“The taco is a gateway to other cultures,” said Mando Rayo, co-author of the new book, “Tacos of Texas.” The book will make a stop in El Paso on Saturday, Nov. 19 at Memorial Park during a fiesta hosted by the authors and the book’s contributors.
Rayo, an El Paso expat who now lives in Austin, sees the humble taco as a template from which creativity, culture and individuality can shine through with proper respect to form. He and co-author Jarod Neece wrote the 400-plus-page book on Texas tacos, which released in September.
The book not only includes interviews with established local cooks, local celebrities and lesser-known taco enthusiasts who are in-the-know about the best tacos all over Texas, but it also includes several dozen recipes, an extensive glossary of common taco terminology and taco spot recommendations – like a Michelin Guide to Texas tacos.
The book is a broader follow-up to 2013’s “Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day.”
“After traveling around the state and eating so many delicious tacos, we thought that it would be a great idea to tell the bigger story of tacos statewide and the people who make them,” Rayo said.
Sharing stories of his El Paso upbringing cooking alongside his family lent itself to how he approached the book: respectful of tradition, but aware of the possibilities tacos could provide.
“It’s important to know the rules in order to break them properly,” chef Raul “Rulis” Gonzalez III said about his taco-making approach. Chef Rulis, owner of Rulis’ International Kitchen, is one of the featured chefs in the El Paso section of the book.
He contributed two recipes: his pork belly tacos and his sirloin toreado tacos. “Both of them have this Asian twist to them, which I love to put into my food,” he said.
El Paso’s section in the book includes interviews with over 15 locals such as Jessie Peña of Tacoholics, local artist and educator Rosa Guerrero, “Super” Mario Kato of KLAQ and even Rayo’s own tío and tía, Santiago and Olga Garcia. Local restaurants featured include Carnitas Queretaro, L&J’s Café and El Taco Tote.
The most glaring of omissions to El Paso’s taco culture is local favorite Chico’s Tacos.
“We realize they’re a local comfort food,” Rayo said. “But we did reach out to them. They just never got back to us.”
Another feature of the book is what is known as the “Texas Taco Council,” which is a collection of people from all over the state who provide “local flavor, research and credibility” to the book in terms of being in-the-know about the best taco spots in their cities.
“El Paso 411 put out a post about Mando looking for people to be a part of the council, and I replied with something smart-assed,” said Sara Macias, owner of local seamstress Eclectic Visions and Texas. “I guess that caught his attention.”
Deemed a “taco councilwoman,” Macias said she believes the beauty of tacos is their “Tex-Mex” identity, crossing lines of culture and class. “Late at night – say, after drinking – you go to have tacos and you know you’re going to get consistency from these little taco trucks,” she said. “It’s not fancy, it’s classic. How could that not be the official food of Texas?”
As part of the promotion of the book, Rayo is taking a new twist to the typical book tour.
“On a normal book tour, you go into the book store and have a reading and sign some copies,” he said. “But what we’re going to do is hold these taco fiestas in each city to showcase the different tacos from the respective cities for a celebration of the taco.”