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Breakfast Tacos at Tierra Caliente

Nature's cure for apathy
Nature's cure for apathy
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall

Familiarity breeds contempt, and proximity to tacos breeds apathy. Or so goes my reasoning for why we don't frequent Tacos Tierra Caliente more, well, frequently. "It's right around the corner; we can go there anytime we want," I would reason. Truth be told, the fact that I rarely carry cash has a lot to do with it.

When we do get around to it, we both wonder why it's been so long. My wife, in particular, makes New Year's Resolution-esque declarations with every fajita con todo, only to see the resolution abandoned every time we drive by cashless. "We really should get tacos more often," we always say.

Since my schedule changed, I've found myself home during the day an awful lot, which means lunch for my wife and me. We've tried to make a habit of going somewhere once a week when I'm off, but instead have trended toward a habit of crawling back into bed after dropping the kids off at school. A three hour mid-day nap is a luxurious mistake, frequently resulting in missed lunches and (arguably) wasted days off.

Thursdays are a built-in exception to this rule. Thursdays are violin days, which means that I'm up at the school long enough to be fully awake by the time I head home, much less likely to burrow back into blissful unconsciousness. Last Thursday, fully awake and flush with cash (about $10, which goes a long way in tacos), I remembered.

As I approached the truck, I heard a lively discussion about breakfast tacos. At about the same time, I saw the sign: New Breakfast Menu. My heart skipped a beat. When I'd decided on Tierra Caliente, I'd had breakfast tacos on the brain. I hadn't expected to scratch that specific itch.

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Not prepared for the additional set of choices, I stepped aside while others ordered, torn between chorizo and barbacoa. I contemplated barbacoa (not on the breakfast menu) and eggs, but was beaten to the punch by the guy in line ahead of me, whose request was summarily denied. Apparently, Tierra Caliente is McDonald's-like in its refusal to accomodate brunchier cravings.

Chorizo was a given. Chorizo is my personal bacon. When given the choice to have chorizo, this is a trick question, because chorizo is always the answer. A trio of potato and egg tacos joined the order, mostly because I was flustered by the new options, and not able to process all of the information when it came time to order.

Back at home, I figured out that the best way to get my late-sleeping wife out of bed quickly is to announce the arrival of tacos. I'd planned to get her moving, artfully arrange and photograph the tacos, and be ready when she was, a good 15 minutes later. She was at the table, looking expectant, by the time I had them unwrapped. As I set up for the shoot, she began asking for tacos. While I adjusted lighting, she grumbled. Best alarm clock ever.

Typical of Tierra Caliente, the tacos are on the diminutive side. A trio each was about right for a light-ish breakfast. Handmade tortillas, already starting to stiffen slightly from their lardy construction, folded around a chorizo and egg stuffing with a pleasantly fatty ratio of sausage to egg. The chorizo was balanced between pork fat and dusky spice, rounded out by a nice lactic tang.

The curds of the eggs matched the pebbly nature of the chorizo, making for a slightly crumbly affair, with just enough moisture and slick orange grease to hold together and offer decent drippage, my preferred chorizo con huevos texture. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

The papas con huevos were, well, papas con huevos. Filled with scrambled eggs and fairly bland, soft potatoes, I wouldn't bother with them again unless one of my kids wanted one. Slathered in creamy and electric green or slightly earthy red salsa, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts, better than most breakfast tacos around, yet definitively inferior to its chorizo-stuffed cousin.

What makes or breaks a breakfast taco, more often than not, is the quality of the tortilla. Here, I have a bit of a quandary. The tortillas are obviously homemade, with a nicely fluffy texture and decent browning from their turn on the griddle. They are, however, just a hair too thick for the diminutive size of the tacos. In the grand scheme of quibbles, this is a small one. The tortillas are delicious, so it feels a bit off to complain about them, but they do throw off the overall balance of the tacos, if only just. Rolled 1/16th of an inch thinner, and perhaps a bit larger in diameter (so as to hold a bit more chorizo), and these buck-a-piece beauties would be at the top of my list.

As it is, I'll stick with the lunch offerings as my default here, though the promise of very good breakfast tacos within a few minutes of my door will certainly give me more reason to shed my apathy. Case in point: Two days after those breakfast tacos, I found myself in need of a quick bite between a drive out to the country and an event at my kids' school. I went to Tierra Caliente for the breakfast tacos, that time, but wound up with barbacoa. Proximity to tacos can be both cause and cure, it seems.


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