There was no way I could go to Mexico without having tacos. Not only did I have tacos, but I gorged on so many tacos it was amazing. We had meat tacos, and fish tacos, with flour, corn and even cheese tortillas (I know, sounds as awesome as they tasted), gringas with cheese, or just good ol’ meat layered until infinity. I had the wildest array of deliciousness stuffed into a tortilla. It truly was vacation.
Not that the meat ones were not very exciting, because that would be a lie, but they were just pretty traditional. All the meats were perfectly cooked, tender and a great mouthful, but they were straightforward. I had tacos al pastor, heavily spiced and colored pork, bedded with cheesey greatness on a flour tortilla. Delicious, but straight forward and mildly predictable. Then there were pork chop tacos, with cubes of perfect pork chop meat and a loud dose of cheese, or even tacos de costilla (rib) with great texture and chew.
My favorite meat taco was the taco I was most afraid to try, barbacoa lamb. I could honestly say, I am not a giant fan of lamb. Even though I look forward to the traditional (well in my house) Easter meal every year, it is more about the holiday and the family, than the lamb. We were initially going to have pork carnitas for breakfast, but that first choice was closed, and luck was on our side when El Corral Del Carnero was open on the off chance and we were to have barbacoa. I was skeptical at first, not looking forward to the gamy meaty feeling of lamb in the morning. But I was severely pleasantly surprised. It was the most, tender, delicious meat I have ever tasted, on either side of the border. There was not a single shred of the dreaded heaviness, but instead it was juicy, moist, and light. It was not fatty or dry, but perfectly addictive (I ended up ordering another taco, and paying the restaurant another visit before I left). Throw some chopped onions and a little guacamole on there, and I was set to eat like six.
Now the more vibrant and exciting tacos, were less traditional and less red meat. We went to a hot spot in Merida, called El Pez Gordo, home of the fish tacos and delicious seafood snacks. My friend and host knew the menu inside and out, so that made the daunting choice much much easier. And can I say, everything was so good? I wanted more even when I thought my stomach was going to explode (which was probably the whole trip, but in a good way).
We had four different kinds of amazing fish tacos. The place has carefully chosen toppings and arrangements, but opens up options, like tortilla (flour, corn or cheese!) and protein (fish or shrimp). And somehow, no matter which way you swing it, it was always amazing (went there twice too!).
The el grande fish taco was a spicy riot of color, violent red from the breading coating the fish, and intense purple radiating from the red cabbage, and a cool green from a dab of guacamole. The fish was coated in a crunchy red spicy delicious breading based and inspired by hot corn chips. It was an extremely creative way to draw different flavors and memories to form the experience of this one taco. It was spicy but both the cabbage and guacamole cooled the mouth to pleasantness, inspiring a great balance.
This taco was a weird mixture of spicy, and cool, cheesy and smooth. This was more like what we would think of as a quesadilla, meaning there were two tortillas, and all the goodness filled the inside. The bottom tortilla was flour whereas the top was one of the crispy cheese varieties. The inside was smeared with chipotle chilies and their smooth juices, as well as plump shrimp, and a heavy handful of chewy cheese. This, was not my favorite, maybe because it was the last one we tried, but the smokiness of the chipotle and the burned edges of the cheese tortilla created a nice harmony, making the shrimp more meaty rather than sweet.
Like the el grande, crunchi was another colorful taco, boasting the same purple hue, with the addition of specked creamy white colors and perfectly crunchy browns. We chose to get the crunchi with shrimp instead of the tender fish, on top of a cheese tortilla. This was the best decision (ever), three different crunchy textures; cooked cheese of tortilla, coating on the shrimp and the fresh cabbage, which married perfectly. Somehow every flavor was present, the sweet shrimp, the burned resilience of the cheese, and the tempura like crust. The creamy garlic sauce added a mature flavor and dimension.
This of all the tacos probably was the simplest, lacking the spattering of sauces and was more straightforward. It featured a healthy dose of pretty shrimp, and crumbled dark red chorizo (a frequent ingredient on our adventure, appearing here and here). The flour tortilla was also striking with a beautiful thick slice of ripe avocado on top. Its simplicity was refreshing, and the avocado cooled the fatty spiciness of the crisp chorizo, all mellowed by the sweet shrimp.
If I could chose any of the tacos I tried to devour again, it would be a difficult decision (extremely, difficult). With all the different fillings, flavors, twists and techniques, it would prove nearly impossible, because I would eat them all again, and would love to try even more varieties. But if I had to (and I mean absolutely had to, or I would get shot kind of thing…aaand I was allowed more than one) I would pick either (or both, depending on the life or death circumstances) the barbacoa lamb taco, or the crunchi fish taco on that delightful cheese tortilla. Oh wait. I already did eat those twice…