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Melissa Deckert and Nicole Licht

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Driving the Mexican Mother Road

A trip down America's definitive Mexican food route: the I-10 from Los Angeles to El Paso

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Somewhere in Arizona, as I sped on Interstate 10 toward the New Mexico state line, my Pandora station streamed the conjunto norteño barnburner “Ya No Llores” (“Don’t Cry Anymore”) by Los Relámpagos del Norte. As the reedy voices of Ramón Ayala and Cornelio Reyna — the Lightning Bolts of the North themselves — urged a woman to move on from her melancholy, a memory wriggled its way out of my subconscious: 1987, along this same stretch, around this same time, the exact same song crackled out of an AM radio.

And that’s when I had my first and only regret of my trip: Man, I should’ve taken the truck.

This trip, after all, was meant to retrace the road trips I’d taken with my family, and those road trips were defined by trocas. When I was a kid, on Christmases and summer vacations, my parents would pile me into the back of a truck along with my sister, a family friend, aunts and uncles, and cousins, to go back to Mexico. We didn’t go alone: My dad and his brothers caravanned in mighty fleets — Ford Rangers and Broncos and Dodge Rams and Chevrolet Square Bodys and GMC beasts — all equipped with campers and bench seats. Los hermanos Arellanos drove the 1,500 miles from Southern California back to their home ranchos in Zacatecas (Jomulquillo for my dad’s side, El Cargadero for my mami; they’re just a town apart). They did the drive in 36 hours, with no stops whatsoever, save for gas — the epitome of chingones.

And for the U.S. half of the drive, we always traveled the same route I was now barreling down: Interstate 10, the Mexican Mother Road. For over a century, millions of Mexicans have traveled along this route from El Paso to Los Angeles, whether on freeway or railroad, on foot or by horse. El Paso was our Ellis Island, the gateway to los Estados Unidos — it was the historical port of entry to points north of Mexico going back to the days of the conquistadors. My maternal great-grandfather and my then 12-year-old abuelito ended up in Southern California in 1918; my father first arrived in 1969 and moved to his current city of Anaheim in 1978, just a year before I was born.

In the early 1990s, the Arellano boys, now all living in the U.S., bought a 1979 Ford Ranger F-150 Supercab to to keep in Jomulquillo. The plan was that it would serve as an extra car whenever one of them rumbled into town, especially as their sons came of age and needed to drive off to another rancho to court a girl. But it was a lost cause. Their once-vibrant pueblo slowly atrophied over the next two decades as its residents went to el Norte to establish themselves with blue-collar jobs and American citizenship. Although my dad and uncles still went home yearly, they couldn’t bother their assimilated kids — myself included — to get excited about returning to the rancho anymore; we’d rather play Sega Genesis, or bump Ice Cube. Then, once we became adults, careers and college were more important than hanging out in a dead town.

And so the truck sat in a Jomulquillo garage for 25 years, kept in near-perfect condition because my dad and uncles ended up driving it a total of about two weeks every year. They finally decided to sell it in late 2015, and I asked to buy it. I hadn’t driven it in about 15 years, since the last time I visited, but I didn’t care. It was a family heirloom, a monument to our American story.

After I bought the truck, my dad flew back to Jomulquillo to pick it up. He drove it north to El Paso with a friend, then to Anaheim in two days — one last hurrah. It’s now my daily driver, a beautiful brown (of course) monster that I gamely try to fit in my narrow driveway every evening. But now, I was going to attempt the American part of my dad’s journey in a meek Hyundai Elantra rental. What a chavala.


Day One

The plan: Blast from my home in Orange County straight to El Paso in one Friday morning. Return, eating as much Mexican food as possible along the way. See how Mexican food had developed and diverged along I-10 — how the stews of El Paso give way to the green chile cult of New Mexico, check out the beefy Sonoran specialties of Arizona, and take a tourist approach to my own California. There were only two constraints on my trek: a radio segment I had to record in Santa Monica at 1 p.m. on Monday, and my stomach.

To re-create the fatigue my dad — who still works 12-hour days as a short-haul truck driver six days a week in his mid-60s — must’ve felt as he rambled down el diez, I left my house at 3 a.m. Friday. Sunrise greeted me at the Love’s Travel Stop in Quartzsite, Arizona, where I swung by Carl’s Jr and ordered a surprisingly good breakfast burrito: chewy steak, fluffy eggs, and gooey cheese. Instead of the crappy house salsa, I drenched it in a bottle of Poblano Mexican Hot Sauce, the best hot sauce I’ve ever tasted. It burns with habanero and chiltepín, a tiny, wild pepper that brings on the heat of bigger peppers but with a smokier, mustier flavor. Poblano is no mere exercise in masochism though: It’s savory, and lingers on the palate.

Gorditas at Los Mariachis in Las Cruces, New Mexico

I reached Tucson around 10 a.m. and visited Poblano’s “factory,” which is really just an industrial park unit near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. I stopped here not just to buy four boxes of each flavor they make — a fleshy Salsa Ranchera, a zesty Green Jalapeño, a strong Red Jalapeño, and the simply named (and best) Mexican Hot Sauce — but to pay my respects. Poblano has been one of the oldest continuously made Mexican hot sauces in the United States since the Segura family started in 1924.

Hoard of hot sauce secured, I drove — through the Sonoran desert and its beautiful saguaros, which made way for ocotillos, which made way for the infamous cholla, possessor of tiny hooks that make rose thorns seem like cotton swabs. Small towns beckoned me to stop for lunch, but I was determined to power through to El Paso. Then work struck — threats of libel against my fine rag, OC Weekly.

At 38, my dad already had three children and a home, all on a fourth-grade education. When my dad would go on vacation, he’d leave his hard work behind and not look back for two weeks. Not me. I’m an editor, a columnist, a reporter — and news never sleeps. The job is a privilege I get gracias to no kids. But there’s also no such thing as vacation.

I pulled over in Lordsburg, New Mexico, a lonely town of about 3,500 people. Its main drag featured decrepit buildings and no-tell motels; newer hotels were next to freeway exits and entrances, the better for tourists to not actually enter Lordsburg. But I needed to talk with my lawyers over my cellphone, in a somewhat tranquil setting, and found Ramona’s Cafe. It was located in a former house, its few tables scattered around what had been the living room. A whiteboard on the window facing the street promised gorditas, and as I walked in, I overheard a waitress take a phone call for those gorditas to-go. Gorditas are a personal favorite of mine — masa stuffed with a hearty filling, usually a meat, some cheese, and beans. They are a rare sight at Mexican restaurants in California, so I was surprised to find them at a tiny cafe in a tiny New Mexico town.

“I’ll take the gorditas special,” I told the middle-aged waitress when she asked what I wanted.

“Sorry, I just took the last order.”

Disappointed, I ordered just one taco — chicken, in a hard-shell tortilla. Freshly fried hard-shell tacos are now a rarity in Southern California, the place that commodified them thanks to Taco Bell. Ramona’s turned out to be a reminder of them at their best: crispy and luscious. I regretted my gordita-induced myopia and wished I’d ordered more.

About four hours later (people don’t know libel law, I swear), I arrived in El Paso to meet Francisco X. Dominguez: friend, native, and 205th District Court judge. Over the decade we’ve been in touch, I have only met him three times, but he’s like a crazy older cousin to me. Every time I visit Chuco (the nickname for El Paso), Judge Paco takes me to new spots, high-end and hole-in-the-wall: taquerías, carnitas specialists, and of course, a mandatory Whataburger run. He’s showed me that El Paso is the most underrated Mexican food city in the United States, partly because few food critics bother to stop here on the way to Austin or Houston, and partly because it expresses border-cuisine at its most literal — just down the street from my Holiday Inn Express was the U.S.-Mexico border. The latest Mexican food trends get a trial run in Chuco before spreading across America.

On this visit, we went to the newish Sabertooth Food Co. Its large patio, weekly open mic, and refurbished diner was living, breathing, delicious gentefication: young Mexican Americans returning from college or big city jobs to open businesses that appeal to their generation. Judge Paco introduced me to Cassandra, one of the co-owners and the head chef. Her culinary skill was best encapsulated by the Border Treats: jicama & cucumber spears inside a Mason jar filled with chile-spiked lime juice. It’s a hipster approximation of the classic Mexican fruit salad, but the spice and sourness and crispiness were all on point, just like what you get from a cart in Ciudad Juarez. Classy, yet still street.

Rolled tacos at Chico’s in El Paso

Next, I swung by Chico’s Tacos to get a taste of old-school El Paso. The chain has ruled the city for more than 60 years with the simplest of dishes: rolled tacos — what the rest of America calls taquitos — in a cardboard boat, drowned in mild tomato salsa and topped with blizzards of shredded yellow cheese. Chico’s at midnight was packed with young people and immigrants, drunks and working stiffs, cops and women getting ready to club. The jukebox skipped from from Ramón Ayala’s solo work to Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” to No Doubt to hometown heroes Mars Volta — and no one ever flinched. English, Spanish, Spanglish — it all flowed naturally, beautifully. Here is my Mexican America, and the rest of the country can learn from El Paso’s approach to us — yeah, we’re a bunch of Mexicans, but we’re still more American than gabachos will ever give us credit for. Taquitos at 1 a.m. while Gwen howls “Don’t Speak”? More patriotic than the Federalist Papers.


Day Two

The last time I did the full Mexican Mother Road was 1987, when I was 8. I recall leaving Anaheim at 6 a.m. and crossing into Juarez around midnight. Somewhere in Arizona, I vomited into a plastic bag, and was stuck with it until we got to a Citgo in New Mexico.

It was cushier this time around in my Hyundai Elantra, and I needed the comfort, because today would be brutal — 16 hours of driving and 11 restaurants. I arrived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in time for a 9:30 breakfast at Los Mariachis with Frank Holguin, a fan turned friend. All the New Mexican classics were on the menu — stuffed sopaipillas, stacked enchiladas, bowls of green and red chile — but the menu’s cover had gorditas on it. More gorditas! They were amazing: redolent of fresh masa and covered with cheese. And the table salsa, which in California I associate with a big Sysco tub that the chef keeps in the back, was actually house-made, with fat strips of hot Hatch chiles.

Cruces food represents the city: the cultural border between Tex-Mex, New Mex and Tex-Tex. The fusion can be mind-boggling. Frank had his menudo with French rolls, something I’ve only seen in the Cruces-El Paso metro area. At Saenz Gorditas, housed in a drive-up stand reminiscent of American Graffiti, they serve brisket burritos — long strips of barbecue cuddled into a thick, puffy flour tortilla. On the menu at Benji’s in nearby Deming is a chicken-fried steak smothered in red and green chile, Christmas-style. A crunchy, buttery, and spicy masterpiece, it’s pure border food, the chicken-fried steak from Texas, the Christmas salsas from New Mexico, the chiles from mother Mexico.

The boundary-blurring of Benji’s menu didn’t fully extend to the dining room, where older white farmers in dusty long-sleeve Wrangler shirts sat away from the working-class Chicanos in dirty jeans and faded T-shirts. Earlier, driving along New Mexico’s straight, flat stretch of Interstate 10, I had to sweat a border checkpoint — and I thought immediately of my father. He first came to this country in the trunk of a Chevy at 18 and still retells the stories of his many deportations and encounters with la migra with so much joy that he could star in a border version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I despise ICE, and flipped them off in my mind when agents lazily waved me on.

Back on the Madre Road. The blindingly blue skies of New Mexico gave way to the cliffs and mountains of Arizona. In Tucson, my culinary guide was Maribel Alvarez, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona and public folklorist for the Southwest Center in the school’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The profe is most famous for her studies of the Sleeping Mexican, that curio of the American Southwest that many people find racist, but which Alvarez has reclaimed as a symbol of cultural pride.

Alvarez also knows how to eat. She introduced me to Poblano Hot Sauce, and tells me where to find the best sobaqueras (flour tortillas the size of your arm) whenever I’m in town. “I want to take you on a trip back through Tucson time,” she said with a wink as we left her office near U of A’s Frat Row.

We started at BOCA Tacos y Tequila, a modern taquería within walking distance of the university. The tacos were good, if not spectacular — think honey mustard marinated tofu, and fried eggs on ribeye. This represented what food writers are calling alta cocina — high-end Mexican food, dishes that satisfy the Cordon Bleu graduate and the abuelita alike.

Next, on to Tacos Apson, which even on a late Saturday afternoon had a line out the door. The restaurant, whose walls are lined with photos of Mexican music icons, is owned by a member of Los Apson, a legendary ’60s rock en español group that wore the border proudly: “Apson” is an acronym of their hometown of Agua Prieta, Sonora. The restaurant is probably the best asadero (Sonora-style taquería) in the country. The key, and the restaurant’s centerpiece, is their two grills: The larger one, which sat over burning mesquite, held beef cuts meant to get blackened; another smaller, hand-cranked grill featured meat meant for medium-rare, smoky bliss.

After downing chicharrones de camarón and chiles toreados (massive, fiery chile güeritos stuffed with ground shrimp) at El Merendero, a large dining hall with aqua-blue booths out of a Miami hotspot circa 1983, we really went retro at Lerua’s, one of the oldest continually running Mexican restaurants in the United States. They’ve been open since 1922 and their menu looks like a classroom copy of the Declaration of Independence, large and filled with tiny text. But I wanted only one thing: a Sonoran enchilada. This fast-disappearing dish that doesn’t have much in common with other enchiladas — it’s just a disk of masa, an unstuffed gordita, smothered in enchilada sauce and cheese — but it was surely something my maternal grandmother, who spent a couple of years here as a little girl during World War I, would have eaten back then.

None of my cousins have any memories of those I-10 drives, because they were just one fast blur for us. Our parents made sure we never stopped to explore, because they wanted to get to Mexico as fast as possible, to stretch out their precious days off. So they packed us burritos and tortas for the long trips.

As an adult, I get paid to travel, so I’ve slowly learned about the I-10 towns over the years. My cousins (and foodies, for that matter) will most likely mock the “Mexican” food along the way. The abandoned Old El Paso factory in Anthony, Texas, where for decades the company sent out taco kits and canned tamales to housewives. The cuisine at La Posta in Mesilla, New Mexico, where guests have eaten Mexican food going back to the days of the Butterfield Overland Mail. That’s fine. The 10 defines Mexican America: We have an interconnected past, present, and future that no skeptic can ever take away.


Day Three

After a late night stop at an outpost of Phoenix chain Macayo’s for a cheese crisp (a giant flour tortilla baked with cheddar cheese) and a watered-down margarita, I woke up planning to hit at least three restaurants before heading back to California. But after leaving my hotel at 9 a.m., I discovered that nearly all restaurants in the Valley of the Sun open Sundays at 11 a.m. — huh?

“It’s because everyone is at church in the morning,” my associate editor, a Phoenix native, would explain to me after my return to the office.

Instead, I zoomed to Filiberto’s, a fast-food chain with its own I-10 story. San Diego has a genre of Mexican fast-food shops nicknamed the -berto’s: While not technically a chain, they are almost all the same, down to the yellow-and-red color scheme and menus serving taco plates and french fries-stuffed burritos and aguas frescas in cups the size of tureens. All also have the suffix -berto’s in their name. Patient Zero was a taco shop called Roberto’s, opened in 1964, which spawned a legion of family spin-offs and straight up copycats, a sort of restaurant game of telephone. The Tenorio family brought the -berto’s meme to the Phoenix area in 1993 with the opening of Filiberto’s. They now operate 50 across Arizona and the Southwest, and have inspired others to open their own -berto’s.

Filiberto’s machaca burrito, spiced with my poblano sauce, busied me for the hour that I waited outside Casa Reynoso, a classic Arizona-Mexican eatery hidden in the corner of a Tempe shopping plaza. By the time the restaurant opened at 11, at least 30 people waited behind me, eager for a taste of another regional Mexican cuisine: Globe food. A tradition traceable back to four sisters who opened restaurants in the mining town of Globe, Arizona, in the mid-20th century, the most famous dish is hard-shell tacos with melted cheese on the outside, a tradition that extends from Arizona through the Four Corners region all the way to Denver. Casa Reynoso’s chile verde burrito arrived smeared with butter — awesome.

Fueled by a Del Taco bean-and-cheese burrito in Blythe — my favorite fast food order, period — I blasted through the Colorado Desert to Cathedral City in the Coachella Valley. For most, “Coachella” conjures visions of the pricey, Instagram-ready music festival, but the reality is that the area’s heavily Mexican. Many undocumented workers toil in the region’s citrus orchards, date groves, and vegetable fields, and I wanted to see what they were eating on their days off.

I met up with Jimmy Boegle, a pal who edits the Coachella Valley Independent and has his own I-10 story: he used to edit the Tucson Weekly before heading west. He took me to La Michoacana Ice Cream Parlor, a sparkling monument to paletas, fruit salads, and tostilocos that brought in all of the Valley’s residents: retirees, young gays, and Mexicans. So many Mexicans! The families slurping on paletas and scooping through their nieve brought back memories of my childhood, when my parents would take us to the newest Mexican restaurant to pop up in town. The kids spoke English; the parents, Spanish. They were us 30 years ago: poor, but optimistic and setting down permanent roots that no politicians could ever remove.

Traffic is what most folks associate with the 10 in Southern California, and I got to experience it anew as I pushed through Palm Springs and into the rest of Riverside County. Since I was on a historical expedition, I decided to pay my respects to Mitla Cafe.

This isn’t just the oldest Mexican restaurant in the Inland Empire; it’s also where Glenn Bell of Taco Bell infamy got the idea to get rich off Mexican food. These days, Mitla Cafe mostly attracts third- and fourth-generation Chicanos who grew up in San Bernardino. But the latest generation of owners know that they have to evolve to ensure a future. They reopened a long-shut banquet hall and keep a vibrant Instagram page. And those beef tacos Bell stole? Recipe unchanged since 1937: tortillas fried to a golden crisp, with a rainbow of green lettuce, red onion, and a stream of yellow cheese. Authentistas can hate on hard-shell tacos all they want, but Mitla’s tacos could convert even Diana Kennedy.

To end the night: La Paloma in La Verne, open since 1966 — and my first dud of the trip. Chile relleno baked in goop and tasteless enchilada sauce landed like an adobe brick in my stomach. And a horrible table salsa. My grand revelation from the trip wasn’t personal or professional but this: from El Paso to Arizona, nearly every old-school Mexican restaurant has an impressive gringo salsa, the stuff owners send out to all eaters because they assume customers don’t want the hot stuff. The gringo salsas I tasted on the trip everywhere outside of California were uniformly delicious, worthy of a carne asada Sunday. In Southern California, though, we’re so used to bland, boring stuff that we don’t know what a proper one tastes like. Pinche desgracia.


Day Four

As the 10 led me back to Los Angeles at morning rush hour, I got off in Boyle Heights, the gateway where so many Mexicans landed before spreading across Southern California. The bean-and-cheese at Al and Bea’s restored whatever faith in California Mexican I’d lost the night before. Essentially refried bean soup in a tortilla that miraculously never leaks, it is the best B&C in America — and more Americans should worship it the way they do the overstuffed Mission burrito.

Then I rushed to Guisados a couple of blocks away. It’s one of LA’s most celebrated taquerías for its gente-fied tacos: their tacos de guisado (stews) are unfamiliar to Southern Californians, and hence trendy. But in reality, they bring things all the way back to El Paso, where guisos are as ubiquitous as In-n-Outs are in the Southland.

Tacos at Guisados in Los Angeles

I always find it funny how Americans assume all Mexican Americans are the same, when we can’t even be bothered to learn about each other. Most Angelenos, for instance, don’t know that the bacon-wrapped hot dogs many of us call Tijuana dogs were actually first made popular in Tucson thanks to the El Güero Canelo chain. I had no idea until this trip that gorditas were a thing from Southern Arizona all the way to El Paso. Really, the only thing that unites us is the Mexican Mother Road, our umbilical cord back home — and food nourishes every step of the way for those who bother to stop.

Not enough of us do. I do. I had driven over 1,500 miles, eaten at 20 restaurants, my stomach had long sunk into my spleen — and there was still so much more to consume. I needed to visit Cielito Lindo, whose taquitos became the first famous tacos in el Norte back in the 1930s after the Los Angeles Times continually raved about them, and where I took Anthony Bourdain on his Latino Los Angeles episode of Parts Unknown so he could #respect the legend. I yearned for mucho drinks at Guelaguetza, which introduced Oaxacan food in the United States during the 1990s under Fernando Lopez, and is now teaching gabachos about mezcal and micheladas gracias to Fernando’s children, Bricia and Fernando Jr.

I at least wanted to stop at King Taco, which started as the first full-fledged taco truck in the United States. The chain was always my dad’s reward for us on the trip back home, after we dropped off family members in East Los Angeles. Even to this day, my siblings and parents will go, separately or together, even though there are better taquerías in Orange County — that’s the power of nostalgia.

But I never accompany them, because I’m simply too busy. Today, my radio gig beckoned, so I had to skip King Taco yet again and went to the 10’s terminus: Santa Monica, a wealthy beach town with few Mexicans but Tacos Puntas Cabras, named after a famous surf break in Baja California. They serve Baja California seafood and represent another Mexican migration corridor: Interstate 5. Always moving toward a better future is the Mexican way, and I’m glad to report they’re opening in a bigger spot just down the street from where I concluded my trip.

As I snacked on luscious scallop tostada and perfectly fried shrimp tacos, I marveled at my family’s journey. Fifty years ago, my uncles risked their lives for the unknown as young men, in a country that called them “wetbacks” and dismissed them as little more than peons. Today, all their children — all my generation, really — are benefactors of their courage, fully American yet proud of our Mexican heritage and food. Interstate 10 is a pilgrimage that all Mexican Americans should take at least once as adults — our own Camino de Santiago.

And if you have a chance, take your dad’s old truck.

Gustavo note: I visited all of the below spots for my trip, but not all of them made it into the story because my editor didn’t feel they added anything. What do editors know?

Carl’s Jr.: 1451 W. Main St, Quartzsite, AZ, (928) 927-5177, carlsjr.com

Poblano Hot Sauce: 3250 S. Dodge Blvd., # 2, Tucson, AZ, (520) 519-1330

Los Portales: 2615 S. 6th Ave. Tucson, AZ, (520) 889-1170, losportalestucson.com

Ramona’s Cafe: 904 E. Motel Dr., Lordsburg, NM, (575) 542-3030

La Posta de Mesilla: 2410 Calle De San Albino, Mesilla, NM, (575) 524-3524, laposta-de-mesilla.com

Sabertooth: 4012 N. Mesa St., El Paso, TX, (915) 533-8024

Federal Correctional Institution, La Tuna: 8500 Doniphan Rd., Anthony, TX, (915) 791-9000

Los Mariachis: 754 N. Motel Blvd., Las Cruces, NM, (575) 523-7058, losmariachislc.com

Saenz Gorditas: 1700 N. Solano Dr., Las Cruces, NM, (575) 527-4212

Blake’s Lotaburger: 600 N. Gold Ave., Deming, NM, (575) 544-7302, lotaburger.com

Benji’s: 821 W. Pine St., Deming, NM, (575) 546-5309

Magaly’s Mexican Restaurant: 675 W. 4th St., Benson, AZ, (520) 720-6530

BOCA Tacos y Tequila: 828 E. Speedway Blvd., Tucson, AZ, (520) 777-8134, bocatacos.com

Tacos Apson: 3501 S. 12th Ave., Tucson, AZ, (520) 670-1248

El Merendero: 5443 S. 12th Ave., Tucson, AZ, (520) 294-1522

Ta’ Raspado: 5012 S. 12th Ave., Tucson, AZ, (520) 349-3712

Lerua’s Fine Mexican Food: 2005 E. Broadway Blvd., Tucson, AZ, (520) 624-0322, leruasfinemexicanfoods.com

El Güero Canelo: 2480 N. Oracle Rd., Tucson, AZ, (520) 882-8977, elguerocanelo.com

Barrio Cafe: 2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix, AZ, (602) 636-0240, barriocafe.com

Comedor Guadalajara: 1830 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ, (602) 253-8299, comedorguadalajara.com

Filiberto’s: 2001 S 7th Ave, Phoenix, AZ, (602) 340-9599, filibertos.com

Casa Reynoso: 3138 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, AZ, (480) 966-0776, casareynoso.com

Del Taco: 120 S. Lovekin Blvd., Blythe, CA, (760) 922-5335, deltaco.com

Villa Bakery: 67470 Ramon Rd., Cathedral City, CA, (760) 322-5701

La Michoacana Ice Cream Parlor: 27765 Landau Blvd., #106, Cathedral City, CA, (760) 507-8477

Taco Tia: 1004 Orange St., Redlands, CA, (909) 798-5787

Mitla Cafe: 602 N. Mount Vernon Ave., San Bernardino, CA, (909) 888-0460, mitlacafesb.com

La Paloma Mexican Restaurant: 2975 E. Foothill Blvd., La Verne, CA, (909) 593-7209, lapalomamexicanrestaurant.com

Al and Bea’s Mexican Food: 2025 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA, (323) 267-8810

Cielito Lindo: 23 Olvera St., Los Angeles, CA (213) 687-4391, cielitolindo.org

Guelaguetza: 3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, (213) 427-0608, ilovemole.com

Tacos Punta Cabras: Recently shuttered, and will reportedly reopen at 10th and Broadway in Santa Monica, CA

Gustavo Arellano is editor of OC Weekly, author of the syndicated column ¡Ask a Mexican! and the book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.
Header art by Melissa Deckert and Nicole Licht
All other photos by Gustavo Arellano
Art direction by Nicole Licht
Copy edited by Jaime Green

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