Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Pescadero's "La Taqueria"

Chasing the Perfect Taco Up the California Coast

"I’ve never met a taco I didn’t like. Weaned on Taco Bell and my Lebanese mother’s Old El Paso tacos, I’m not terrifically choosy. High-end, low-end, commercial, authentic — even a bad taco is better than no taco.

But things change. Deep, obsessive love begets connoisseurship, and a more refined understanding is sought. The plan? A trip along Highway 1, between Los Angeles and San Francisco — among the most beautiful stretches of road in the country, and possibly the hottest taco crawl outside of Mexico. My boyfriend, Taylor Umlauf, will take the wheel and help sample the goods — generous spirit that he is — with hours between to soak in the scenery. The hum and buzz of 380 miles of winding open road await — heady visions of rustic farm towns unfolding into sun-bleached fishing villages, the sun, the salt, the fresh California air. This will be our storied and scenic backdrop. But our raison d’être? Five days, 28 taquerias, 49 tacos."

"Halfway between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, we turn off into the rolling green hills of Pescadero, a tiny little blip of a town with a handful of general stores, a single bar and one gas station. I have been tipped off that there is a taqueria holed up somewhere in town, and that the ingredients are straight off the farm. I ask around. “There is no sign in the window,” a local offers, “but there is a taqueria in the gas station.”

Inside the gas station, it’s lunchtime and bustling at Taqueria y Mercado de Amigos. Mexican workers squeeze into booths, sipping hibiscus sodas and chatting over the sizzle of the grill and the rhythmic cha-ching of the register. Two cooks work quickly — grilling the shrimp just till the edges blacken, searing the al pastor and drizzling it with hot sauce.

Outside, the quiet of Pescadero is breathtaking. We head up Stage Road to the old cemetery and take the dirt road to the top of the hill. Sitting on the trunk of the car, tacos warming our laps, we find the most beautiful spot yet — the Kelly green pastures rolling and folding straight into the Western sky, the sun beaming down on all that open land. And just when it couldn’t get any better, we realize something else — we’re holding two of the best tacos this side of Mexico."

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