Tito’s Tacos is classic Westside cultural appropriation. Hard shell, yellow cheese, watery salsa — apparently, that’s how you spell gringo. But is this throwback taco actually delicious?
Standing in line at Tito’s Tacos is like having a time machine and watching Glen Bell steal the secret of the Taco Bell empire from Mitla Cafe in San Bernardino. The whole place is frozen in time in mid century America, at the height of American imperialism, when it was our God-given right to take the blessings of this earth and subdue it for our own purposes (even if those blessings were technically owned by others).
Tito’s sits squarely in this time period with its brightly colored menu, Formica tables, and anachronistic tacos. You come here to relive your youth, if your youth was spent eating subsidized school lunches or prison food. It was a simpler time, when you had no idea that there was a “real” Mexican food and you assumed “Mexican” meant deep-fried ground beef.
I tried to find some information about the actual history of Tito’s Tacos. But the Internet failed me in this regard. The closest I came was a 2005 post on Roadfood.com from Mar52. Mar52 claims to have been going to Tito’s since the 1960’s. S/he says that Tito’s was started by non-Mexican owners who used the recipes of one of their Latino employees. If true, this story is basically ripped right out of the pages of Gustavo Arellano’s book, Taco USA. It’s a tale as old as time: gringo appropriates Mexican food to build empire of Mexican food for gringos.
Anyways, let’s get to the tacos.
The taco itself is notable for a couple things: that the taco and meat are deep-fried, and that there is an awful lot of lettuce going on here. Iceberg lettuce itself has a nostalgia factor, since no one in their right mind would be eating it on the regular (it has no nutritional value). But for me, it transported me back to my childhood when a bunch of iceberg lettuce and some ranch dressing was a salad.
The shell and meat are not bad, except for the fact that they are (obviously greasy). It’s seasoned well and is tasty, as long as you are not expecting that taste to be Mexican. The cheese topping (an extra 50 cents) adds another hit of nostalgia, if not flavor.
All in all, the taco is not bad. It’s evocative and salty, which precisely captures the zeitgeist in American food trends right now. Come in with low expectations and you won’t be terribly disappointed.
The only real problem is the watery, unspicy salsa. It is quite frankly a waste of time. It’s like taking a jar of Pace, throwing 2/3 of it away, adding some salt and a lot of water. Bring a bottle of Tapatio or Cholula and the flavor improves quite a bit.
[UPDATE: After several more visits, the salsa has really grown on me. Sure, it’s watery and unlike anything you’d get at an actual Mexican taqueria. But it has it’s charm — kind of a more straightforward flavor. In fact, the whole Tito’s taste experience has grown on me, from the waxy yellow cheese to the watery guacamole.]
As a coda, here is a link to a Fox News story about the 35 best tacos in America, which includes Tito’s Tacos. Sure, take it from a news network owned by an Australian and that advocates the expulsion of millions of Mexican-Americans, I’m sure they know about tacos.
11222 Washington Pl,