Every culture has its street food. From Middle Eastern shawarma and kabobs to Jamaican jerk chicken and even American fast food, tasty calories with consistent menus and consistent quality are the roadside rule, not the exception. How they get there varies. That they get there rarely does.
In Baja, two of the most common forms of street food are fish taco joints and mariscos stands. Their menus rarely surprise. That is where Make Taco (Mar del Norte 552, 22710 Rosarito, Baja California) stands out. It’s not exactly a mariscos stand, although mariscos are here. It’s not exactly a taco shop, though most of the offerings are tacos. Make Taco bends the rules, the expectations and—at times—the seafood taco genre.
What you don’t get at Make Taco is the stereotypical deep-fried fish taco that Rubios does as well as many in Baja. What you can get at Make Taco is a brilliant machaca de marlin taco. Smoked marlin, shredded machaca style, some chopped onion and chiles fill a corn tortilla with little adornment and powerhouse flavor. It is a smoky, savory bomb of huge proportions. Simple, yes, but it doesn’t taste that way.
The pulpo estofado taco was completely different and equally delicious. The octopus is unbelievably tender and meaty, with chunks of octopus tentacles stewed in a brew of guajillo chile, olives, onions, sweet peppers and corn and served in a soft white corn tortilla. It has the feeling of an old family recipe or the stuff fisherman do when they save the best of the catch for themselves.
It wasn’t the use of manta ray that was the real surprise, but rather the ingredients the ray was cooked with: tomatillo, jalapeno, onion and potato. The bright acidity of the tomatillo contrasted with the earthiness of the potato, and the texture of that potato contrasted nicely with the ray. The dish’s composition was both sophisticated and unexpected.
Ceviche de camaron (shrimp ceviche) may not be Make Taco’s most creative dish but it is one of its most delicious. While shrimp ceviche tends to be made with poached shrimp, at least on this side of the border, Make Taco’s starts raw. The only “cooking” the shrimp receive is from the lime juice. The result is a fresher, lighter ceviche. It is a point framed nicely by the classic accompaniments: cucumber, tomato, red onion and slices of avocado.
While some of these dishes seem to be fixtures on the Make Taco menu, that menu changes daily. You can count on machaca de marlin and ceviche, but don’t come looking for white menudo on a weekday, and don’t bet heavily on finding manta ray on any particular day. The menu is guided by freshness and availability of ingredients and Eduardo Garcia’s imagination.
And that is what makes Make Taco so unusual. It’s not a matter of rolling out the Baja taco top 10, tasty and dependable as that may be. It’s a matter of the genuine warmth that is the promise of street food done up as a high-wire street food act without a net.