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Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America Hardcover – April 10, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439148619
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439148617
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“In this entertaining nod to culinary and cultural histories, journalist Arellano traces the roots of Mexican food in the U.S. and explores the cuisine’s many offshoots, underscoring why salsa is now our #1 condiment… Arellano makes the point, one that’s particularly relevant in today’s heated immigration debate, that as much as some Americans may protest Mexican immigrants, they’re in love with Mexican food.” —Publishers Weekly

“An appealing cultural exploration of Mexican food in the United States…. Readers will come away not only hungry, but with a deeper understanding of the Mexican people and their cuisine.”—Kirkus

“In a chatty, lighthearted style and with mordant wit, Arellano traces the steady northward creep of Mexican cooking from Texas and the Southwest into the heart of Yankee territory­.”—Booklist

“[Arellano] manages to squeeze in mentions of just about every Mexican restaurant (including, believe it or not, both Taco Cabana and the dining room of the Austin Hyatt), product line, and preparation in the country. If you’ve ever wondered about the roots of Taco Bell or why fajitas are called that or who invented the frozen-margarita machine, you’ll find answers here.”—Slate Magazine

“Gustavo Arellano…is perhaps the greatest (and only) living scholar of Mexican-American fast food.” (The New York Times)

“An informative,entertaining glimpse into the story of how Mexican food entered Americanpopular culture.” (The Wall Street Journal)

About the Author

Gustavo Arellano’s ¡Ask a Mexican! column has a circulation of more than two million in thirty-eight markets (and counting). He has received the President's Award from the Los Angeles Press Club, an Impact Award from the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and a 2008 Latino Spirit Award from the California State legislature. Arellano has appeared on the Today show, Nightline, NPR's Talk of the Nation, and The Colbert Report. For more information, visit AskAMexican.net.

More About the Author

Gustavo Arellano is a staff writer with OC Weekly, an alternative newspaper in Orange County, California, and a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times Op/Ed pages. He writes 'Ask a Mexican!,' a nationally syndicated column in which he answers any and all questions about America's spiciest and largest minority. The column has a weekly circulation of 1.8 million in 28 newspapers across the United States, won the 2006 Association of Alternative Weeklies award for Best Column, and was published in book form by Scribner Press. Gustavo is also the recipient of the Los Angeles Press Club's 2007 President's Award. Gustavo lives in Anaheim.

Customer Reviews

It doesn't bear a close reading let alone re-reading as a book.
Todd Ellner
Mr Arellano has written an informative, interesting book on the history of Mexican food in the US and how it has evolved into what we have today.
Thomas G. Boerger
I saw Gustavo at a book lecture and based on that as well as his clever column I had to read this!
Danny M.Castillo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Darren Glass on October 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What an incredibly disappointing book.

If you know me, you know that I love Mexican food of all kinds. Whether it is cheap burritos in west Texas, high end alta cocina, regional dishes found in small Mexican villages, or moles that I make in my own kitchen, I love Mexican food. I have been known to plan vacations around Mexican cooking, including several cooking classes that my wife and I have taken. I am also very interested in food writing and the cultural history of food. So needless to say, I was excited to read this book.

And there were parts of it that were very interesting. Especially some of the opening chapters about tamales and the early days of Mexican food coming to America, which contained lots of information I havent seen anywhere else. But as the book went on I grew more and more tired of Arellano's high horses and pet peeves. He writes from a very southern california-centric point of view, and some of his generalizations to the rest of the country don't really mesh with my experiences living in Texas and the east coast (one example is that it seemed odd to read about the dissapearance of Tex-Mex at the same time that Chuy's is opening a dozen new locations) and it generally made me distrust many of his claims.

But most disappointing to me was Arellano's use of the word 'authentic'. Throughout the book he throws the word around in various ways without ever really seeming to intellectually engage with what he means by the term or even really giving a definition of it. Instead, he uses the word as a compliment at times while other times criticizing the ways other people use the term (for any of Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless's faults, I at least understand what they mean when they use the word).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Elia on July 25, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Those with a high-minded take on food -- the kind who sigh and think warm thoughts of Paris and Prague when you say what you like to eat -- might find this book impertinent. Those who love Mexican food and insightful romps down the backstreets of American culture will savor every last word. Gustavo Arellano has a distinctive voice -- passionate, humorous, welcoming -- and a strong sense of history. You'll eat your next Mexican plate with a greater awareness of the entree's origins and terrific stories to share with those at your table.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kel on March 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
An interesting, well researched book which chronicles the development and growth of Mexican food in the United States while providing a supportive analysis of Mexican American culture...and how the two coexist. I particularly enjoyed learning about the many entrenuers who started their food service businesses from scratch or modest means and grew them into multi-million dollar enterprises...very inspirational.

Gustavo Arellano is an excellent writer, and I found it difficult to put the book down once I started to read it!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Brian Maitland on June 5, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Gustavo Arellano is rapidly moving up the list of my fave writers. His take on how Mexican food conquered America shows not only his usually amazing amount of quality research but he writes in such entertaining way he makes these stories come alive.

Who knew America's cities had tamale men roaming America's major cities' streets much like hot dog vendors at ballparks up to the 1930s? Or that San Antonio plays such a major part in the spread of Mexican food nationwide? The fact that the plaza in front of the Alamo used to be a nightly chili-fest is beyond bizarre when you think about society today. Plus the women who stirred those chili vats were known as chili queens back pre-WWII.

It's this long-forgotten history of Mexican food in the US that fascinated me the most but there's also the story of the mainstreaming and packaging of this Americanized version of Mexican food from the old Chi-Chi's restaurant chain to the Taco Bell of today.

Arellano covers all those bases from how salsa became the number one condiment in the States to the attempt to upscale Mexican food. It's a wondrous journey and thank Orange County (and Mexico, of course!) for giving us the genius of Arellano to tackle this previously barely touched topic.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mark Cederholm on April 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I bought this from Gustavo Arellano at a book signing in Flagstaff. It was at a Mexican restaurant and, ironically, most of the people there seemed more interested in eating the food than buying a book about it. I started reading it right away and found it a thoroughly enjoyable history of the Mexican influence on American eating habits. The narrative seems to wander at times, but once the point finally comes across, the path taken to get there becomes more reasonable. I also highly recommend The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook, by Robb Walsh, which is also full of fascinating stories.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Kish on February 2, 2014
Format: Paperback
Gustavo Arellano's "Taco USA" is a deliciously readable introduction to the history of Mexican food in the United States. Although (like every other American) I love Mexican food, I'd never given much thought to its history before--so it's a testament to the author's infectious curiosity and love for his subject that, by the time I'd devoured its 273 pages, I was wishing the book was twice as long.

"Taco USA" takes you from the ancient beginnings of Mexican food in pre-colonial Mesoamerica, through its early days in the frontier Southwest and Texas, to the first wave of wider acceptance via the mania for tamales and chile con carne in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, to the mainstreaming of Mexican-American fastfood with the Taco Bells and Del Tacos of the 50s/60s, and beyond as the food continued to grow, expand, mutate, and find its way into every corner of America. When possible, he talks to the people involved in these developments, telling you their individual stories. He also takes a few detours onto subjects such as Jesus' face appearing on a tortilla, or astronauts eating burritos in space, allowing him to philosophize a little about the deeper significance of Mexican food in our culture and the world.

Like the best Mexican-American meals, "Taco USA" is casual and goes down easy, but also reveals complexity and depth. This is not a highly academic book, instead it's proudly personal and opinionated (while also being well researched, with ample footnotes at the back). Arellano leaves no doubt about his feelings for the Rick Baylesses and Diana Kennedys of the world--Americans who have taken it upon themselves to determine what counts as "authentic" Mexican cuisine and to preserve it like a museum exhibit.
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