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THERE’S A CONTROVERSIAL WAR GOING ON, the aftermath of an election to mop up, the stock market rising, the price of oil falling, famine, pestilence—and our December cover story is about tacos? You bet. For as long as there’s been a Texas Monthly, the very best service journalism has had a seat at the table alongside true crime, politics, public interest haranguing, profiles of people and institutions, and personal essays. The reason should be obvious to anyone who reads such a piece. It requires every bit as much reporting, if not more, and a different kind of writing that’s held to no less of a standard (it has to be just as lively and creative). The design is often more complicated than that of your typical narrative nonfiction. And the connection with our readers is much more direct and immediate. A story about Ron White or horse slaughter may be fun to read—well, Ron White, anyway—but the best tacos in Texas? What time is lunch?!
Pat Sharpe, our resident tastemaker, has been writing about food for more than three decades. Not quite two years ago, on her thirtieth anniversary as a restaurant reviewer, she outed herself as the “skinny bitch” her friends and admirers had come to know and love—someone whose capacity for eating tons of rich, fattening food without adding a pound is apparently limitless and definitely enviable. This month’s cover story (see “The Greatest Tacos Ever Sold,”) is the kind of thing that tests that limitlessness, although I’m not sure anyone would envy the four days she spent in San Antonio eating— gulp —eighty tacos. Not eighty entire tacos; more like bites of each one. But still. I’m turning green just thinking about it.
Those eighty tacos represented roughly half the total Pat ate over the course of three months this summer and fall; the others were eaten in her hometown of Austin. (After hearing that she’d eaten 160 tacos in a little more than ninety days, I asked her if she ever got the urge to stick her finger down her throat behind a dumpster in the parking lot of a taquería. “No,” she told me. “But I wanted to shoot myself in the parking lot.”) Elsewhere around Texas—in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, Laredo, the Valley, and various towns around South Texas (sorry, Abilene)—four other equally discerning reviewers ate between 58 and 113 tacos each during a comparable period. In the end, only 63 tacos were worthy of inclusion on our list of the best—an average of 8 tacos eaten for every one that made the cut.
What exactly did it take to make the cut? Pat and her team used a “taco evaluation” form with room for ratings of 1 (the worst) to 10 (the best) in categories like “taste of filling,” “quality of tortilla,” and “ease of eating” (“mark down,” the form says, “if drips, falls apart, squishes”). A weighted total of the ratings formed a final score that included intangibles, such as “overall appeal of place,” and if that final score was sufficiently high, the taco was forever immortalized in our pages.
It’s exhausting, honestly, just telling you about all this. I can only imagine how Pat feels, but I’m grateful as all get-out for her hard work. The fate of the world may not hinge on the pork al pastor from Fonda San Miguel, in Austin, but it’s definitely a service to our readers to bring said tasty taco to their attention. And yes, it’s journalism.
The 2007 Bum Steer Awards, the debate over coal, Erykah Badu, the maturing Metroplex, Dick Armey, and the best golf holes in Texas (according to Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, and other legends of the game).