Tempe Treasure

A hidden home of southern Mexican fare reveals how to eat dried worms

You think you know Mexican food? Think again.

As diverse as its land and people, Mexico's food is an endless tapestry of variety. You could spend a lifetime in one state alone and never completely know its entire cuisine. Chimichangas and fajitas are cute names for dishes invented on this side of the border by corporate chefs for chain Mexican restaurants. Huaraches, tlacoyos and bambazos are dishes that are real and authentic to areas south of the border.

What, you thought huaraches was something you wore on your feet? Think again.

Yolanda Ortega is from Pachuca, Hidalgo, located just north of Mexico City. An excellent cook, she had the idea to open an authentic southern Mexican restaurant serving the items she so missed from home.

I first ate at her restaurant, El Tlacoyo, when it opened three years ago. The food was pure, unpretentious and authentic. More recently, the restaurant's decor has lost some of its tacky unique charm, proof of its popularity.

El Tlacoyo Restaurante Mexicano is on University Drive in Tempe, at Evergreen Street. It's located behind an Asian grocery store and not visible from the street. If you can find this hidden restaurant, you will find a selection of authentic delicacies from Mexico City (and surrounding states). For instance, during Mexico's rainy season, a small worm called chiniquil is harvested and sold dried and strung in groups of 100. Ortega has been known to bring back an ample supply from her trips to Mexico to make her chiniquil and chile de arbol green sauce. The flavor is earthy and unlike anything you have tasted.

Not everything is as obscure as the dried worms. Tlacoyos are made from a corn dough called masa, stuffed with refried pinto beans and cooked on a griddle, finished with a flavorful and fragrant green sauce of tomatillos, shredded lettuce, dry cheese and feather-light shredded chicken. You also can try the huarache, which is a larger version of the tlacoyo.

The menu is written in both English and Spanish, but the service is pure Spanish. So are the music, blaring TV and conversations around you.

My suggestion is to go on a weekend so you can try a flavorful broth called consume de birria (pit-cooked kid goat). It may have a light cap of grease, but work around it — it will be worth it.

Remember: In Mexico, not only do they wear their huaraches, they eat them as well.

Silvana Salcido Esparza is a local chef and restaurant owner.

 
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