So, what's steered me back onto the course of loving Mexican food again? A huge part of it can be attributed to learning to make my mom's recipes and learning to make corn tortillas. When I say “learning to make corn tortillas,” understand that there is no learning curve here. They could not take less skill to make, and even the worst ones are easily a dozen times better than store bought, at least here in the Midwest.
Teaching at a local school that is nearly 100% Hispanic is another huge reason I'm falling in love with Mexican flavors again. In teaching there I've discovered an amazing locally owned Mexican restaurant with a Mexican grocery store attached. I'll grant you that you can get your "con queso" at La Gardenia, but you can also get birria, pozole, menudo, cebollitas, and what might be my favorite food in the world: "street" tacos.
My love affair with this type of taco is one of the reasons I've been dying to try a place in St. Louis that's been getting a lot of buzz lately: Mission Taco Joint. Gene has made a lot of deliveries from Mission, and it's nearly always packed and always smells amazing, according to him. We've attempted a Mission Taco mission a few times and struck out every time. The first time it was packed full, the second time it was unexpectedly closed for the New Year, and the third time we discovered that we had a Groupon that needed to be used (that didn't work out as planned, See my post about Cafe Natasha). This time we took advantage of the week night special of $2 tacos after 10pm.
First off, the vibe inside is the very best combination of warm and hipster. Brick walls, concrete floors, reclaimed style wooden fixtures against Mexican style pop art with dancing skeleton couples and Lucha Libre portraits. We sat at a high table in the bar area and took in the scenery while we waited for our waiter, Bill, to help us out. Bill, and the entire staff, were friendly and upbeat. I really got the sense that they genuinely enjoyed being there. We even had a chat with one of the bartenders that Gene has gotten to know in all the times he's picked up deliveries. She was gushing with pride about how they juice all their own juices and even recommended another place to check out in my 12in12 quest (which I'm thinking of making a 16in16 quest. Stay tuned). After dinner I overheard another bartender educating some willing patrons about tequila and the processes that go into the different kinds. If the mission of Mission Taco was a relaxed, enthusiastic, non-threatening vibe, then they've got it in the bag.
Now we get to the part where we learn why I don't have babies. For a starter, we ordered the Mexican Street Corn Fritters with garlic aioli sauce. I've officially decided that my first-born will, in fact, be named Mexican Street Corn Fritters and their middle name will be Garlic Aioli. "Waiter, can I get a straw please...for this sauce?” It was as if the best thing about donuts was corn, which doesn't sound right, but tastes amazing. Somehow dense and fluffy at the same time and bursting with sweet corn against the tang of the sauce. Ok, I've got to stop now. Just go and get an order. Get two orders and bring me one. Even though you're going to hear about some more amazing food, this blog has pretty much peaked with these corn fritters. Geez, I need some of these fritters.
Taking advantage of the 2 buck taco deal, we got 6 tacos, Mexican Street Corn, and cilantro rice. The rice was a good side but it suffered so much from being held against other amazing combinations of flavors that it came off a bit flat. It's great rice, don't get me wrong, but my mouth was just being taken on an amazing roller coaster by everything else. The Mexican Street Corn however was - I feel like I've used every adjective that means “yummy” that I can so- YUMMY! Corn off the cob with queso fresco, mayo (don't let this put you off. It's not what you're thinking), and magical fairy dust or something. All of their tacos are served family style on corn tortillas. If you're looking for salsa and sour cream on your taco, go to Taco Bell. Of the tacos we tried the Taco of the Month and the Portobello were my favorites. The Portobello is described as "Wood-fire grilled Portobello mushrooms, goat cheese, crispy onions, arugula, smashed black beans, huitlacoche aioli". I describe it as "Can I have another please?” Seriously, rich deep mushrooms and beans against the crispy onions and peppery arugula. I'm nowhere near a vegetarian but if this is what the grass is like on the other side, then I'm jumping fences. I very reluctantly saved half of it for Gene since he wasn't smart enough to order one for himself. The Taco of the Month was my other favorite. It was a Mahi Mahi taco with avocado, shaved kale, grilled onions, and topped off with toasted pepitas. When they say avocado, they mean a big ol’ slab of delicious, perfectly ripe avocado right there on top. To round out our choices we got the Roasted Duck, which was meaty and smokey, and the Beef Brisket Birria.
As I got in my car and put "home" into my Google Maps, I discovered it's less than 15 minutes from my house. Even though it's in another state, it's closer than most places we opt to dine when we're looking for a night out. If you're “East Side” and you think St. Louis is on the other end of the galaxy, start rethinking that. It's not only worth the trip, it's not as much of a trip as you think.
Have I mentioned the Mexican Street Corn Fritters?