While talking to a fellow Leaguer in Las Vegas, he talked about stopping in Fort Beck - in Deseret where I used to live - and getting completely unacceptable Mexican food. This came as a bit of a surprise to me because I found the Mexican food there to be very acceptable. As he described it, I was pretty sure that he stopped at Taco John’s. Taco John’s is big on putting tater-tots in everything. Then again, so are other places within Idaho and the states around Idaho, so it’s hard to say for sure.
Anyhow, Gustavo Arellano has an article about Mexican food in the US and how American it is:
The most popular restaurant in town that day was Taco John’s. I didn’t know it then, but Taco John’s is the third-largest taco chain in the United States, with nearly 500 locations. But what lured me that morning was a drive-through line snaking out from the faux-Spanish revival building (whitewashed adobe and all) and into the street. Once I inched my rental car next to the menu, I was offered an even more outrageous simulacrum of the American Southwest: tater tots, that most Midwestern of snacks, renamed “Potato Olés” and stuffed into a breakfast burrito, nacho cheese sauce slowly oozing out from the bottom of the flour tortilla.
There is nothing remotely Mexican about Potato Olés—not even the quasi-Spanish name, which has a distinctly Castilian accent. The burrito was more insulting to me and my heritage than casting Charlton Heston as the swarthy Mexican hero in Touch of Evil. But it was intriguing enough to take back to my hotel room for a taste. There, as I experienced all of the concoction’s gooey, filling glory while chilly rain fell outside, it struck me: Mexican food has become a better culinary metaphor for America than the melting pot.
Back home, my friends did not believe that a tater tot burrito could exist. When I showed them proof online, out came jeremiads about inauthenticity, about how I was a traitor for patronizing a Mexican chain that got its start in Wyoming, about how the avaricious gabachos had once again usurped our holy cuisine and corrupted it to fit their crude palates.
In defending that tortilla-swaddled abomination, I unknowingly joined a long, proud lineage of food heretics and lawbreakers who have been developing, adapting, and popularizing Mexican food in El Norte since before the Civil War. Tortillas and tamales have long left behind the moorings of immigrant culture and fully infiltrated every level of the American food pyramid, from state dinners at the White House to your local 7-Eleven. Decades’ worth of attempted restrictions by governments, academics, and other self-appointed custodians of purity have only made the strain stronger and more resilient. The result is a market-driven mongrel cuisine every bit as delicious and all-American as the German classics we appropriated from Frankfurt and Hamburg.
I’m all about equal opportunity. I love actual Mexican food. I love Tex-Mex. I love the bastardizations of Taco Bell and Taco John’s. We have a Taco John’s here in Callie, but not a Taco Bell. TJ’s is more expensive, but has better ingredients. If you don’t mind the tater tots. Which are actually not bad tater tots, especially if they’re right out of the pan. If you can deal with the incongruity of a tater tot infused burrito.