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on October 1, 2012
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). I admit that in recent years I have become very interested in the idea of what we mean when we talk about authentic ethnic food (see the great Lucky Peach Issue 2 article a few months back on the topic) but the chips on Arellano's shoulder are big enough to be annoyingly inconsistent.

Arellano is a good storyteller for the most part, and I enjoy the 'character' he does in his 'Ask A Mexican' work (because i assume it is a character). But if you are looking for a book that discusses the history of Mexican food in the US with any intellectual consistency and depth, I would recommend looking elsewhere. (In particular, I am looking forward to Jeffrey Pilcher's new book, as his Que Vivan Los Tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity remains the pinnacle of writing about Mexican cusine
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on July 25, 2013
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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on November 21, 2013
This book is a must in every home library for those of us that remember Mama's hand made tortillas and the funny looks we got when we brought out lunches in large grocery bags all rolled up.

I was very interested in the assimilation stories of Mexican and Tex-Mex food into the white homes and what they considered to be Hispanic food. I still have friends today who feel that "Taco Bell" is Mexican food, and have never ventured into Santa Ana, CA for the real delights held in places like Sarinanas Tamale Factory.

It was one of the most thorough accounting of the Ray Kroc school of graduates that I have ever run across, that included Glen Bell and others.
While I was surprised not to see the Pup N' Taco franchise noted, this was one of my first experiences with Americanized Mexican food, I was happy to see Del Taco and Naugles listed as I remember the Bun Taco at the Corona, CA franchise when I was a kid in the 70's

Overall a Great historical epicurean telling of the Latin food movement and definitely a well written accounting through the genius that is Gustavo Arellano.
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on March 18, 2013
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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on November 26, 2015
I don't understand why some gave bad reviews to this thoroughly engrossing book. I love Mexican food like so many others and found the detail and range of topics very interesting and informative. You can appreciate the menu more when you understand it's history. Arellano is an entertaining and funny writer. His Ask a Mexican book and columns are outrageously politically incorrect (God bless him) and he is as fearless here but this is no polemic. This is like a great Menudo, a savory blend of several cultures and regions to produce a bit of culinary heaven. I especially liked the stories of the rise of Tamales, Tacos, Burritos, La Victoria, Taco Bell, Pace, Tapatio and so much more we encounter every day. I highly recommend this book to anyone that has a real interest not just in recipies but how they came about. Well done Gustavo!
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on December 18, 2012
Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (By Gustavo Arellano)

Taco USA is a well-written, accessible, essayist trek through the history of Mexican food, and its meteoric rise to prominence in the USA over the course of the 20th century. With his snappy wit and his penchant for investigative journalism, Arellano plunges the reader into detailed profiles of some of the industry's mightiest pioneers - giving long overdue credit to a migrant class, who came to America seeking opportunity despite all odds, struck gold with their innovations, but have somehow been overlooked by the mainstream. Arellano also pokes holes in the snobbery of "authentic" style Mexican food, by arguing that all food, made by Mexicans, from Taco Bell to the taco truck should be adorned with equal designation when considering its ethnic cloak. He points out that many dishes we eat today arose out of the rich cross-pollination between two, sometimes, three, or more different worlds - subject to vast regional influences.

Taco USA also delivers answers to some of the most intriguing queries about Mexican food, such as: how did salsa become a condiment more popular than ketchup? And how did the margarita become the nation's most widely consumed cocktail? He provides mouthwatering details about some of our nation's most popular culinary mainstays: the taco, the burrito, and the tamale. And he even offers up a list of his own top 5 favorite dishes in the country (with adjective splendor), which has me yearning to hit the road to seek those savory dishes. For lovers of history, cultural commentary and biting satire ("The taco at Taco Bell is dead. Long live the taco."), this book is a joy to read. My favorite chapter was about his trip to Lake Arthur, New Mexico; a two hour flight and a seven hour drive to get a glimpse of Christ on a tortilla, only to find a dirty diaper, more questions, and more driving.

Gustavo's ability to tell stories makes Taco USA a fun and entertaining read, while edifying our knowledge of history and broadening our scope of a topic which unifies divergent views, he answers questions we never knew the answers to. Highly recommended!
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on February 7, 2014
I had always wondered about Mexican food and how it came to occupy its place in American cuisine. Now I know.

The information is solid. If you want to know where frozen margaritas and Ortega chilies came from this will tell you. The social history of the burrito and its relation to the braceros is there as are the old Chili Queens and Tamale Kings.

My only problem is the quality of the writing. The author is a professional, and that may be the problem. He writes a magazine column which will be read once over quickly and discarded. The style is tabloid and disjointed. Sometimes it's just rapid-fire facts. It doesn't bear a close reading let alone re-reading as a book.
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on June 5, 2013
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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on April 24, 2012
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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on July 5, 2013
I learned that burritos are the astronauts favorite food. The history of Mexican food is fascinating. We live in Los Angeles and learning the best places to get chile relleno burritos was invaluable. They are hole in the wall places and the burritos are fabulous.
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