Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Authentic Mexican Without Rick Bayless

We recently had the opportunity to spend some time on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. The medium sized twin-town of Ixtapa Zihuatanejo is an idyllic place to hang out for a while and enjoy the sun and surf. However one gets hungry and thirsty playing in the waves and reading books.

Eschewing the new Subway in the neighboring hotel and the long-standing Domino's Pizza across the street, we asked Jose, one of the security guards where we were staying where we could get some good tacos in the area without going into the main town of Zihua. He was about to end his shift so we took the micro-bus with him to his hometown of San Jose Ixtapa (a.k.a. Barrio Viejo) a few kilometers inland from the beach.

Jose's sister Juana and her husband own a little taqueria there named after the town. Located at the Y intersection of Avenida Los Tulipanes and Calle Principal, this tiny place with seating for just over 20 is a locals joint open from 6 pm to 2 am to help feed the workers returning home from the resort area. This is locals food - fresh, inexpensive and authentic - and Rick Bayless was nowhere in site although one could imagine him at just such a place.

Fresh bowls of salsa and a radish, tomato and onion salad were laid out before us - one salsa was fiery hot and smoky with little bits of charred peppers, the other a cilantro and onion, milder green sauce was perfectly balanced in its flavors.
Never before liking radishes we were stunned by the delicious contrast of flavors and textures between the firm radishes, zesty onions and sweet tomatoes. Only after developing a bead of sweat across the brow did we learn that Habanero peppers were used in the dish giving it a complex flavor while also being blazingly spicy. The cheese topped green chili chicken enchiladas were the best we've ever tasted - with a smooth and complex flavored chili sauce that was clearly homemade. 

A pork huarache (shown at right) included pork seasoned al-pastor, sauteed peppers and onions and some smooth green chili sauce. Creamy shredded cheese added the crowning note. This was a huarache that required a knife and fork - forget about eating a dry hand held version ever again - we are tainted now and no huarache will ever meet up to this one. If you ever head to Ixtapa you need to find this little gem of a taqueria.

Check out some shots of pork tacos, their hand-written menu board, Juana hand forming huarache and sope bases and her husband cooking on their flat top grill.

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