In downtown Vallarta, there are certain cobble-stoned streets that are just rife with taco stands, little stalls not much bigger than your traditional hot dog cart, some with stools surrounding them, others with a counter where folks just lean and enjoy a snack. On Saturday afternoon, I decided to sample a few different ones, as I still really haven't settled on what will be my favorite. The first one, on Calle Honduras, I had been to before. It's next to the Oxxo--like a 7-11 or VP, but more garish and plentiful. No stools or counter, but they did have those cheap plastic chairs lined up along the sidewalk. I ordered two tacos adobada, which I believe is a kind of preparation for pork. Little cubes of pork on two tiny corn tortillas, drenched in pork fat. Topped with the usual here ("con todos"): whole Peru beans, a red sauce, onion, cilantro, and cabbage. Contrary to every Mexican restaurant I've been to in the States, all the taco stands here in Vallarta are finished off with shredded cabbage. The tacos were delicious in a very average way, and I moved on.
The next stop was a few blocks away, a little stall nestled next to the south side of a Centro grocery store called Ley. It's a busy street with a large construction site next to it, which I'm sure is a boon to this family business. I could hear the stall before I turned the corner, as they had a little jambox playing music for its patrons. Not great for the hangover, but the volume was relatively low and they did have chairs that sidled up to a bar area, all shaded by some trees from the wide sidewalk. There was a good crowd around this one, which generally bodes well. I sat down.
The menu was short, with tacos and quesadillas available, the former costing 8 pesos each, which is about 60 cents or so. I wanted to try their birria, but the Senora said they were out, so I'd be having their asada instead. "Dos, por favor." Only two, since I was planning on hitting up at least one more stand.
In my short time here, one of the things that separates a good taco stand from an average one is their tortillas. In the States, I think most taco-eating consists of the hard shell variety or the medium sized soft flour tortilla. Here, it is all about the small, soft corn tortilla. Many stalls make their own tortillas right in front of you and this taco stand did as well.
This stand had three women in its tight quarters: a grandma, a mom, and a daughter. All were similarly plump and they moved about their business in a simple, rhythmic way, one that appeared to require no thought. An orchestra of movement. The grandma would grab lime-sized balls of dough and put them in a wooden device. She put the dough between two blocks of wood and then brought a large hand lever down, squeezing the corn dough between the blocks of wood. Apply a little of her grandma-weight, and presto, she pulled out a thin pancake of future tortilla which was placed on a hot griddle. Mom would flip the tortilla two or three times while also moving the bits of asada around on the hot surface, all with her hands. Daughter was busy slicing all the acoutrements: cabbage, cilantro, and some side items which frequently come with your tacos at any stall worth its salt, namely radishes. With the tortillas done, mom loaded up the fresh, still quite warm tortillas with crispy bit of beef.
What I especially liked about this place was unique to the moment I experienced it. Elbow to elbow with a construction worker, a department store worker on a crutch, and an old Mexican man, I slowly eased my hangover on this unusually cloudy day in Vallarta. The women chatted and moved about the business of running their stand and their patrons made short work of their simple food. As I was enjoying all this, "Loba" a Shakira song that's been popular this year but is on its last legs, came on the radio. Everyone sitting there, young and old, knew this song. Everyone could probably sing at least part of the chorus, which includes an addictive howl of the titular wolf. The mom in her apron, flipping tortillas, reached up and turned it up as everyone began bobbing their head. "Ah-wooooooo!"
Couldn't leave the smells, tastes, and sounds of this taco stand, so I ordered another taco and asked the old man to pass me the guacamole sauce.
Love from Vallarta,