The blog is mmm-yoso!!! Sometimes (like today) Kirk lets one of his friends do an entry at the blog. Today ed from Yuma writes about his cross-border pursuit of the elusive VAMPIRE taco. It really won't be scary at all - I promise.
Beginning last November, a friend of mine who teaches English as a second language began hearing from his students about vampiras -- vampire tacos. He kept regaling me with stories about these mysterious treats, so soon I was driving down to the southern terminus of US Hwy 95 in San Luis (a city of well over 250,000 mostly located in Mexico, but with a smaller Arizona extension) on a mission to locate and sample the elusive vampire taco in its native habitat.
When I describe these tacos as elusive, I am really speaking of my difficulties in locating, tasting, and photographing them. My friend had convinced me that they were objects worthy of pursuit. However, my first two trips to a purported purveyor of bat tacos in San Luis Arizona (Nuevo Asaderos los Jarros) only convinced me that this was an establishment not open during the day - which I suppose is fitting for a place serving tacos vampiras:
When I finally tracked down vampiras in San Luis Mexico, in my excitement I must've hit the wrong button on my camera because I mostly ended up shooting a movie of my right knee. Oops! I'm sure it had nothing to do with the Cervezas Pacificos. Then, a nighttime visit to Los Jarros in San Luis Arizona was a great adventure that resulted in some tasty vampire tacos, but few usable pictures.
Finally last weekend, four of us descended into Mexico just to taste and photograph tacos vampiras - and some other goodies - at Taqueria El Chipilon, a huge taqueria (two outside seating areas and one inside) located on Revolucion near 22nd:
As the menu indicates, this taqueria serves a range of different tacos, but at the bottom of the menu lurks the dark shape of the vampiras' namesake, a vampire bat:
In a matter of minutes, four vampiras arrived at out table - three of them having corn tortillas, the other flour:
At first glance, these tasty treats look much like ordinary carne asada tacos over stuffed with carne. However, a closer inspection shows that the marinated beef pieces lie atop a thin layer of white melted cheese. Also distinctive are the browned scalloped edges of each of the tacos:
Since they are filled with carne asada and not blood or bat flesh, why do vampire tacos carry their distinctive and unusual moniker? The answer to this question and the key to a vampira is the preparation of the tortilla. The tortillas are not just warmed, steamed, or deep-fried. Instead they are griddled until they are completely desiccated and charred and have begun to shrivel up, giving them the appearance of a bat's wing (hey, use some imagination here, help me out) -- hence the name vampira:
Sometimes when I describe vampiras, someone will say, "oh, that is just a tostada." And yes, the vampire taco shares the crunchiness of a tostada, but they are not tostadas. First, they have a concave shape, perfect for holding meat and toppings. Second, vampiras do not shatter as one bites into them, so they are intended to be eaten with one's fingers. Every tostada that I have tried to eat by hand has sent tortilla shards and various toppings cascading down whatever shirt I was wearing, leaving an avalanche of guacamole, sour cream, and frijoles resting in my lap. So very not good. That does not happen with a vampira.
In addition, grilled chilies and charred scallions along with cucumber and radish slices and an excellent spicy house salsa are also brought to the table:
The first time that I ate a vampira, I left it very plain so that I could savor the lightly marinated tender beef chunks, the mild cheese, and the tortilla. Later, thinking about the experience, I realized that vampire tacos have another distinctive quality. Because of their concave shape and because the crunch of the tortilla is protected by the layer of cheese, one can load up the taco with lots of various goodies. This one, for example, is covered with two kinds of salsa, guacamole, chopped onion, and chopped cilantro; if I wanted to, I could have added even more stuff. Nothing oozed out of either end, and a fiesta of flavors hit my tongue:
One of my fellow culinary adventurers even put some of the grilled green onions on hers.
So some vampires do come out during the day. My flying taco hunt was no wild goose chase. Maybe my karma intended for me to return again and again to seek out and eat these tacos. I hope so; that'd be good karma.
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Sometimes, disappointments and frustrations can have positive results. In my search for the wonderful and rare vampires of the taco world, I was reminded of the tremendous culinary resource that is San Luis, Sonora, Mexico. Back in the 80s, when I was merely a visitor to Yuma, a trip to San Luis was a part of every visit to the area. And no trip to San Luis was complete without a meal or two at local restaurants. By the time I moved to Yuma, however, the road between here and San Luis seemed to be in constant repair, and the 20 minute drive more often took 35 minutes with detours and stops. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of the local American tourist trade rerouted itself to the convenient tiny border village of Algodones, Baja California. Now, though, the road to San Luis is in good repair, and the return border crossing on foot at San Luis runs about 10 to 15 minutes (compared with over an hour at Algodones). Even more important for me is that San Luis Mexico is really Mexico. It is not overflowing with American tourists, and a walk along Obregon - the main street - exposes one not only to the sights and sounds of a truly foreign city but also to all of the fragrant and enticing smells of al pastor tacos, tortas de lomo, and birria. Large Chinese and mariscos restaurants abound. I will be back. I feel like somebody living in Mira Mesa who just remembered the existence of El Cajon Blvd and University Ave. Yum.