Growing up Mexican, tacos are a part of life from just about as early as you can remember, and at whatever age it is that we develop motor skills, yours will begin the all-important process of understanding just how to handle the taco–how to pick up the tortilla without losing the insides, the roasted meats, the stews, the braises, the confits. You will master, simply because you must, the art of the taco pinch; when the alternative is no carne asada, carnitas, no guisado, no fresh-caught fish, you just learn.
The action becomes so innate, you will have seen, handled, consumed so many tacos in those early years, your education so complete, you may never bother to ponder the question, later on in life, what makes a truly great taco? What belongs in a truly great taco?
Chef Priscilla Curiel has some ideas. She is the one-woman show behind the new Tuétano Taqueria in San Ysidro, which is the part of San Diego right along the border, steps away from one of the world’s greatest taco centers, Tijuana, where Curiel grew up.
In Tijuana, tacos de adobada (adobada being the regional name for al pastor), seafood tacos, carne asada, beef birria, and tacos varios (regional name for tacos de guisado) are part of the DNA. Curiel comes from Tijuana food royalty—her family runs the iconic breakfast destination, La Espadaña, and Talavera Azul in Chula Vista, over on the American side, where Curiel worked as a hostess, waitress and chef on the breakfast shift, before striking out on her own.
For Curiel, like so many of the millions living on either side of the world’s busiest international land crossing, the border is not a boundary, something that stops you from going about your business; it is merely something you power past, something you work around, often on a daily basis.