cover image Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America

Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America

Gustavo Arellano. Scribner, $24 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4391-4861-7

In this entertaining nod to culinary and cultural histories, journalist Arellano (¡Ask a Mexican!) traces the roots of Mexican food in the U.S. and explores the cuisine’s many offshoots, underscoring why salsa is now our #1 condiment. Knowing it’s impossible to pinpoint the birth of the world’s first taco, Arellano focuses instead on how the phenomenon of something so simple as a crispy or soft tortilla folded over fillings came across the border. Beginning as street food in California in the 1920s—much later than the introduction of chili and tamales in both California and Texas—tacos gained popularity as inventions cropped up to fry large numbers of shells at once for mass production. It paved the way for Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell, who began his empire in San Bernadino, Calif., in 1951, where he also sold hamburgers and hot dogs in case the taco craze didn’t catch on. It did, and today there are more than 5,800 Taco Bells worldwide. Arellano makes the point, one that’s particularly relevant in today’s heated immigration debate, that as much as some Americans may protest Mexican immigrants, they’re in love with Mexican food. While he’s clear that no best-of list can encompass all the great places to eat tacos and burritos in America, Arellano’s top five (El Rancho Grande in Tulsa, Okla., for example) illustrates just how far from the border the craze has traveled. (Apr.)