One of travel’s pitfalls is missing the food upon returning home. While the US can claim to be a melting pot, much of the food we know to be ethnic has been westernized and the real authentic grub is hard to find. Case in point, Mexican food. The quesadillas, enchiladas and burritos that most Americans associate with being Mexican food is far from the original and should rather be classified as Tex Mex. Real Mexican food has more vibrant flavors. There’s no shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes on a real taco.
In Puerto Vallarta, like most of Mexico, there’s a lively street food scene. With the smell of lunch flowing through the streets, visitors will see everything from tortas and shaved ice, to ceviche and taco stands. If you ask a local where to eat, first they will offer the name of a fancy restaurant they know best. If you then ask where they would eat, locals will tell you to spend pesos at the same makeshift, curbside restaurants where they eat. Many carts have long lines of hungry people, stools or chairs set out front for sitting and TVs inside the cart for cooks to watch telenovelas as they cook. All aspects of Mexican culture wrapped up into one small space. I fell in love with street food on my third trip to Mexico and every visit since I’ve eaten alongside taxi drivers, cleaning ladies and school kids instead of in stuffy, tourist driven hot-spots.
When I found the Tacos Morelos stand on 2nd Street and Avenue A in Manhattan’s Alphabet City on the Lower East Side (yes, there are sister locations in Jackson Heights and Williamsburg), I knew I had found something as close to Mexican street food as I ever would. On the northwest corner of the intersection is a small taco stand, open 24 hours, serving up everything from lengua tacos to burritos with authentic, fresh chorizo. Unlike the stands in Mexico, there are no stools or plastic lawn chairs for diners to lounge on, nor is there a television to keep the taco stand’s cook occupied. There is, however, a line of happy, hungry locals.
Pricing is affordable, making the snack worth your change. These are not the $.70 tacos from Mexico, but they are certainly worth it at about $2.50 an order (each taco comes with two soft, corn tortillas.) Burritos cost $7.50, tostadas $3.00 and tortas $5.00. It’s a small price to pay to be able to depart from the chain burrito and fast-food taco. Consider it an excuse to escape the bars and pricier food spots in the neighborhood.
If you’re looking for something that is smothered in sour cream, covered in American cheese and served in a crunchy shell, look somewhere else. I recommend trying the barbacoa or carnitas taco, the Tacos Chile Relleno and I hear that the tortas are just as delicious as they sound. Ask the cook what they prefer, she’s happy to offer suggestions and substitute fillings.
If you can’t make it to Alphabet City, Jackson Heights or Williamsburg and you live in a large metropolitan area, ask around. There’s bound to be real tacos somewhere nearby. You just might have to do a little searching to find them.
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