Ground beef crumbles. Stiff shredded cheddar. Barely durable corn shells. If your skin is as pasty white as mine, this was likely your introduction to the taco. Maybe your mom used actual salsa. Mine used tomato sauce, as if she confused tacos with Sloppy Joes. At least my elementary school’s ground beef tacos, to which I was introduced shortly afterward, were seasoned.
My evolution as a taco eater was slow, pathetic and perhaps predictable for someone whose parents wouldn’t take their kids to ethnic restaurants. Which meant I was limited to Taco Bell for most of my teen years and zest-free fish tacos—also shelled—from Rubio’s and Wahoo’s in college, a time that might otherwise suggest dietary freedom and culinary progression. But from the age of 19 to 24, I endured numerous stomach ailments that kept me away from greasy and spicy foods—which meant no (real) tacos.
Some time after my gallbladder was removed and my menu expanded, I ventured into my first authentic Mexican restaurant. What I saw looked strange—teeny corn tortillas covered only with bits of steak, onions and green salsa—but tasted wondrous. That revelation was followed by an even more exciting one: carnitas, the first shredded pork dish I didn’t smother with barbecue sauce. And finally, true taco nirvana came during a post-clubbing gorging at then-new-to-Vegas Tacos El Gordo, where I made selections featuring nearly every part of the cow, and particularly delighted in the discovery of the mighty adobada, as magical to watch sliced from the spit as it was to eat. I’ve since eaten at nearly every major taqueria in Las Vegas, but it was that night I became a fully evolved taco eater.