“You can find some variation of a taco on almost every menu across the country,” says an essay on the website of the new Supremo Taco in Grant Park. It’s true. If you fold any kind of ingredients into a tortilla – or any flatbread – the result is typically called a taco now. The problem with that isn’t the adoption of a Mexican cultural icon’s basic form. The problem arises when the taco is robbed, so to speak, of its cultural interior – the ingredients that distinguish it. It’s like being a Mexican-American in Trump’s world: Your food’s fine as long as you keep it bland, but your origins – what makes you you – are unacceptable. So please remove the braised tongue and put bland cheddar cheese and hamburger on that tortilla.
I have mixed feelings about this issue, partly because of my own recent experience. A few weeks before I visited Supremo Taco, I lunched at Velvet Taco in Buckhead. Nothing about the menu at Velvet is very Mexican except for the use of tortillas. It seems in fact that the restaurant’s name refers to its extremely rich Red Velvet Cake – not exactly a Latino pastry. I sat next to a painting of a very white Victorian woman orgasmically devouring the cake, whose icing streaked her cleavage.
But I can’t lie. I loved most of the tacos! My favorite was a special that probably won’t be around until next summer, but it illustrates the chain restaurant’s approach. It —-featured four of my favorite flavors – fresh figs, pulled pork, arugula, and a crema spiked with Hatch green chiles. The regular menu includes classics from other countries, like chicken tikka from India. You get crispy chicken tenders, a spicy tikka sauce, buttered cilantro, basmati rice, raita crema, and Thai basil. Another is based on Middle Eastern ingredients: falafel patties wrapped in lettuce with tahini crema, arugula, tomato, pickled Fresno chiles, avocado, pickled red onion, and pea tendrils. Now that’s weird because you can order falafel wrapped in pita bread – doughier than a tortilla but just as flat – with other ingredients in most any Middle Eastern restaurant.
So I loved the oddities at Velvet, but I loved the more traditional at Supremo Taco even more. This is a mainly takeout joint that shares the parking lot with Grindhouse Killer Burgers on Memorial Drive. Your alternative to takeout is eating on a patio where you have to stand. Now, Supremo looks like a traditional taco stand in Southern California, but it and especially its website are punctuated with hip Chicano signifiers. That’s no surprise since it has been opened by the eccentric owners of 8Arm and Octopus.
What’s to eat? My favorite has been the barbacoa, here made with juicy lamb. But you’ll also want to try the al pastor, cooked on the required but seldom used trompo, a vertical rotisserie. The pork is slow-roasted under a weeping pineapple. Diced pineapple is also added to the taco. Another notable is the carnitas plus chicharrones – pulled pork combined with little chunks of fried pork rinds. Of the two quesadillas, I preferred the fried one filled with cheese from Oaxaca, but you’ll love the chorizo one if you need meat. All of these are of course filled with ancillary ingredients and perfect red and green salsas. You cannot here or at Velvet dump stuff from a salsa bar on the food.
I urge you to try both places. Be mindful. Pay attention to the feelings evoked by the cultural dissimilitudes. Are you at Supremo Taco craving a Taco Supreme from Taco Bell? Feel your shame. Now let your inner (or outer) Chicano eat what tastes good.
35 West Paces Ferry Road
701 Memorial Drive