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Small Talk: Talking tacos

So, we were discussing tacos. That might be considered peculiar in some places across America, but in San Diego, it is right up there with the weather.

I’m fairly certain that around here, tacos are king. I would bet good money that they beat out burgers and even pizza. Meanwhile, my attention was snagged when someone started talking about a new Mexican restaurant. Mixed reviews were being offered about how good the food was. The only one who seemed to like it said, “But I only ordered a taco. It’s hard to ruin a taco.”

Oh, I very much beg to differ. In the last several decades, chefs anywhere south of Santa Barbara have created zillions of creations that rest inside a tortilla and are labeled taco. There are so many styles of tacos now and, it seems, the true taco lover loves them all. That is, what is now one person’s dream taco, can make the more timid palate (usually mine) gag.

When I was a young taco fan, I only encountered one basic recipe for the American taco —  lightly seasoned ground beef, cheese, tomatoes and lettuce inside a crispy tortilla. My mom, being ahead of her time, actually made us tacos at home long before the arrival of Taco Bell. As I recall, Jack-In-The-Box served tacos in the ‘60s, too, using that basic recipe, but I think, even then, theirs were too spicy for me.

The big deal-breaker for me was when tacos got more authentically Mexican and used shredded meat. Shredded meat can be delicious, but at the same time, the recipe usually includes a lot more heat. I am one of those sad, silly souls who does not fancy peppers —  not large, not small, not red, not green, not even those considered “mild.” (Oh, don’t start with me about the “mild” label.) My mouth just says, “No!”

Even though I settled in San Diego during high school, I didn’t go much farther south than Ensenada. And when I did, I never got inebriated enough to try the street food, which is where I might have stumbled over the fish taco. Bless those lil’ surfers who did dine on them and brought the recipe north. Being able to eat a lovely, deep-fried fish taco has kept me from being a complete taco outcast.

In my next life, I want to be a woman with a mouth of iron, who’s also really good at math. I want to be able to eat like Anthony Bourdain did —  just grab whatever the food truck hands through the window and chow down. Until then, I’ll just watch with envy and stick to the refried beans.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who is no friend to the genus capsicum. Contact her at

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