A touch of Mexican flavor
Here in the U.S., Cinco de Mayo has become synonymous with tacos, Margaritas, and piÃ±atas â€¦ not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with that. Iâ€™m more than happy for any excuse to enjoy Mexican food and drink.
If youâ€™re looking to experience authentic Mexican flavors this Cinco de Mayo, hereâ€™s a trio of really great Mexican eateries to do it:
Located in Rose Park, El Cabrito is one of my favorite Mexican eateries, one of the off-the-foodie-radar spots for authentic, no-BS Mexican fare. Itâ€™s nothing fancy. In fact, none of the restaurants Iâ€™m discussing today are. But boy oh boy is the food here great. In Spanish, cabrito means â€œgoat,â€ and there are lots of goat dishes on the menu at El Cabrito: roasted, barbecued, oven-baked, and even a goat consomme called consome de chivo.
One way to get your goat is to order the enchiladas plate ($9.99). Itâ€™s a trio of large corn tortillas stuffed with barbecued, shredded goat meat and smothered in a rich-tasting dark mole sauce with tomato, lettuce and crumbled Mexican cheese on top. Also included were heaping portions of Mexican rice and really good refried beans.
The folks at El Cabrito make their own flour and corn tortillas and they are superior in taste and texture to most. So when you order a taco, letâ€™s say, the tortilla is the star of the show. There are plenty of toppings and accouterments to fancy up your taco, but the meat and the tortilla are the main attractions. Taco, burrito, tostada, torta, sope and enchilada fillings/toppings include cabeza, pollo, asada, carnitas, barbacoa de chivo, and lengua. My personal favorite was the juicy, fantastic tasting pork carnitas. El Cabrito sells carnitas meat to take out for a mere $11.99 per pound. And you can also purchase barbecued goat to take home for $10.99 per pound.
The pozole ($8.99) is also excellent: a green/white version redolent with hominy and shredded pork in delectable pork broth served with homemade tortillas, hot sauce, oregano, shredded cabbage and such on the side.
Situated on 2700 South at about 5th East, La OaxaqueÃ±a is really two Mexican eateries in one. La OaxaqueÃ±a features, not surprisingly, the flavors of Oaxaca, while itâ€™s sister eatery – all under the same roof – cooks up Salvadorian fare and is called Cafe Guanaco. While I love the Salvadorian cuisine very much – especially the handmade pupusas – the focus here, for Cinco de Mayo, is on La OaxaqueÃ±a.
I lived for a while in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, and one of my tastiest memories of the City of Oaxaca was walking out of bars in the early morning hours and getting hit with the smell of burning charcoal. It came from street carts specializing in a uniquely Oaxacan street food called tlayudas. A tlayuda is a large tortilla about the size of a medium pizza – thatâ€™s cooked over hot coals and topped with black beans, lard, meat (usually beef or chicken) and garnished with lettuce or cabbage, shredded cheese, avocado, salsa and such. Itâ€™s sort of a super-sized tostada that one eats on the go, sometimes folded in half, sometimes not.
Itâ€™s not easy to find tlayudas here in Utah, but La OaxaqueÃ±a specializes in them, and theyâ€™re great. Very authentic. They begin with homemade 14-inch tortillas and come with a number of topping choices, including tasajo, cecina, queso, mole, and chorizo. Thereâ€™s even a vegetarian version if youâ€™d prefer that. The tylaudas at La OaxaqueÃ±a are so large and piled so generously high with toppings that Iâ€™ve never even been able to finish even half of one. Which is fine, because the leftovers (they supply pizza boxes for carryout) make for terrific lunches or late night snacks.
In Layton, there is a Mexican market that I like to shop at. Itâ€™s called La Favorita, and for years there was a taco stand right outside the market with some of the best tasting street-style tacos Iâ€™ve ever had. Well, the folks with the taco stand eventually moved into a brick-and-mortar eatery adjacent to La Favorita, located at 55 N. Fort Lane in Layton. Itâ€™s called Tacos Blanquita.
The menu here runs the gamut from tacos, burritos, and enchiladas to tortas, fajitas, flautas, tamales, breakfast items, and stews/soups like menudo, pozole and birria. They make a mean molcajete, which is shrimp, chicken, beef, onion, cheese, and more all cooked in a molten hot lava rock vessel called a molcajete. Itâ€™s fun (and messy) to share.
Ultimately though, I visit Tacos Blanquita for the stupendous tacos, which are priced at $1.50 apiece. This taco spot has one of the best arrays of taco fillings Iâ€™ve encountered in Utah, including asada, al pastor, buche, birria, cabeza, carnitas, chorizo, tripa, lengua, chicharron, lamb barbacoa, pollo and sudadero. Most of the same fillings are available for burritos. I particularly love the carnitas and carne asada tacos, but no matter what you choose at Tacos Blanquita, youâ€™ll be picking winners!
Â¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Culinary quote of the week:
Happy Cinco de Mayo! Itâ€™s a holiday thatâ€™s as respectful of Mexican traditions as Epcot Centerâ€™s Mexican food pavilion. â€” Conan Oâ€™Brien
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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