In his Ask a Mexican column, Gustavo Arellano takes on issues both large (immigration reform) and small (chihuahuas). Last week, he fielded a question from a reader about a Yelp review of a Mexican restaurant. As the author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, Arellano's considered an expert on the subject — and Yelp reviewers are not. Here's the exchange:
Dear Mexican: Wanting to review a hole-in-the-wall spot that apparently makes the best tacos. Yelp reviewers keep commenting on how run-down the space is, but somehow equate “doesn’t look like much” with the authentic Mexican food experience. Is this all just pendejadas, or is there something to it?
Dear Pocha: Why are you bothering with Yelp when it comes to Mexican food? This is the site where a gabacha once left a one-star review for a spot that offered amazing huchepos (sweet corn tamales), aporreado (awesome Michoacán breakfast dish) and spectacular posole verde. The restaurant’s sin, according to the pendeja? No burritos — never mind that they’re as much a part of michoacana cuisine as a Rick Bayless airport torta. It’s the same prejudice that you describe, though yours is of a different sentido — that “true” Mexican food can’t possibly be high-class, and can only be properly prepared by women named María who slave over a comal grinding out the nixtamal themselves. It’s an extension of the classic American expectation that Mexicans are perpetually in poverty, and it’s bullshit. The true test of a great Mexican restaurant? Great food — and a calendar from the local tortillería or market with an illustration of an Aztec maiden, claro.
When you want to eat good Mexican food, where do you go? More to the point, where should Gustavo Arellano go when he visits Denver next week?
When he's not eating at a local restaurant, Arellano will be at Su Teatro, 721 Santa Fe Drive, at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 19, for a sneak peek of Bordertown, the animated series on Fox produced by Seth McFarland that will debut in early January; Arellano is collaborating on the project. The festivities next week include a chance to grab a beer, enjoy a Mexican Hamburger Extravaganza and ask the Mexican all of your burning preguntas; admission is a $3 donation to the Grupo VolArte after-school arts program.
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And that's not all: You might also win lunch with the Mexican at a real, non-Yelped Mexican restaurant in Denver! Stay tuned for details.