Why a bean & cheese taco contest? Didn’t we just do Best of Hays? And who are you? Why do you get to judge? Why does this even matter?
Me? I’ve eaten all over this planet, but I’m local now. Apart from a few years in London, I’ve lived here since 1994. Quality food is VERY important to me. I also think food critics can be elitist, uptight buttholes. Everyone deserves delicious food and it needn’t be expensive. Plus local businesses doing awesome deserve recognition, right?
Why bean & cheese? Isn’t that kinda lame?
Well. I figure if you master beans, cheese, and tortillas– the foundation of all Tex-Mex– then the rest of your menu is probably okay. In full disclosure, I’d prefer BACON, beans and cheese, but –let’s face it– the wrong piece of bacon can ruin a perfectly good taco, so I decided to keep it simple.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. This is completely objective. No one paid me to do this. Nor do I have a vested interest in the winner.
2. These restaurants are clueless. They might’ve slipped me extra cheese if they knew my intentions (which would totally sway my vote.)
love adore cheese.
4. My palate is trustworthy. I’m only ‘fussy’ when it comes to quality. I don’t eat or cook crap and will taste cheap ingredients immediately.
5. I’ll be 100% honest. Always.
Choosing where to go.
Obviously, I can’t sample a hundred tacos. Neither my stomach nor wallet could handle that. I needed a Taco Master List (insert mariachi music). So I asked the local public:
What are your top 3 favorite taco places?
I asked Facebook.
I asked colleagues.
I asked strangers.
I asked waitstaff.
Then I tallied the vote and visited 15 restaurants over 3 days in random order.
The Palm $1.61
La Fonda $1.46
Dona Chiquis $1.50
Casa de Don Lorenzo $1.08
Los Vega $1.62
M & M $1.73
El Chepo $1.72
Exxon Station’s Bobcat Quickie $2.26
El Charro $1.62
Don’t be coming at me with a pitchfork if your fave didn’t make the list. This was a democratic process. I also followed a routine to keep it fair.
1. Visit 5 places each morning.
2. Order 1 bean & cheese taco to go.
3. Take 1-2 bites of each.
4. Write down reaction. Immediately.
Chew. Write. Chew. Pause. Is that lard or pork fat? Chew. Pause. Man, that’s salty! Chew. Too salty. Pass taco to husband.
. . . And so it went for three days. Finding a champ meant every little thing got scrutinized.
Please don’t serve me yesterday’s tortilla. Automatic demerits. The fresh, homemade tortillas were SUPER obvious.
Beans and cheese should be hot and melty, people. Dry, dusty, unmelted cheese on tepid beans is a total deal breaker.
Beans to Cheese to Tortilla Ratio
Contents shouldn’t slop out the bottom when taking a bite. That’s just as bad as all ingredients smushed into a little log and too much tortilla in one bite. The perfect taco should balance proportions and squish together nicely in your mouth.
Everyone’s walked into a place, looked around, and thought um, no thanks. VIBE is crucial, ya’ll. Dine-ins, drive thrus, and trailers should ALL feel clean and inviting. Especially those with open/visible kitchens (you’d think!). Warm greetings coupled with the hum of happy patrons is powerful stuff you can feel with your eyes closed. And we had standouts.
To-go places: How long did I wait? Dine-ins: How did staff react when I strolled in on a busy morning and ordered one cheap taco to go? I’m happy to report excellent service all around. I also think San Marcos is hiding a few ninjas. I was in and out of a few places (order, pay, taco-in-hand) in less than one minute. I’m not even kidding.
I only used a drop so as not to overpower my bite, but let’s face it. Salsa matters big time.
And how could I not have a salsa contest? Each restaurant’s was so distinctive, I tasted them blind a second time and STILL identified their source. The very best used fresh ingredients and left several flavors dancing around my tongue.
Now finally, TASTE. I narrowed it to 4:
These four blasted ahead of the competition. They really did. But I sought the BEST. I gave my palate a few days rest for the final challenge. And just so you know how very serious I am about fairness, I did the last tasting BLIND.
My husband handed me anonymous tacos and I took small bites, chewing slow, mindful of the adjectives popping in my head. The winner served a full, melty taco with flavorful beans and buttery cheese in a soft, fresh tortilla. Not once, but twice.
Congratulations, El Charro. You nailed it.
My crystal ball predicts more food contests, but right now my colon is sticking me the finger.
Until Mex time, San Marcos. It’s bean fun! Sorry. That was cheesy.