A Love Letter To The Pacific Northwest’s Strip Mall Mexican Restaurants

05.09.17 3 weeks ago 21 Comments

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Editor’s note: The author and I grew up in the same region of the country, going to the same sorts of restaurants. Bear with me if I cut in to add my two cents from time to time.

Over the last few years, region specific Mexican cuisines have started taking a strong hold on American food culture. You can find Baja taco trucks specializing in Baja norte or Baja sud cuisine; authentic gordita poblanos are slung from behind craft tequila bars in hipster neighborhoods; and people have developed serious opinions about al pastor vs. carnitas.

There was a time not so long ago that going out for “Mexican” in the United States meant hitting a hole-in-the-wall joint downtown, or a restaurant in the middle of a strip mall. There you’d find a pan-Mexican menu of beans, tacos, enchiladas, nachos, burritos, chimichangas, dirty rice, sour cream, American cheese, sweet margaritas, and endless baskets of warm tortilla chips.

Those restaurants feel dated now and have taken a lot of slack with the introduction of “real” Mexican food into the modern consciousness. ‘Tex Mex’ — as it’s often called — is left out of the conversation about good Mexican food in 2017.

But isn’t there room for both? I’m not going to argue that my nostalgia for the Mexican joints of my youth means you owe them your business. If people aren’t going, they aren’t going. This is about the idea that maybe we don’t need to swing the pendulum so far all the time. Maybe there’s still a time and a place for shredded beef tacos with refried beans on the side.

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