Most of the time Don Day’s Wife and I share the shopping duties. She tends to do the supermarkets. I tend to do the not so super markets.
About every two weeks though we do what we call the big shop. This is the one where we replenish the laundry detergent, the aluminum foil, the potatoes (frozen Canadian russets, of course), the paper towels, the mustard and mayo, the eggs, the lightbulbs, the butter…you get it.
In San Miguel, the big shop is almost always at La Comer. And it’s almost always the two of us. But not because the big shop is a joyful experience to be shared. You see, if I’m there alone (particularly without a list) I might forget the papel higienic or the Fabuloso; if Don Day’s Wife is there alone, there are other items that might not be taken for a ride in the cart, essentials with names such as Dewar, Morgan, Beam, Smirnoff and Victoria.
So the usual scene is this: We arrive and Don Day’s wife and the cart enter the produce section while I continue alone up the aisle to the liquid pleasures. I bring back my finds and nestle them between the lemons, limes, cukes and onions.
I then volunteer to get the bag of coffee, the best of which at La Comer can only be purchased at the in-store cafe, not on the shelf with all the rest of the coffees.
We usually meet up again in the refrescos section where I place a couple of Dr. Pepper Lites in the cart and begin what best can be described as my dawdle. I shuffle my feet, I stroke my beard, I shrug my shoulders, I hum, I haw.
“Why don’t you just take off for awhile”, she’ll smile and say.
“Are you sure, Honey (never Darling and absolutely never Beloved; save them for more desperate times)”, I reply.
“Yes, off you go”, she says, raising her voice when she realizes I’m already at the end of the aisle.
Now, my favorite place to go used to be Barbacoa Rodriguez or, if it was the day they were closed, Carnitas Bautista. Then, about six months ago, a new taco stand arrived in the hood. It had tacos that were much more difficult to find than lamb barbacoa or pork carnitas. This cart had some almost impossible to find varieties of beef tacos. And this one didn’t require climbing the stairs over the libramiento or dancing through traffic.
Head out of any of the doors of La Comer, walk through the parking lot out front and turn right. The first street you come to will be Vicente Araiza.
Look up the street and, on the left, you’ll see a white cart parked under a pine tree. Breathe in deep and you may smell the guajillo chiles.
You might recognize the guy inside the cart. His name is José Guadalupe Ramirez Prado. He’s the former chef of Kuna Doni and Sushi 23. He’s a guy with an almost constant smile on his face who’s almost always saying things like, “So, do you like it? Tell me if it’s good. What do you think?”
A chef who seeks recognition, a chef who is anxious to please, is usually a good chef. I think José Ramirez is a very good chef and one of the things that makes José and his cart, appropriately called Ricos Tacos, better than other taco stands and other chefs is the selection he offers.
Tacos de Suadero
Most tacos use pork not beef. And for one simple reason. Pork is cheaper than beef. And when you do get beef on a taco, you can almost guarantee it came from some part of the cow that rarely makes it onto a north-of-the-border butcher’s counter.
Suadero is almost a mystical cut and, obsessed foodie that I am, I once spent over an hour pouring through texts and web pages attempting to come up with some Latin word that veterinarians might use for this strangely named part of a cow’s carcass. I came up with matambre, fresada, sobrebarriga, forequarter flank and petto sotile. None of which were very helpful. My butcher, Alberto, pointed to an area just above the udders on the almost-obligatory-in-Mexican-butchers bovine parts chart that decorates his wall.
My best way to explain it is to imagine a cow strutting her way down a beach when she suddenly spots a handsome young bull. That muscle that she uses to pull in her stomach and slim herself down is her suadero (try to read that without flexing your own suadero).
Before it’s cooked by José, in the unique dome-shaped griddle called the comal de bola, the suadero has a very high fat content. That then melts down to leave a piece of meat that is, as the literal translation of the Spanish word suadero says, “soft”.
After José browns the suadero on the top of his comal, the beefiness of the meat resembles flank steak and pairs wonderfully with the raw onions, cilantro and salsa verde that he recommends you top it with.
Tacos de suadero are fairly easy to find in Mexico City where the delicacy originated. José Ramirez’ Rico Tacos is one of the very few places you’ll find it in San Miguel de Allende.
Tacos de lengua
It’s a shame really. That some people don’t eat beef tongue. That they become tongue-tied when someone asks if they’d like some. In countries like the United States, in fact, it’s better to lead a dog’s life. Because a lot of beef tongue ends up being ground up and put in pet food cans.
But not in Mexico. Mexicans have a deep passion for one of the juiciest, flavorful, tenderest, most fall-apart pieces of meat ever. Possibly more than any other country in the world. And, most of the time, Mexicans eat it in a very simple dish called tacos de lengua.
I will even go out on a limb and say that lengua is one of my three favorite things to grace a tortilla. Along with barbacoa and al pastor.
Unlike tacos de suadero, tacos de lengua are not very difficult to find in San Miguel de Allende. The only problem is, they’re like jasmine; you rarely get a whiff of them until the sun goes down. José Ramirez starts serving tacos de lengua shortly after sun-up.
Tacos de carne ahumada
Like Vanessa Williams, I’ve saved the best to last (yes, I know, too obscure a song reference). Until I went to Rico Tacos, I had never had a taco with smoked meat. I’m not sure I’d ever had any dish with smoked meat in any Mexican restaurant.
What José Ramirez has done is adapt the classic tacos al pastor recipe and replaced the pork with beef. “I use the meat from here” said José, wrapping his arms around his abdomen, giving himself a hug that said short ribs to me.
He’s gotten rid of that twirling vertical spit called the trompo (which is mostly about showbiz not taste). And he’s also scrapped the pineapple that usually sits on top of the spike.
What José has kept is the taste of tacos al pastor and that distinctive flavor that comes from bathing the meat in an ancho chile marinade for a few hours.
What José has added is the distinctive taste of hardwood smoke.
“Do you do the smoking here?”, I asked.
José shook his head.
“At home?”, I asked.
Again, José’s head wagged back and forth.
“It’s liquid. It comes in a bottle”.
That rogue, José, he’d buffaloed me with his beef. And I had to thank him. I would have never known it was artificial smoke.
In case you’re hungry for a little human interest
I mentioned earlier that José Ramirez’ tacos are available early in the morning. They’re unfortunately not available in the afternoon or the evening. At 1:00 pm, José locks up his cart and heads to his real job as the chef at a restaurant in Centro.
“How many hours do you work each week?” I asked him.
“Oh, I don’t know”, Jose replied, “I guess close to a hundred, maybe more with the shopping and then the prep at home. I have my wife; I have my baby; I want to be in San Miguel, I’m not sure I have a choice.”
José Ramirez’ Ricos Tacos is located in front of Avenida Vicente Araiza #7, La Lejona, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The taco cart is open from Monday to Saturday from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm.