Sonny and Cher, baseball and hotdogs, snow and skis, car wash and tacos. Come again? Car wash and tacos? It makes sense, well….maybe not, but this combo does exist in Zapopan, Mexico, one of the huge municipalities making up the urban area surrounding Guadalajara. Tlaquepaque, another municipality, has nothing to do with the story; but I just like the sound of Tlaquepaque and wanted to say it a couple of times.
Because of a business trip I was in Guadalajara. My last night there I went out with some co-workers and had some really tasty tacos, I mean really good, authentic tacos. The tacos were so good that they expose Taco Bell for what it really is: an obscene, profaning , non-convincing counterfeit of the real thing. Taco Bell is to tacos what Picasso is to women. While looking at a Picasso you have to intentionally override logic, common sense and what your eyes tell you and willfully deceive yourself into believing that what you are observing is an eye, a leg, or an unmentionable female body part, and not a starfish dining on a loaf of bread. You then put it all together in your mind and convince yourself that what you are looking at is indeed a woman and that the painting is worth $50 million. The emperor is truly and totally buck naked. In a similar fashion, if you are willing to override common sense, logic and what your senses tell you, it is possible to deceive yourself into thinking that Taco Bell is authentic Mexican fare. Seriously, I enjoy the food at Taco Bell, I really do; and I would gladly do a TV commercial for a Burrito Supreme; but I would like clarification as to the ethnic roots of Taco Bell’s products since there exists no observable link to Mexico. Is it Uruguayan? Congolese? Klingon?
The car wash part of this particular business fills the daylight hours from nine to five when the restaurant is a car wash. It’s not the kind with the billion strips of felt lapping at your car like a hungry kitten after milk in a saucer, but the kind where young men hose down the car reminiscent of the dancing gas station boys in Zoolander, and then hand wash it with soapy rags. At around 5:01 PM, from somewhere, in some sort of reality TV home makeover, industrial grills, fridges, serving counters, tables and chairs spontaneously appear onto the still drying car wash floor, transforming the car wash from Autolavado Mayo into Famoso Mario’s taco restaurant. Minutes later the first customers show up. I don’t know if the car washers mutate into restaurant staff at the speed of punctuated equilibrium, where they instantly and seamlessly morph from one career choice into the next, or if there is a more gradual evolution with a time of ambiguity and role inspecificity: “Hola Señor. Do you want hot sauce and guacamole with your car wash this afternoon? Or “Meester, how about some Armor All with your taco tonight? Sí? ”
The restaurant is located on a busy city street corner. It has no walls. A pleasant ambiance is provided by the large city buses and trucks which rumble by, causing the plastic chairs to vibrate you in full body massage mode. Unlike the expensive three minute massages in vibrating chairs at international airports, these bus massages are free. An additional side benefit is the periodic injection of carbon monoxide straight from the bus’s tail pipe into your face, giving you that languid, relaxed, sleepy, (“like dude, the world is kind of like OK dude”) feeling as the carbon monoxide molecules bind with your hemoglobin, making oxygen transfer to your cells a sporadic occurrence. As hypoxia sets in, the deepening blue hue of your skin begins to attract Avatar fans who start hitting on you.
The menu at the taco restaurant was an exhaustive compendium of bovine physiology. They serve cow and bull parts I did not even know existed. Tongue, brain, cheek, eye, palate, cartilage, tripe (including “golden tripe”) udder, snout, and the parts we will simply label as gender specific, are all listed and served. All in all, the menu looks more like a plagiarized Gary Larson cartoon than the offered fare of an established eatery. Rumor has it that the University of Texas is considering giving three hours of college credit in veterinary science to anyone who eats his or her way through the entire menu at Famoso Mario’s.
I ate the meal with four other friends. My chair was near the end of the food preparation area, right next to the chopper. The chopper, who doubles as the restaurant bouncer, is the big, burly, sweaty guy with a large meat cleaver who places the meat on a solid wheel of wood, a six-inch- thick cross section of a tree, and then whacks the meat into small pieces. His hands fly faster than the wings of a hovering bumblebee or an Obama insect drone. His hands seem to go into reverse slow motion as the frequency of his chops accelerates to match that of the ambiance-enhancing fluorescent light tubes suspended by greasy chains from the rusty tin roof overhead. During brief pauses in his work, I happily confirmed that he still had ten fingers and no fresh, fluid-oozing injuries. Because of my proximity to the chopping block and the chopper’s ADD-sans-Ritalin style of chopping, I was continuously moistened by a warm meat juice mist wafting my way as if from an atomizer at Nordstrom’s perfume counter. I felt the tiny droplets of eau de la viande baptizing me throughout the entirety of this culinary adventure . I was almost afraid to walk home after the meal because of the roaming packs of semi-feral street dogs* seeking sustenance in the urban jungle and me smelling like a freshly opened bag of Purina dog chow. Thankfully I arrived home intact and untasted.
If you are ever in Guadalajara, a must stop is a taco fest at Famoso Mario’s. Don’t arrive early unless your car is dirty. I highly recommend the experience; and the tacos, at least the ones I had, were really really good.
*Compelled by honesty I must admit that I saw no roving packs of semi-feral street dogs. However, in my defense, I must say that simple logic, and decades of experience in many other large South American cities, would make the existence of these roaming wolf pack wannabees likely.