I have a sad little confession to make. I miss San Francisco.
I don't miss the ubiquitous stark-raving lunatics, the beyond-scary bad drivers, or the hideously overpriced glasses of Bordeaux. And I certainly never, never pine for the fog-infused gales that somehow qualify as "summer breezes" in my old hometown. But when I crave comfort in an edible form, I miss San Francisco for the one thing it has over Paris: Mexican food.
A few years ago, there were only a couple of Mexican food places in Paris. Today there are a lot more. But are they any good? Not really. They're either too expensive, not veg-friendly enough, or so trendy that you have to wait an hour to share a cramped table with noisy American tourists. (Ugh!) And don't get me started on the Tex-Mex thing; whoever coined that culinary combination deserves a swift kick in the pantalones.
A few weeks ago I had some time to kill between rendezvous, and decided to stop for lunch at the original Tien Hiang, over in my old neighborhood in the 11e. When I got there, I received two shocks. First was the sign on the door announcing their imminent closure (at the end of March 2012). The second was the minimum amount you have to spend to charge a meal to your carte bleue. Since I was short on cash, I set off in search of a distributeur. What I found instead was La Taqueria.
The place is cozy--just a handful of tables, and decorated in a sort-of Mexican-ish way (there's a masked wrestler thing going on, design-wise)--with a distinct French vibe (chalk-board menu, extensive wine list). Besides the fact that it serves Mexican food, another thing that sets La Taqueria apart from other Paris eateries is its New World wine list. There are no French or European wines on the menu, but I discovered all kinds of Australian, American, and yes, even Mexican wines I never knew existed.
The nice young fellow who took my order was a little confused by my vegan-oriented questions ("Well, we can make you a fish taco ... Oh, you don't eat fish? How about a quesadilla?"), but after a gentle tutorial, we reached a mutual understanding. I'd start with a nopales tostada and a glass of white wine from Baja, Mexico. Both were scrumptious, though the nopales were slippery and difficult to navigate from my fork into my mouth. And they were tangy. By the time I finished with my entree, I felt I'd definitely consumed my lifetime share of pickled cactus. The massive chunk of aguacate sitting atop the pile of cool veggies helped temper the tang.
The main course was to be the ultimate comfort food: tacos. These were mixed-vegetable numbers, made with soft corn tortillas. Mushroom, potato, and bell peppers presided over the melange, and a modest garnish of tomatoes and cilantro completed the taco triptych. The first bite was tasty, and the second one was, too, but by the third taco, I was getting bored with the mushroom-potato-pepper story. I was grateful for the two small bowls of salsa--both spicy, but not too--that helped reanimate the flavor. Also making an appearance on the plate was a non-vegan creamy sauce that I didn't try, and which the server apologized for as he delivered the dish.
That dollop of guacamole should have been about 10 times bigger
When I asked if the tortillas were house-made, the server made a confession of his own: they were shipped in from Mexico.
"If you're interested in ordering some, we can arrange that," he said. Never have I been so excited about a mass-produced product shipped in from overseas.
For dessert? Well, there was no dessert, but that was OK. Getting to eat warm corn tortillas--and not the bland, white, preservative-filled kind you find at Carrefour--and spicy salsa without having to venture back to the New World was sweet enough for me.