Out on Park. Just come from NewSchool of Architecture. Lecture by this guy who wants to “depave” the world and “rewild” the cities. Oh, man, if only we could.
Of course, the talk and questions went on an hour longer than they planned. Only thing rewilding now: my gut.
This is when I spot the strung lights around that shipping container bar at Quartyard. Ooh. Hard to resist. It’s glowing with a come-on look the Lorelei herself would be proud to own.
I pass the red British phone booth with the ATM inside and run down the slope to the bar beside the doggy-walk compound.
I get a porter (about $7) and ask if they have food. Yes, they have paninis and salads, most around seven bucks, and half off during happy hour. Except, HH finished an hour ago. And, anyway, panini don’t cut it for me right now. So I head up toward one of the tables next to where crowds of cornhole players are tossing bags.
Take a slurp of porter. Strong. This grog definitely needs a counterpoint. And no food trucks tonight. But then — hey hey! I’m looking out through the line of pine trees sitting in giant wooden crates, and just beyond, shining like a luminous parachute, a li’l pop-up tent. Orange and white.
“Oh My! TACO,” it reads.
Tacos! That’d work great. I head up there. Young guy, older woman, older man. Kid’s selling, gent’s cooking, lady’s squeezing out the tortillas from a bag of very orange masa right in front of us, then slapping them flat on a hot plate.
And the tacos the guy hands the people ahead of me are, uh, orange tacos.
“What is the heartland taco?” reads a chalkboard sign to the left. “Originating from the heartland of Mexico, our tacos are a family tradition, consisting of flavorful ingredients, all made with love.”
Ho-kay. Nothing too specific here. But there’s more. “Why chorizo? A staple in Mexican cuisine, our tacos are all made with chorizo and potatoes, just like grandma made them, offered in beef, pork, or soy.”
The message goes on, but the part I like best is they promise their meat is hormone-free, antibiotic-free, gluten-free, and organic.
Now it’s my turn. The choice is pretty simple: tacos are $3 each. Or three for $8, five for $13. Each taco has refried beans, with beef, pork, or soy, topped with cabbage, cheese, salsa.
That’s it. “Which is best?” I ask.
“The pork’s the tastiest,” says the guy, Edlin. “I make the chorizo myself.”
“And why are the tortillas orange?”
“These are in the style of San Luis Potosí,” says the lady, Elvira. Edlin’s mom. “We make the only tacos of this kind in San Diego.”
She says the tacos come from the tradition of the Huastecos, a people who live in the eastern part of the San Luis Potosí-Veracruz-Tamaulipas area about 200 miles north of Mexico City. That’s where she is from.
And, the grandma thing is real. “My mother, María Estrada, she always made tacos like this,” Elvira says. “This was in Rio Verde, near San Luis Potosí. I do it the same. You season the corn masa with certain peppers. That gives the tortillas the special color and their own flavor. So you have flavored tortillas. My mother would cook the tortillas in oil and have the potato hot and waiting on the side, to mix in with the chorizo.”
“That’s the one thing,” says José, who’s Edlin’s dad. “We try hard, but the chorizo we make here doesn’t quite have the rich flavors of Rio Verde. Their traditions are very old.”
Like, really old: turns out this is a Huasteco thing, and the Huasteco people are part of that original Mesoamerica civilization — the one that domesticated cocoa, maize, beans, tomatoes, potato, squash, chili, the turkey, not to mention the hairless Mexican dog. Food basket of the world and more, you might say. And yet, who’d heard of the Huasteco? But, fact is, every time you eat one of these tacos, you are kind of a guest at their ancient table.
In the end, I go for one of each. Beef and soy are fine, but Edlin’s right: the pork is the charm. And it’s the combination of the chorizo and the tortilla that are the magic. This little glowing orange tent is an outpost of a long-mauled civilization that still has something luscious to offer. And this family is its ambassadors.
Okay, maybe the grog is getting me sentimental. But you gotta admit, it’s still a small miracle. And a taco first for me.
“We just about didn’t make it here,” says Edlin. “I studied business at SDSU. I wanted to start a business with my mom and dad. Everybody at school was into creating an app that would make them billionaires. I decided to do this instead. But it has been hard. Paying for premium quality, hormone-free, the rest of it, puts up your expenses. Things were going so badly, it was almost game up for us. Then we came here to Quartyard, and suddenly, things are awesome. People love us. We haven’t stopped since we got here.”
Big cheer goes up. Somebody’s got their beanbag in the cornhole. I go back to finish off the orange tacos. So good to have an actual flavor in the tortillas. And the chorizo mightn’t be up to SLP (San Luis Potosí) standards, but they taste pretty danged tangy to me.
I finally get up. Need to catch that next Orange Line trolley.
Strikes me: the Green Futures lecturer should come out here. Huasteco culture alive on Market Street! Let’s plant corn, gardens, a forest, right in this unused square. Rewilding starts here!
1301 Market Street, East Village
The Place: O My! TACO pop-up, at Quartyard evenings (most often, Fridays, Saturdays) 1102 Market Street, 619-432-5303
Prices: beef, pork or soy chorizo tacos, with refried beans, cabbage, cheese, salsa, $3; three for $8, five for $13
Hours: Check website
Buses to Quartyard: 3, 5, 11, 901, 929
Nearest bus stops: (For 3, 5), Park and Market; (for northbound 11, 901, 929), 11th and Market; (for southbound 11, 901, 929), 10th and Market
Trolleys: Blue Line, Orange Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Park and Market