featuring "Victoria" written in elegant cursive with long sloping lines curling off the "V" and the "A." A sliver of lime poked out from the rim. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been served a beer in a bottle. Or the last time I'd resisted the urge to ask for a glass.

To see exactly what I was dealing with, I cast aside the lime and took a swig.

Victoria was bright, dry and refreshing with just the faintest malt body to make it interesting. It was simple and clean, with no cloying grain notes weighing it down. It worked especially well in the context of Davila's menu, providing a tidy counterpoint to the weight and complexity of the meaty taco, the tender ahi tuna atop rich mole verde and lightly gamy lamb meatballs coated in a fiery red ranchero sauce.

Halfway through the meal, I tried my luck with a second beer: Modelo Especial, which has overtaken Corona as the biggest-selling imported beer in some markets (including Chicago).

Not the worst but a bit too much of that cloying grain flavor not present in Victoria. Unlike Victoria, it was better with lime.

I spent the next couple of weeks drinking 15 imported Mexican beers, weighing what works, what doesn't and why the style has been a rocket in the American beer market for the past 20 years, since Corona overtook Heineken as the nation's biggest-selling import.

According to Chicago-based market research firm IRI, Mexican beer has accounted for nearly 70 percent of imported beer sales during the past year — and growing. Nine of the nation's top 54 brands are Mexican imports, including two of the top seven (Corona Extra and Modelo Especial).

The old faithful top four brands — Bud Light, Coors Light, Budweiser and Miller Lite — are all down or flat from a year ago while their Mexican competitors are up: Corona nearly 9 percent, Modelo Especial 24 percent and Modelo Negra (recently rechristened from Negra Modelo), Pacifico and Modelo Especial Chelada all in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 percent.

So what's going on with Mexican beer? Though the best Mexican imports are legitimately tasty, it's not just quality at work if it were, three of the biggest sellers — Corona Extra, Modelo Especial and Sol — wouldn't be packaged in clear glass, which allows light to degrade beer in literal seconds. (The result is a taste most often referred to as "skunky.")

The answer is a complex mix of demographics, marketing, history and nostalgia. Mexico is the sun-dappled place where we are from. Or it is where our family is from. Or it is where we vacation. We adore its food. And its impact on our culture is growing.

Mexico's brewing history dates to the arrival of German and Austrian immigrants in the mid-1800s, who made the Vienna lager — a clean lager with faint malt-forward heft (Samuel Adams Boston Lager is a modern example) — a common staple. However, like its American neighbor, body- and taste-lightening adjuncts slowly worked their way into recipes, and consolidation pushed the industry toward a lowest common denominator. Most major Mexican brands are currently in the hands of two dominant players: Grupo Modelo (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, though its brands in the United States have been divested — more on that to come) and Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma (a subsidiary of Heineken International.)

For Davila, the appeal of Mexican beer lies in both personal history and the quality among the top tier. She is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from San Luis Potosi, 250 miles north of Mexico City. She spent summers there from the ages of 6 to 18. Davila grew up in the Chicago suburbs, but Mexican beer reminds her of home.

"Victoria reminds me of the times we'd take an hour trip to the beach," she said.

It's also what she wants to drink alongside her food. Davila thought hard about assembling a lengthy list of craft beers for her restaurant — it's just what new restaurants do in 2017 — but she decided she'd rather do what's best for her food.

"When you think about Mexican food, and how complex and big and bold the flavors are, Mexican beer goes perfect," she said. "I feel like food and beer pairings have gone off the wall. They can be fun, but when you're eating something, I like contrast. Mexican lagers are the perfect contrast. Why would I want to eat something with all these things going on in it and then a beer with all these things going on? They cross each other out and confuse the palate."

As a nod to craft beer, she opened with one tap reserved for Huitzi, a fairly complex strong golden ale brewed with hibiscus flowers, ginger, Thai palm sugar and honey made by local Latin brewery 5 Rabbit Cerveceria. She's planning to add two more taps: one for 5 Rabbit golden ale and a low-alcohol, fruit-forward beer called Paletas.

But her biggest seller has been Modelo Especial, followed by Victoria ("the majority of staff is Mexican and they love it") and Sol. In a neighborhood rooted somewhat in counterculture — at least as compared to, say, Lincoln Park — her customers tend to shun Corona as a mainstream option. She wondered if those same customers would be aghast at a beer list lacking, as she called it, "bougie beer." Especially IPA.

"No one has said anything," she said.

But here's the funny little secret about Mexican imports: Many are barely imports.

All Corona, Modelo, Pacifico and Victoria beer in the U.S. is brewed just outside the city of Piedras Negras, a mere 12 miles from the border with Texas. Anheuser-Busch InBev and Grupo Modelo were forced to divest the brewery and the U.S. rights to those brands by the U.S. Department of Justice as part of those companies merging in 2013.

The brands and the Piedras Negras brewery went to Constellation Brands, which had been importing and marketing the beers for 30 years. Suddenly it was also in the business of production, which it plans to augment with a new brewery in Mexicali, along the California border, in late 2019.

The loss of the Modelo portfolio was a blow for Anheuser-Busch InBev, whose bedrock domestic brands are mostly losing share. The company tried to compensate by importing Montejo (popular in the Yucatan) in 2014 and Estrella Jalisco (from the state of Jalisco) last year. Distributed in 12 states, including Illinois, Estrella Jalisco has performed reasonably well but lags far behind the Modelo brands. Montejo, which is available in Texas and California, has failed to make much of a dent.

Though Heineken International has several strong brands via Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma — Dos Equis, Sol and Tecate among them — Constellation is the clear leader in the U.S.

"Mexican beer is popular, but it's not just about developing a Mexican imported brand and throwing it out there because that doesn't necessarily work," Constellation spokesman Mike McGrew said. "Brands still matter. We are in a very, very fortunate position because we have been building our brands for more than 30 years."

Corona, for instance, has thrived when sold to Americans as beach, fun, sun and relaxation in a bottle. There may be no beer industry campaign in recent memory more effective than "Find Your Beach," accompanied by spare, alluring images of beach and ocean.

But growth for Modelo Especial has been in double digits for 30 years, McGrew said. Hispanic consumers drove the growth until about three years ago, when a more multicultural audience kicked in. Next, the company has similar plans for Pacifico (framed as "embodying the spirit of Baja . the adventure-seeker consumer," McGrew said) and ultimately, Victoria, which so far only gets Spanish-language advertising and retail support in the U.S.

Riding the coattails of Modelo Especial is Modelo Negra, a darker, malt-forward, food-friendly beer. Constellation is also using its portfolio to take a stab at innovation: low-calorie Corona Premier is being test-marketed in Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., and Texas as a potential challenger to one of Anheuser-Busch InBev's strongest brands: Michelob Ultra.

Even American craft beer is taking notice.

Flying Dog, Oskar Blues, Ska and 21st Amendment breweries have all released Mexican-style lagers, joined in recent months by Sun King in Indianapolis (called Pachanga), Cleveland's Great Lakes (Grandes Lagos, a lager brewed with hibiscus) and Uinta in Salt Lake City, which introduced Lime Pilsner in early spring.

Isaac Winter, Uinta's head brewer of research and development, drank endless amounts of Tecate, Dos Equis and Pacifico while figuring out what Lime Pilsner should taste like.

"I'm not bashful about saying this — I really like Modelo and Tecate," Winter said, adding that his favorite is Pacifico. "I tend to think of a lot of Mexican imports as drinkable and refreshing and not too heavy."

Winter points out that the best ones also boast slightly fruity esters from the yeast used, whereas "a lot of domestic beers use boring yeasts."

Winter's gripe against some Mexican imports is the same one I developed from drinking through those 15 beers over the course of a couple of weeks: Several are too sweet.

"Sometimes breweries add too many crystal malts — sweet malts — that make the beer too cloying," Winter said. "That does not lend itself to drinkability. There were a few beers that I felt on my teeth afterward."

He declined to name the beers too cloying for his taste, but I have no such issues: I'll always take a Tecate with a squeeze or two of fresh lime over a Corona for precisely this reason. Or even a Corona Light over a Corona. Corona Light might taste like carbonated carpet, but at least it dries out. And with an ample infusion of fresh lime, it's passable.

Uinta's Lime Pilsner is what a lot of these beers should be it's lean, dry and effervescent up front, followed by a long citrus finish. It was initially intended as a summer-only release, but interest from distributors was so fierce that it quickly became a year-round offering. In a sense, American craft's embrace of Mexican imports is the biggest compliment imaginable. Who knows — a couple might even make it onto Davila's beer list.


ALASKA: Lane's Quickie Tacos in Fairbanks

Kelley T./Yelp

"Best tacos I've had in Alaska so far," wrote one Yelp reviewer. "I loved the hand-made tortillas and the taco combinations. I'd come here every week if I could."

At Lane's Quickie Tacos you can expect to purchase these five tacos all-year-round: The Alaskan, The Texan, The 'Merican, The Hippie, and The Kiddo. The sixth taco is always chosen randomly, so you're in for a surprise every time you come in.


Share All sharing options for: Suburban Pepe’s restaurant franchise owner pleads guilty to underreporting $2.5M in sales

The Dirksen Federal Courthouse Sun-Times file

The owner of five Chicago-area Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant franchises pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to omitting about $2.5 million in sales from his corporate tax returns.

Juan C. Hurtado of Joliet pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement in a tax return, a charge punishable by up to three years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago.

Hurtado owned a Pepe’s franchise in Chicago, at 7026 S. Archer Ave. in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood, according to his plea agreement. He also owned south-suburban locations in Tinley Park, Hickory Hills, Matteson and Chicago Heights.

In the plea agreement, Hurtado admitted that from 2016 to 2018 he was responsible for filing 11 false corporate tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service.

He allegedly underreported the receipts and sales of his restaurants by about $2.5 million. Hurtado also allegedly admitted to making false sales reports that he gave to his accountants.


California: El Tepeyac

Los Angeles
It's not that the burritos at El Tepeyac are particularly cheap, it's that they're so big, it generally takes two people to finish one, which makes them half price by default. TripAdvisor fans rave about the size, but also the sheer quality — many call it the best burrito in the burrito mecca of Los Angeles. Manuel's Special Burrito weighs in at more than 5 pounds, according to El Tepeyac, but a competitive eating competition that includes the house favorite as a challenge lists the gargantuan delicacy at 4.5 pounds. Free delivery with orders over $25, too.


CHD Expert Evaluates the Mexican Restaurant Industry, the Second Most Popular Menu Type in the USA

Americans love Mexican food, and not just on Cinco de Mayo. While once mainly popular in the southwest, the Mexican Menu Type has gone on to conquer much of the country, thanks in part to not only its flavor, but also its convenience and budget-friendly prices. Considering the popularity of Mexican cuisine across the country, CHD Expert, a global leader in aggregating, analyzing, and managing foodservice data, evaluates recent trends in the Mexican restaurant landscape across the USA.

“From small taquerias with a loyal local customer base, to the chains with addicted millennial customers, our nations Mexican restaurants are a deep well of demand for businesses who want to sell more into this menu type.” said Catherine Kearns, General Manager of CHD Expert The Americas. “Many distributors and suppliers have niche products focused towards restaurants that serve Mexican food, and it is important for them to understand their sales potential and where opportunities lie within this lucrative menu type.”

As of April 2017, there are more than 59,800 Mexican restaurants in the United States and the Mexican Menu Type represents approximately 9 percent of all restaurants in the USA. At the time of this release, Mexican edged out Pizzerias for the second most common non-simplified US menu type, with Pizzeria falling into the third position with approximately 59,300 Pizzeria restaurants across the USA.

As a whole, the Mexican menu type generates approximately $45 billion in annual retail sales, averaging approximately $766,000 per unit.

Broken down by segment, 58 percent of Mexican restaurants are Full Service Restaurants and 42 percent are Limited Service Restaurants. By definition FSRs operate with a wait staff and offer table service, while LSRs require food to be purchased at a counter and paid for before food is served.

Breaking these LSR operators down, Taco Bell makes up 42 percent of all LSR Mexican Chain restaurants. This Yum Brand juggernaut continues to captivate the millennial customer with menu innovations, from the Doritos Locos Taco to their newly available, Naked Breakfast Taco and Mexican Crispy Chicken Pizza. The other most prevalent Mexican chains are Chipotle Mexican Grill (15%), Qdoba Mexican Grill (4.4%), Moe’s Southwest Grill (3.9%), and Del Taco (3.6%).

According to CHD Expert’s data, 52 percent of Mexican Menu Type LSRs are Chains, whereas only 3 percent of Mexican Menu Type restaurants are FSRs Chains (CHD Expert classifies an independent as a restaurant with nine or less units in operation.)

Within the FSR market segment, 85 percent of the restaurants fall within the Casual Dining category, followed by Family Style (12%), Upscale Dining (3%) and Fine Dining (less than 1%). Chuy’s and On The Border represent two of the larger Mexican FSR chains.

And while there are only a handful of Fine Dining Mexican restaurants across the nation, some of these eateries offer the finest dining experiences one can experience across the nation. Including celebrity chef Rick Bayless’s TOPOLOBAMPO in Chicago, which grosses more than $5 Million annually and a $50+ average check.

Geographically speaking, it’s no surprise that the state of Texas is el jefe in terms of total Mexican restaurants within its state lines, with 18 percent of the state’s total restaurants being of the Mexican Menu Type, two times higher than the national average. And to further validate the southwest roots of Mexican cuisine in the USA New Mexico (14%), California (13%), Arizona (13%), and Colorado (12%) round out the top five states with the largest percentage of the Mexican menu type within the state’s total restaurant landscape.

CHD Expert packaged the most interesting facts and figures into a trends report designed to help foodservice industry professionals better understand the Mexican restaurant landscape in the United States.


Colorado

To think, you might have gone your entire life without knowing about the sugar steak, the specialty of the house at Bastien’s in Denver, a serious steakhouse trapped, and happily so, in the body of a 1950s West Coast coffee shop-style structure, with whimsical, oversized neon signage out front to complete the illusion. The signature preparation here is simple, but terribly effective�ing white and brown sugar to the savory rub softens up even the most macho bone-in ribeye, resulting one seriously tender steak, never served here, proudly, beyond medium-rare.

If it is seriously vintage steakhouse vibes you’re after, Denver’s Buckhorn Exchange is, loudly and proudly, one of America’s oldest restaurants, established in 1893. The walls are a taxidermy enthusiast’s dream, and the Rocky Mountain Oysters remain one of the most famous dishes on the menu. Snap back to the almost-present at the Barolo Grill, which remains in many respects a portal to 1990s Denver restaurant culture a refreshed menu and expanded wine cellar, however, after the long-time general manager bought the restaurant in 2015, has kept the place feeling essential all these years later, it’s one of the city’s best. In Morrison, barely beyond the reaches of the ever-expanding Front Range suburbs, The Fort gained no small amount of national attention after opening in the 1960s, thanks to its colorful proprietor Sam Arnold, an early proponent of adding wild game to modern restaurant menus. To this day, elk, quail and buffalo are staples.


Tortilla and Taco History

The versatility of the tortilla as a wrapper in endless. They are used for tacos and enchiladas, among native Mexicans, tortillas are commonly used as eating utensils, as a plate as in a tostada, and much more. In the United States the tortilla is no longer seen as just an ethnic bread. This is partially due to the increase of the Hispanic population.

Check out What’s Cooking America’s Tortilla Recipe: Tortillas – How To Make Tortillas.

Tortillas History:

In northern Mexico and much of the United States, tortilla means the flour version. Flour tortillas are the foundation of Mexican border cooking and a relatively recent import. Their popularity was driven by the low cost of inferior grades of flour provided to border markets and by their ability to keep and ship well.

3000 B.C. – Excavations in the valley of “Valle de Tehuac”, in the state of Puebla, revealed the use, for more than seven thousand years, of the basic cereal by excellence of the Mesoamerican diet, a little wild cob that along with roots and fruit was a complement for hunting. According to Agust Gayt, chef and Mexican cuisine historian, in a Greeley Tribune newspaper article:

Sometime about 3000 B.C., people of the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico hybridized wild grasses to produce large, nutritious kernels we know as corn. Mexican anthropologist and maize historian Arturo Warman credits the development of corn with the rise of Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Mayans and the Aztecs, which were advanced in art, architecture, math and astronomy. The significance of corn was not lost on indigenous cultures that viewed it as a foundation of humanity. It is revered as the seed of life. According to legend, human beings were made of corn by the Gods.”

By the time Spaniards reached the shores of what is now Mexico in the 1400s, indigenous Mesoamericans had a sophisticated and flavorful cuisine based on native fruits, game, cultivated beans and corn and domesticated turkeys.

1519 – When Hern Cort (1485-1547), also known as Hernando Cortez, and his conquistadores arrived in the New World on April 22, 1519, they discovered that the inhabitants (Aztecs Mexicas) made flat corn breads. The native Nahuatl name for these was tlaxcalli. The Spanish gave them the name tortilla. In Cort’ 1920 second letter to King Charles V of Spain, he describes the public markets and the selling of maize or Indian corn:

This city has many public squares, in which are situated the markets and other places for buying and selling. . . where are daily assembled more than sixty thousand souls, engaged in buying and selling and where are found all kinds of merchandise that the world affords, embracing the necessaries of life, as for instance articles of food. . . maize or Indian corn, in the grain and in the form of bread, preferred in the grain for its flavor to that of the other islands and terra-firma.

1529 – In the monumental manuscript books, General History of the Things of New Spain (Historia general de las cosas de Nueva Espana), by the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagun (1450-1590), it is known that the Aztec diet was based on corn and tortillas, tamales and plenty of chilies in many varieties. Considered one of the fathers of culinary history. He compiled and translated testimonies of his culinary informants from the native language Nahuatl into Spanish. His work is the most complete record of Aztec foods and eating habits.

Sahagun was sent to New Spain (Mexico) to compile, in the Aztec language, a compendium of all things relating to the native history and custom that might be useful in the labor of Christianizing the Indians. The work thus undertaken occupied some seven years, in collaboration with the best native authorities, and was expanded into a history and description of the Aztec people and civilization in twelve manuscript books, together with a grammar (Arte) and dictionary of the language.

1940s – In the 1940s and ‘50s, one of the first widespread uses of small scale gas engines and electric motors was to power wet grain grinders for making masa. A hand press or hand patting were used to form the masa into tortillas.

1960s – Early tortillas took hours to make but by the 1960s, small-scale tortilla-making machines could churn out hot, steaming tortillas every two seconds.

Taco History:

In Mexico, the word taco is a generic term like the English word sandwich. A taco is simply a tortilla wrapped around a filling. Like a sandwich, the filling can be made with almost anything and prepared in many different ways (anything that can be rolled inside a tortilla becomes a taco). The contents of a taco can vary according to the geographical region you are eating them. The taco can be eaten as an entree or snack. They are made with soft corn or fried corn tortillas folded over.


1520
– Bernal Diaz del Castillo (1496-1584), a Spanish soldier who came with Hern Cort to the New World, wrote an intriguing and detailed chronicles called A True History of the Conquest of New Spain. He also chronicled the lavish feasts that were held. From the article by Sophie Avernin called Tackling the taco: A guide to the art of taco eating:

The first “taco bash” in the history of New Spain was documented by none other than Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Hernan Cortes organized this memorable banquet in Coyoacan for his captains, with pigs brought all the way from Cuba. It would, however, be a mistake to think that Cortes invented the taco, since anthropologists have discovered evidence that inhabitants of the lake region of the Valley of Mexico ate tacos filled with small fish, such as acosiles and charales. The fish were replaced by small live insects and ants in the states of Morelos and Guerrero, while locusts and snails were favorite fillings in Puebla and Oaxaca.

1914 – The first-known English-language taco recipes appeared in California cookbooks beginning in 1914. Bertha Haffner-Ginger, in her cookbook California Mexican-Spanish Cook Book said tacos were:

“made by putting chopped cooked beef and chili sauce in a tortilla made of meal and flour folded, edges sealed together with egg fried in deep fat, chile sauce served over it.”

1929 – Pauline Wiley-Kleemann in here cookbook Ramona’s Spanish-Mexican Cookery, featured six taco and tacquito recipes. These included recipes for Gorditos that came from Santa Nita or Xochimilco, Pork Tacos composed of snout, ears, jowls, kidneys, and liver, Cream Cheese Tacos, Egg Tacos, Mexican Tacos, and Tacquitos

Taqueria or taco trucks are found throught the West and Southwest of the United States. There are two kinds of taco trucks traveling trucks that cruise around neighborhoods and business areas, and non-cruising trucks parked permanently in lots.

Karen Hursh Graber in her article Wrap It Up: A Guide to Mexican Street Tacos says the following on the different types of tacos in Mexico:

Many foreigners come to Mexico with the idea that they can get tacos any time, but this is not generally true. Looking for tacos around midday, perhaps at the time of the gringo lunch, will not normally be a successful pursuit. Tacos are either a morning treat or a nighttime snack, pretty much disappearing between the hours of noon and six p.m. This is because the main meal in Mexico is eaten in the afternoon. Not to worry: by about six the smell of meat begins to permeate the air and the taquers are back in business. . .

From noon until about six there are almost no tacos available morning vendors are closed until the next day. Right around dusk, however, there is a perceptible change in the atmosphere of the street following the afternoon lull. Permanent puestos, stalls and storefront taquers begin opening, and ambulatory taco carts roll into place, usually connecting the wires from their naked light bulbs into overhead lines. . . The most compelling signal of “taco time”, however, is the aroma. Of all the street food in Mexico, the taco is King of the Night, attracting clients with the appetizing scent of grilled, fried or steamed meat. Since the big meal of the day is eaten in the afternoon, many people opt for a late supper, or cena, and taquers usually stay open until about midnight, and later in big cities. On weekends, taquers near discos and clubs stay open until the wee hours of the morning, when they provide welcome sustenance to hungry partygoers.

There are many types of tacos served in Mexico and the United States. The following are the most popular ones served in the United States:

Taco al Pastor – The most popular taco in Mexico. The name means “shepherd’s-style taco.” Here the main ingredient is spiced pork, which is cut, in slivers, from a loaf of meat standing on a vertical spit in front of an open flame. These tacos are a Mexican adaptation of the spit-grilled meat brought by immigrants from Lebanon.

Breakfast Tacos – Breakfast tacos or burritos are available at many restaurants across the Southwest (especially New Mexico and Texas). It is a fried corn or flour tortilla that is rolled and stuffed with a mixture of seasoned meat, eggs, or cheese, and other ingredients such as onions and salsa. Much like sandwiches, these tacos can be as simple or complex as imagination allows. They are served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and they have gone mainstream to meet demands.

Fish Tacos – Ensenada, Mexico claims to be the birth place of the fish taco, and they are advertised at restaurants throughout the city where many claim that their taco is the original. The best place to sample them is at any of the small food stands that line the streets around the Mercado Negro, Ensenada’s incredible fish market. The fish tacos served are simply small pieces of batter-coated, fried fish in a hot corn or wheat tortilla.

People in the coastal areas of Mexico have been eating fish tacos for a long time. The history of fish tacos could seemly go back thousands of years to when indigenous North American peoples first wrapped the plentiful offshore catch into stone-ground-corn tortillas. The people of Ensenada say their port town is the fish taco’s true home, dating at least from the opening of the Ensenada mercado, in 1958.

The people of San Diego, California, have been hooked on fish tacos since 1983. In fact, fish tacos are the fast-food signature dish of San Diego: they’re cheap to buy and fast to make.

Fish tacos were popularized in the United States by Ralph Rubio, who first tasted them while on spring break in Baja, Mexico. According to the story he tells, there was one Baja vendor he especially liked, a man named Carlos, who ran a hole-in-the-wall taco stand with a 10-foot counter and a few stools. Carlos fried fish to order and put it on a warm tortilla. Customers added their own condiments. Rubio tried to persuade Carlos to move to San Diego, but Carlos was happy where he was and would not budge. He did agree, however, to share his recipe, which Rubio scrawled on a piece of paper pulled from his wallet. Several years later, Rubio opened his own restaurant in San Diego, called Rubio’s – Home of the Fish Taco. Today, fish tacos are legendary and are sole throughout San Diego and the Southwest.