On The Range: Huaraches

On The Range is a weekly exploration of the history and lore of Texas menu items.

"If everybody had an ocean/Across the U.S.A/Then everybody'd be surfin'/Like Californ-I-a/You'd see 'em wearing their baggies/Huarache sandals too..."

Despite the popularity brought to them by the Beach Boys way back when, huaraches aren't just a type of shoe. In fact, they are an oblong-shaped delicacy made from fresh masa, flattened into a form that is roughly the same thickness as pita bread, then fried and topped with a variety of goodies such as black beans, chorizo, cheese, and vegetables.

Oh, the finished product does resemble a sandal in appearance, but that's about it. Writing in the Houston Press, Robb Walsh notes that huaraches likely originated in Mexico City during the 1930s, when Carmen Gomez opened a restaurant serving tlacoyos. Since customers noted that tlacoyos looked like Mexican sandals, the creation earned the nickname huarache--a term that has been around since pre-Columbian times and came from the Purhepecha word "kwarachi."

Later, Gomez relocated the restaurant and changed its name to El Huarache Azteca. Walsh adds that El Huarache Azteca still exists today and continues to serve the definitive huarache to new generations of hungry diners.

You wouldn't think of Brooklyn as being ground zero for huaraches, but according to Fernanda Santos and the New York Times, a thriving group of vendors feeds a veritable army of soccer players every weekend at the borough's Red Hook Recreation Center.

Such a task keeps them busy from dawn till dusk and requires all day Friday to prepare for the onslaught:

"On the concrete floor of a garage turned kitchen, behind a curtain stamped in lavender and green, was a freezer as tall as a man, as long as a car, and as wide as a love seat. Inside was a pile of cardboard boxes stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, and cactus leaf nopales, a Mexican delicacy. The coolers on the opposite end were packed with raw meat: 40 pounds of chicken, 60 pounds of chorizo, 300 pounds of pork, 1000 pounds of beef. 'I could feed an army,' Margarita Hernandez said, playfully, her body stooped over a mound of Spanish onions, a sharp knife in hand." 

At Masaryk Modern Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Lounge in Addison Circle, the little sandals are filled with velvety black bean paste, and you can top them with very mild, tomatoey salsa. If the weather is nice, be sure to dine outdoors on the patio. You can watch the bushy bushy blonde hairdos pass by.

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Chris Meesey