Photo by Michael A. Gardiner
Taco de barbacoa
In his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio , 378 U.S. 184 (1964)—one of the most famous in Supreme Court history—Justice Potter Stewart said of hardcore pornography: "I know it when I see it." He might as well have been talking about "authenticity" and Mexican food. My most recent trip to Aqui es Texcoco (1043 Broadway) in Chula Vista taught me that.
Aqui es Texcoco is known for barbacoa , a mainland Mexican (by way of the Caribbean) method of cookery in which primal cuts of meat are slow-steamed in an earthen pit over coals covered in maguey leaves. At Aqui Es Texcoco—and the town outside Mexico City from which it takes its name—the meat of choice is lamb.
On a first trip to Aqui es Texcoco, go for the lamb tacos. It's barbacoa on training wheels featuring delicious, fallen-off-the-bone meat in a perfect corn tortilla delivery system. You wonder what could possibly be better.
On your second trip to Aqui es Texcoco you find out: the lamb plate. The meat is served on aluminum foil alongside warm corn tortillas and a broth that is liquid lamb. There are several options for the meat (not all available every day): maciza (lean meat), costilla (fattier rib), pancita (tripe) and sesos (brains). Get the combination. The result is alternately fatty and lean, savory and rich, all deeply flavored and earthy, with an overall sense of meaty warmth.
On your third trip go all in and order the lamb's head: eyeballs, brains, cheeks and all. The eyeballs are, truth be told, mostly an adventure. The cheeks, though, are glorious: pretty much the best part of any creature. And there is a simple, primal pleasure inherent in the act of picking meat out of a mammal's head.
Or go more direct with the grilled brain tacos. Often more of a texture than a flavor, these brains offer a meaty, umami warmth well worth the bravery. Or try the tacos de Moronga (blood sausage) which brought a pleasing minerality and deep savory flavor to the taco.
But for pure fun there's nothing better than the chicharrón de queso , big tubes of shredded cheese cooked into crisps served with a rustic, homey, full-flavored guacamole. A squeeze of lime cuts through all that richness. You know it could not possibly be good for you but you really don't care.
At issue in Jacobellis was a Louis Malle film, The Lovers . Stewart emerged from a dark screening room after he and eight other old men (who wear black nighties for a living) watched a film to determine whether it was porn. Stewart concluded the legal formulas of precedent were meaningless because of different standards in different places at different times. The same might be said of authenticity in food: where, when and to whom?
The answer to these questions depends on the eye—or the palate—of the beholder. And at Aqui es Texcoco it just feels right. Like The Lovers there can be no question in the end it is right, even if it's pornographically good.