El Paisano Tacos,Eating abroad with Panda-Rex
Walking around the streets of Tecate, you will be hard pressed to avoid someone selling food out of their trunks, modified shopping carts, or humble stands. These food vendors are almost a part of the scenery, flooding you with delicious aromas that float over a half block radius. Everybody is a critic here, recommending their own idea of the “best” taco or hot dog in Tecate. Locals tend to avoid the center of town, because that stuff is for the tourist and traffic, although overwhelmingly mild downtown traffic makes the surrounding area seem like a ghost town. It is why we find ourselves ten minutes walking distance from the center of town.
El Paisano Tacos is somewhere between a stand and an actual restaurant. You have a seating area inside with the whole store front wide open over looking one of the more quaint parks in the town, you get feeling of dining a la fresco that really adds to ambience. Along with all the bustle going on outside, the workers have a television that either plays the soccer match or a telenovela that one of them missed last night. I actually appreciated this, it gave me a sense of comfort that you only get when you are at home with family. The furniture is sturdy, a very nice change of pace and a sigh of relief for those of us …on the fluffier side.
The Carne Asada at El Paisano is grilled over a mesquite fire, until it is crispy and has a smokey flavor to it. Cooking the meat till crispy is not a common practice, mostly because owners don’t want to spend too much on tomatoes and chilies to make the salsa, so meat dishes aren’t dry. After the beef is made crispy it is chopped or minced and put into tacos,burritos or tortas. Although this is a taco stand, we are here for the infamous Carne Asada Tortas. One of the reasons I prefer going to stands is because I like to watch them prepare my food. They move with grace and poetry, with the experience of ten thousand tacos. You eat with your eyes first, after all, and it helps build the apatite needed to tackle a torta of this magnitude.
After the bread is made crispy,by coating with butter and put on the griddle for a few minutes, the torta engineer piles on a heaping mound of crispy carne asada a generous helping of pico de gayo and guacamole, adding salsa only after he ask you if you want it and how much…trust me, go for the salsa. After this torta is forged it is plated… best paired with a grilled fresh scallion and Coca-Cola in a glass bottle. The first bite into the torta was an orchestra of flavors and textures in my mouth. The contrast of the crisp bread and meat with the juicy and savory home-made condiments. The smokey flavor of the meat and the bright lime tones in the salsa. Over all a very satisfying simple and yet very complex dish. Not only is it the most delicious sandwich you could ever have in your mouth, It is very affordable. A carne asada torta ,a bottle of your favorite mexican soda , and a taco on the side will run you about five dollars american. So get rid of your preconceived notion of traveling south of the border, there are a lot of gastro-adventure to be had.