Novel and atrocious fried foods aren't the only foodstuffs available at the State Fair of Texas. Among the alternatives are tacos, one of which threw me for a loop. To begin my hunt, I searched the State Fair's Food Finder web page for tacos. With the search results in hand, I was off to the Fair.
I quickly learned that the Internet is not to be trusted. Only one of the sellers listed in my search results, Oasis Restaurant, sold tacos, so I had to walk the grounds of the greatest fair in the country. What follows is a summary of some of the tacos available until Sunday, when this year's State Fair closes.
Brisket Taco - Oasis Restaurant, Century Building. This darkly-lit restaurant was decorated half-assedly with accouterments meant to fool customers into thinking they were exiting the Auto Show into an outdoor café in a subtropical clime. If puny palm trees and strings of Christmas lights overhead didn't convince the predominantly elderly clientele, the brisket taco didn't fare any better. While the taco was listed on the menu as topped with the traditional garnishes of cilantro and onion, the filling placed in front of me included queso fresco. That topping wasn't mentioned on the menu, but its appearance added a pleasant visual contrast to the poorly chopped cilantro and almost translucent onions. Unfortunately, the combination of those ingredients inside the rubbery flour tortilla was like eating a chewy ball of salt inside a moldy cheesecloth.
Chicken Taco - Villa's, Food Court In the indoor Food Court, fairgoers can enjoy a diverse selection of eats (spanakopita to Jamaican meat patties) at cheaper prices than those sold elsewhere at the Fair. Villa's wasn't the only booth slinging Mexican grub, but it was the only one I could find selling tacos. At Villa's, I requested a taco of shredded stewed chicken, which upon first sigh, I thought to myself, "What a thing of beauty." Swimming in a tomato-based sauce, and inconsistently shredded, it was served in a large, bulging-at-the-edges tortilla that made the dish unwieldy, awkward, a culinary chubby chaser's dream. Just as Michelangelo's David should be circumcised, a chicken taco should not be as wonderful as Villa's was.
Crispy Taco - Fiesta stand, International Boulevard Across From Fletcher's I don't understand the fascination with Fletcher's Corny Dog. It's as unremarkable as any other corn dog. A stand across from the ever-crowded Fletcher's booth traded in various Tex-Mex dishes, among them the much-maligned -- and often deservedly so -- crispy taco. This one caught me unawares. The hard shell was light, lacking the corrugated cardboard flavor of most commercially available shells. Still, as is the case with such items, the shell cracked and the ground beef, tomato and safety-orange cheese cascaded in the paper basket container. Thankfully, the filling didn't have the overpowering, pucker-face-inducing taste of meat prepared by someone who believes there's no such thing as too much Old El Paso taco seasoning. It was worth coating my fingers in grease.
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A beer writer I met the night I undertook my taco tour said there was a booth selling aguas fresca. The cooks there had to make great tacos. After navigating the crush of kids at risk of toppling due to the giant stuffed-animal prizes they were dragging along the Midway, we arrived ready for awesomeness. What we found was disappointment, something that made us want to cry in our fried beer. Beneanth the pyramid of lettuce, tomato, obscene Cheddar-flavored, cheese product and the green water passed off as guacamole was finely chopped brisket, but if we hadn't dug for the meat, its prescence would have gone un-noticed.
(Bonus) Caribbean Puffy Taco, Taste of Cuba My City of Ate colleague Steven Doyle wouldn't stop yapping about the food at the Taste of Cuba when I met up with him at the State Fair. Of course, he dragged me to the booth near the Texas Skyway. Once there, I ordered a Caribbean puffy taco. Sorry, I mean an empanada. The puffy pastry was fried to a persimmon color, the surface of the air pockets were brown-capped and crispy and the filling of ground beef and cubed potatoes, delicious as it was, was a pinch shy of being over-salted. The Caribbean puffy taco... er, the empanada, was a solid end to a taco-eating day, and next to the chicken taco, the best thing I ate that day.