For many, the 2016 election has been an exercise in stress management. As we await the results of the highly contentious, highly drawn out presidential race, we’ve even put together a zen playlist to carry you through the rest of the day. But in a place like El Paso – which perhaps best understands what we stand to lose under a Donald Trump presidency – we didn’t think just a playlist would cut it.
After all, Donald Trump launched his presidential election by denigrating Latino immigrants, and presenting a grim future that would hurt the people of El Paso. The city’s identity is inextricably linked with Juarez, even in easily identifiable ways, like food. But also through the economy. “We lived through the devaluation of the peso, and when it happened, our economy was devastated,” said El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar to the Texas Tribune. “Insulting our most important economic partner, and wanting to isolate it from us – most people here realize there’d be an economic price, and we would pay it.”
With an about 81 percent Latino population – many of whom have relatives just across the border – Trump’s rhetoric has inspired El Pasoans to vote in record numbers. During the 10-day early voting period, more than 115,000 people cast their ballots. This surge in voters won’t be enough to keep Trump from Texas’ 38 electoral votes.
With all this hanging over El Paso residents’ heads, tacos can provide a temporary escape. Curated by taco journalists Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece in their Tacos of Texas book, here are four taco spots you should hit up so that you can celebrate, drown your sorrows, or just kill time on Election Day:
You can’t mention L&J Cafe without talking about the crispy tacos. For 88 years, the restaurant has been a gem in the community. Leo Duran Jr’s grandfather, Antonio Flores, founded the now world-famous restaurant in 1927. In that time, the steak tacos have become the most popular.
“We started with the main steak plate and burritos, then we made it into taco,” he told Rayo and Neece. “I think it’s part of the culture around the border that makes our steak tacos so popular. It’s that influence with the border.”
L&J Cafe, 3622 E. Missouri Ave., El Paso, Texas 79903
Tacoholics began as a food truck in 2010. Jessie Peña, who didn’t graduate from culinary school, never imagined this kind of success. At the beginning of this year, he opened his first brick-and-mortar shop. The Korean barbecue taco – which includes an Asian slaw, sesame seeds, cilantro, onions, and hints of pear – is his restaurant’s most popular. He calls it a mix of the old and new – a concise description of his restaurant.
But on top of offering delicious fusion food, Peña wants to help people make memories. “Some of the fondest memories growing up always seemed to revolve around food,” he said. “We had fritangas – I’d call them feasts. They included lots of cerveza, fresh tortillas, two or three great salsas, various types of proteins, and a lotta love. No matter what the problems in the world are, a family-style meal is always a warm welcome.”
Tacoholics, 1613 N. Zaragoza Road #201, El Paso, Texas 79936
Tacos El Charly
Tacos El Charly started on the other side of the border. Carlos Serrato’s father began the business in Juarez, and in 2006, Carlos followed in his footsteps. Tacos El Charly began as a lonchera. And as his brothers have run the taco spot in Juarez, Serrato’s business has continued to evolve.
The taco al pastor is the reason to keep revisiting El Charly. “[It] is prepared with adobo sauce with the estilo Juarez,” he said. “My father passed down the cooking tradition. Unlike most taquerias that serve only tacos, we serve our tacos with plenty of sides, baked potatoes, grilled long green onions and jalapeños, radishes, and corn tortilla quesadillas.”
Tacos El Charly, 14021 Horizon Blvd., Horizon City, Texas 79928
The Carnitas Queretaro website welcomes you with one message: “Inspired by family recipes and authentic home cooking.” As Zulem Arellano-Bordier’s restaurant has expanded to four restaurants, its kept this credo at the center of its business. But it’s the carnitas tacos that attracted fans all over the El Paso area.
“The way the carnitas is prepared is very unique,” Zulem said. “Our technique originally comes from Queretaro, Mexico, and is definitely what sets us apart in El Paso.”
Carnitas Queretaro, various locations