How do you decide which new Mexican restaurants to try? Location? Price? Inability to communicate?
A few months ago, I started bugging loocal photographer–no, no–amazing local photographer, Sophorn Kuoy, on Twitter, with my usual Twitter buggery, asking if she actually liked the new Mexican place she’d photographed. She said it was rad.
I thought it was the worst Mexican food I’d ever had.
She recommended I try a certain dish. We went back, per her recommendation. I didn’t try the dish she suggested, naturally, but still. Not impressed. Probably my fault.
Sometime in the middle of all of this, despite the fact that I revealed myself early on as obnoxiously picky, she mentioned featuring me as a part of her local lunch series, in which she goes out for a bite with a local blogger or person of interest, interviews them, takes photos, etc. I knew immediately where I’d suggest we meet:
Camino el Michoacan. Actually authentic Mexican food in Memphis.
I’m still not sure if I’m pronouncing it right, which is exactly how I decide which new Mexican restaurant to try. If I can’t properly communicate, that means the joint is probably run by actual Mexicans, which means the grub is more likely to be good, authentic Mexican food, not the cheese-smothered TexMex we find at most Mexican restaurants with names like “Las Margaritas”. There’s no guarantee, of course, but you’re at least on the right path.
A few months ago, where I used to work, we scheduled a lunch interview at this campy-in-a-good-way Japanese place that hasn’t redecorated since the 60s (-in-a-bad-way). Upon arrival, we realized that, oh, sorry guys, not open for lunch, and to make up for my flub, I viciously searched Urbanspoon for a great replacement spot.
“Camino el Michoacan. 100% liked this. Huh? That doesn’t make sense. I know every Mexican restaurant in town. Every Mexican restaurant in—wait. It’s two blocks over. They have a bakery? Holy..”
And with that, we were off to discover my new favorite taqueria. Ever.
The first thing you notice at Taqueria Camino el Michoacan in Memphis is the entire wall devoted to panaderia goods, ranging from squares of dense bread pudding to spheres stuffed with strawberry jam and covered in what I think they call “cream sugar” to rollitos de guayaba (I don’t know what it means, either), not to mention the Mexican elephant ears, jalapeño empanadas, and cookies in the shape of pigs [obviously].
Well, that might be the first thing you notice.
The first thing I personally noticed was the array of quinceañera decor, hanging from the walls, stuffed in the corners, in the windows of the shop. When I was thirteen, I deeply resented my parents for not being Jewish, so I could have a bat mitzvah. The first time I walked into Camino, I deeply resented not being fifteen and Mexican. I’ve tried every which way to justify a massive catering order for some theme party I throw, but so far, I’ve had no luck.
The best thing that they noticed about us, Sophorn and me, when we walked in, however, were our big cameras with wide lenses and notebooks. I realized quickly that we must have looked like the health department or something equally terrifying, but we introduced ourselves and asked for a look around the kitchen. Definitely the coolest part about eating with Sophorn.
The kitchen is definitely a combination of bakery and restaurant, but most of the work going on had to do with baking and frying fresh treats.
I was particularly struck by this one guy, working tirelessly on perfectly and equally round spheres of dough, spreading them out so evenly on a pristine, folded garbage bag (Still blows my mind), returning to them to squish them down into equal thicknesses with the back of a cake pan.
“Gorditas,” the friendly manager told us. They taste even more delicious than they look or sound, since they fry them in between this stage and your plate, and when is that ever bad [for your tastebuds]?
When you sit at the traditional taqueria tables, they bring you a basket of thick chips, just like what you find in much of Mexico (as we now know, post-Playa del Carmen vacation), and a trio of salsas–a mild traditional tomato salsa, a rich and complex salsa de chipotle, and a fiery-hot salsa verde that I love so much but seriously just can’t eat for more than a couple minutes without crying. The traditional tomato salsa isn’t my favorite, but I’m a huge salsa snob and turn my nose up at anything that couldn’t also likely be described as “salsa de cilantro”. Yet the salsa verde is a delicious blend of flavors, tangy and fresh–the perfect balance of tomatillos, onions, peppers.
I take that back. If only they would make it just slighly less hot for me…
Having been on an uncharacteristic taco salad kick as of late, I couldn’t help but order the chorizo taco salad, which might just have been the best taco salad I’d ever had. Thick layers of refried beans, freshly grilled chorizo, shredded lettuce, fresh guacamole, freshly shredded Monterey Jack cheese, topped with pico de gallo, and a dollop of Mexican crema. Possibly the best part? The thick, freshly fried taco shell, none of which you can leave uneaten. It’s simply not possible.
Naturally, I had to order Sophorn something to expose how weird my eating habits are, so I requested a side order of fries with guacamole. She didn’t quite believe that you’re supposed to eat them together, but you are. Let me tell you. You really are.
For some reason, months ago, O ordered a side of the fries with his torta, and we fell in love. We couldn’t decide if it were due to the frying in clean oil, frying at the right temperature, or frying near all of the sugary goods, but they were simply the best medium-cut unbattered fries we’d ever had.
I sneer at ketchup, so guacamole seemed like a good substitute, and, oh. Let me tell you. It really was.
If you never have, order a side of fries with guacamole when you get your next torta or Cuban sandwich. You’ll thank me.
Taqueria Camino el Michoacan is definitely our favorite Mexican joint in town, even though we have to use a lot of hand signals when trying to communicate. But what does that mean? In the back, they’re cooking the food from the country where home is, and I’m OK with that.
Eat local. Support the entrepreneurs in your city.
Taqueria Camino el Michoacan is located at 3896 Macon Road, Memphis TN 38122. They’re open everyday from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. We recommend the tacos al pastor, gorditas de chorizo, the chicken torta, the guacamole (with fries, or the other way around), the bread pudding, and the baseball-sized pastry balls stuffed with jam and covered in sugar. Go there.