Hey! Miss me? Remember me? No? Well too bad. I was the Mercury's food and drink editor from 2012-2014, and now instead of whining about sticky tables and "broccoli that lacked succor," I'm putting together special food events for my beloved old crew. I think you will agree that you like this new me better, particularly when I describe to you just what's going on with the taco half of our Tacos 'n' Tequila event on June 28.
You remember the Mercury's extremely fun "Chili Jamboree," right? Well, for our Tacos 'n' Tequila event, we're once again working with the consummate professionals over at Mississippi Studios—whose bar, restaurant, beer garden, and concert venue are one of our time-tested favorite places to throw raucous, gluttonous, all-day food and music events.
I'll be honest with you. I'm going to say it. Most tacos are the same to me. When they asked me to round up chefs to provide the tacos for this event, I looked for brave taco thinkers who would fuck with the format a little.
What we got was a lineup of chefs who are going to take your safe little notion of what a taco is... and drive it to the cleaners and take it out of the car and thrash it in front of the window for all the little bored kids to see and then shove it in an oil drum and roll it to the river where the green slime is. This taco event is not going to be easy on your notion of a taco, so it's a good thing four ace local bartenders will be on hand to pour the Liquor with a Temper (emphasis mine) down your throat and help you manage the ugliness/create fresh ugliness.
I got you Tommy Habetz, Portland's spiritual godfather and the soul-well of Bunk. Elizabeth Davis and Kelly Myers of Xico, SE Division's upscale-casual regional Mexican restaurant and shrine to mezcal. Nick Zukin, whose Mi Mero Mole restaurants serve food (and a huge, masterfully curated assortment of tequila) as unique and painstakingly authentic as it is sturdy and delicious. Rounding out this list of highly disruptive taco impresarios is Ryan Day of La Taq, the punishingly great Tex-Mex arm of Podnah's Pit. (La Taq hardly needs the Podnah's halo effect, but who doesn't like mentioning Podnah's?)
These people are not going to griddle some WinCo chuck-trim with soy sauce and onions and put it on some 50-for-a-dollar bagged tortilla. I sent them each a questionnaire about what they're cooking and why, so you can understand as much as possible about this upcoming singularity in taco history, and the players who are shaping it.
Taco: "BBQ wild boar with green queso and six-chili salsa."
What's special about it: "It was born from a child's first laugh."
What inspired it: "The 'Bambi' episode of The Young Ones."
Describe your cooking: "I'm a confessional cook, like Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath. But I love a good, dirty joke."
MI MERO MOLE
Nick Zukin, Pablo Portilla
Taco: "Tinga poblana de pato—duck in tomato chipotle sauce with guacamole, sour cream, and pickled onions." [Editor's note: They are actually serving this as a tostada—that is how much they are screwing with the taco format!]
What's special about it: "People in Mexico actually eat it."
What inspired it: "Several trips to Puebla and Mexico City, along with meals at places like the sadly missed Izote."
Describe your cooking: "We make Mexican home cooking in fast food form, just as you would get in the streets and fondas of Mexico City. The question we ask ourselves whenever we come up with a new recipe is: 'Would an abuelita in Mexico City make this?'"
Elizabeth Davis, Kelly Myers
Taco: "Red chorizo, grilled pineapple, Crema Oaxaqueña, cilantro, and onion in fresh hot corn tortillas."
What's special about it: "Our tortillas are made from corn ground in Xico's stone corn grinder every morning. The chorizo is ground in house and cooked with exactly 100 guajillo chilies to give it the perfect amount of spice. The pineapple is perfectly sweet, and the crema provides a sublime respite from the heat of the chorizo."
What inspired it: "I recently ate pork tacos on the street in Ensenada, Baja. They were made by cooking tortillas in meat grease on the griddle. They blew my mind."
Describe your cooking: "I like to cook food that has its origins in homes and markets, with the occasional restauranty twist," says Myers. "I like big, direct flavors and fresh, clean salsas."
Taco: "Rajas poblanas tacos—a vegetarian taco with roasted poblano peppers, sauteed onions, roasted corn, and Oaxaca cream sauce."
What's special about it: "It's a classic dish from Puebla, Mexico."
What inspired it: "Rodney Muirhead [founder of Podnah's Pit] wanted to bring some hometown Mexican street-food flavor from south of the border."