My favorite taco joint is this grungy place in the middle of nowhere (aka suburbia) (aka the San Fernando Valley). Their al pastor is my favorite; it’s not too fatty, not too oily, not too heavy; and the pieces are tender and flavorful, piled onto warm corn tortillas and topped with chopped onions and cilantro (that I pick off). Rice, beans, and a small pile of lettuce complete the plate, and carne asada nachos complete my order — nachos, and a can of Pepsi because it’s hot and weirdly (for LA) humid, and the cold, sweet fizz of Pepsi helps break all that.
I only ever crave soda during summer, and only when it’s humid, I say.
While we wait for our food, I ferry over a plate of pickled jalapenos, sliced radishes, lime wedges from the salsa bar, and you fill little sauce cups with red sauce and green sauce. I grab extra napkins; I know we’ll need them. You ask for cups of ice water and forks. The food comes out quickly, and it’s hot, served on styrofoam plates, nothing fancy here, but neither of us minds that. You laugh as I automatically start picking cilantro off my first taco, as I declare that cilantro tastes like soap, not that that will ever deter me from eating Mexican food or Vietnamese food or whatever else food likes to use cilantro. That also doesn’t mean I won’t pick as much cilantro out of my food as I can, though — I’ve been doing this for so long, I’m damn good at picking out cilantro leaves and picking them out fast.
(Two food items I still hate: cilantro and cucumbers, I told you the other night.
What?! What do you have against cucumbers?!
They taste like nothingness! It’s like a vacuum in your mouth because they suck all the flavors out of everything they touch!)
We eat with our hands, picking up our forks only for the rice and beans, and we litter the table with used napkins. You’re right, you say, after you’ve taken your first bite of taco, the pastor here is awesome, and I’d agree, gloat over my good taste, if I hadn’t just stuffed the rest of my taco into my mouth. We’re quiet, quickly demolishing our meal, two tacos each, rice and beans to share, a plate of nachos and a can of Pepsi between us, and, when we’re done, we wipe our fingers clean, throw away our trash, put our can with the recycling. As we head out the door back into Valley summer heat, I gesture towards another storefront with my head and ask, Want boba? The cups at this place are grotesquely ginormous, but their mango smoothie has real mango in it.