This weekend, I finally decided to walk a couple blocks from my house and eat at the fabled El Tepeyac Cafe on Evergreen. It had been recommended to me by an LA-native before I even left the wine country and the guy who turned on my gas also gave it the thumbs up. Two sources plus my independent reconnaissance which revealed an almost constant line in front = Worth trying at least once.
I’m sorry to say I probably won’t go back. Not because it wasn’t tasty – it just simply wasn’t tasty enough nor was the ambience so compelling that I’ll shell out $9 for a burrito (even if it did weigh about 4 lbs).
The experience did get me thinking about authenticity however – especially after I scrolled through some of the online reviews on Yelp.
The amateur food reviewers split into one of two categories: enthusiastic eaters wowed by the biggest burritos this side of the Mississippi and haters who complain that the place is no good because it’s not “authentic.” A representative sampling of the tenor of the conversation:
Manny’s Special, that is all you need to know…I never seen this in my life. I couldn’t finish it on my own; so I split it with a friend. If you plan to take on this beast alone, make sure to fast two days in advance. Got to love Mexican food.
Let me get this straight: “HUGE portions” merit the authenticity-stamp for Mexican joints?? *sigh*This place is as “authentic” as Knott’s Berry Farm’s Montezuma’s Revenge snack-bar. Maybe I’m spoiled by the regional Piasa joints that don’t cater to LA nostalgia but I don’t trust any Mexican restaurant that doesn’t serve Carne Asada or Pastor meat. After all the hype from my newly extended East-Los familia and fellow die-hard Dodger fans, Its safe to say I was disappointed by TepeWac’s condensed, portion-friendly menu. I agree, not ALL “authentic” Mexican joints serve the same type of food, but they DO serve a protein other than thawed-out chicken strips and Shredded beef(Machaca) No trolling. Soon after I ate here, I discovered this place is a joke among un chingo de Mexicanos besides this serote from Long Beach.
Then we have Robert A. who passes on the posturing:
I know that you could either hate it or love it but if you come with the mentality of eating REAL MEXICAN food, you might as well go to Mexico as I have never found any of those places here in L.A. Even in Mexico. We all have different taste and preference so what’s Mexican?
True that, Robert. Saul. I hear you, but you’re too cool for school and it’s bastante obnoxious.
Authenticity is for coins and stamps if you ask me. It implies that there is a single gold standard, a single correct way of preparing any given cuisine and that any divergence from the norm immediately merits the use of either “fusion” or “nouveau.”
I grew up on “authentic” California cuisine. My homecooking repertoire includes recipes from my mom’s Oklahoma family like fried okra, Fantastic (a layered pudding and cool whip extravaganza) and blackberry wine cake (which includes both Jello mix and blackberry flavored Manischewitz wine). My other specialties include Vietnamese salad rolls, pad thai, spaghetti, stir fry, tortilla soup and tamales. Garnished with a smattering of recipes from Sunset magazine like snickerdoodle cookies and chili egg puff. Buen provecho.
Robert hits another nail on the head – I’ve never had “REAL” Mexican food in Los Angeles or anywhere in California. The tacos al pastor on the streets of DF were genuinely otherworldly, the slice of pineapple lopped off the top of the spit sending them into another realm entirely. Besides being tasty, they’re also a perfect example of the dubious nature of authenticity. Like mariachi music, they’re a relatively new thing. Furthermore, they were introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants, not born from the country’s Aztec or Mayan soul. King Taco just doesn’t cut it. Not to mention that an “authentic” quesadilla in Mexico City doesn’t have any cheese which everyone but the chilangos and the lactose-intolerant agrees is completely stupid.
While we’re whining, horchata made from the mix is simply nowhere near as good as the stuff with condensed milk, there is not enough mole up here and please send along recommendations for good places with comida yucateca, pozole and tortas.
However, the point of this blog post is: Who cares? There is only one measure that counts and that is delicious-ness. My boyfriend introduced me to sprinkling Kraft parmesan on his mom’s tostadas. Authentic? No. Delicioso? You bet!
The quality of Mexican food generally drops off with each mile you travel from the border, mainly because the competition decreases. However, the move away from the mythical homeland can also be liberating and I’ve had lots of good American-Mexican-Latino, etc. food from throughout California. I’ll be honest – i like it just as much as the incredible traditional dishes concocted from more exotic ingredients like pumpkin seeds, squash flowers and goat meat that I loved eating in Mexico.
In fact, the singular dish that I have found unchanged by its migration from the southland across the border doesn’t usually get mentioned in the Mexican culinary pantheon. However, it is a point of pride that it was indeed invented in Mexico. That dish would be none other than the Caesar salad.
Here’s some food photos from my personal collection, just for fun.
If they aren’t authentic enough for ya, take a walk with me through Mercado San Juan.