Senior editor Patricia Sharpe on eating and ranking tacos.
texasmonthly.com: How did you come up with the idea for a story on tacos?
Patricia Sharpe: We stole it. In April 1985 Texas Monthly did a piece called “The Great Texas Taco Tour” by Alison Cook.
texasmonthly.com: Did you eat all those tacos yourself?
PS: No. We assembled Team Taco consisting of John Morthland (Laredo, El Paso, Rio Grande Valley), Eric Gerber and Bill Albright in Houston; June Naylor in Dallas and Fort Worth; and me in Austin and San Antonio.
texasmonthly.com: How did you decide which places to visit, given that there must be one taqueria for every ten residents in some parts of Texas?
PS: It was easier than you might think. We e-mailed staff members, friends, and Texas Monthly restaurant reviewers. We also had a wealth of tried-and-true places that we’ve done in two gigantic Mexican food stories, a tortilla story, and even Alison’s story. Then, the writers queried their friends and sources. We gleaned all that information, and our intern Brooke Ferguson made a master spread sheet that included every place’s name, address, phone number, and hours of operation.
texasmonthly.com: How long did it take to do all this?
PS: We started back around July. If you live in a city, you can spread it out over months. But when you’re visiting, you just dig in your heels and do it all at once. I went to 22 restaurants in San Antonio in four days. That’s about four a day. And I’m sure that John Morthland did the same.
texasmonthly.com: What is a taco?
PS: I decided that if they called it a taco, it was a taco. It didn’t matter if it was flat, folded, crisp, soft, flour, or corn. If it was labeled a taco, we tried it. I did this on purpose because I thought it would be more provocative. But also, I think it points to the fact that definitions change and Mexican food is an ever evolving cuisine—or a moving target. When I was growing up, there was exactly one taco: crispy, with picadillo, chopped lettuce, and tomato, and no sauce, unless you spooned on some of the really bad table salsa.
texasmonthly.com: How many tacos did Team Taco sample?
texasmonthly.com: How many did you choose for the story?
texasmonthly.com: How did you rank them all?
PS: We had a Taco Evaluation Form and a highly scientific numerical scoring system.
texasmonthly.com: Are you sick of tacos?
PS: No. Bring ’em on.