Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America
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Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  317 ratings  ·  76 reviews
Nationally syndicated columnist and bestselling author of ¡Ask a Mexican! Gustavo Arellano presents an entertaining, tasty trip through the history and culture of Mexican food in this country, uncovering great stories and charting the cuisine’s tremendous popularity in el Norte. In the tradition of Bill Buford’s Heat and Calvin Trillin’s...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published April 10th 2012 by Scribner
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Delicious... makes the mouth water. My favorite section was the four pages of San Diego style Mexican food in the burrito chapter, including the history of the "-bertos". Wish I could get a California Burrito out here!
Lisa Church sielen
Really interesting about the origin of Mexican food in the US. I can now argue about what is "authentic" Mexican food.
What an incredibly disappointing book.

If you know me, you know that I love Mexican food of all kinds. Whether it is cheap burritos in west Texas, high end alta cocina, regional dishes found in small Mexican villages, or moles that I make in my own kitchen, I love Mexican food. I have been known to plan vacations around Mexican cooking, including several cooking classes that my wife and I have taken. I am also very interested in food writing and the cultural history of food. So needless to say, I...more
The U.S has been invaded! Oh and what a wonderful invasion it has been. I have a deep love for all food Mexican. I even married a beautiful young Mexican lady. And the green chili her Mama used to make was so wonderful. Now that tradition, along with many other wonderful recipes, have been passed to my wife. This book tells the story of how so many of these great foods crossed the border and created there very own regional favorites such as Tex-Mex and the Southwestern rage. So grab this book an...more
Karen Bales
This account of how Mexican food has made it's way into American cuisine is funny and informative. I admit to being one of the vanquished!
Taco USA is a must read and worth the money you would have spent on dinner at your favorite Mexican restaurant or a couple of meals from your favorite taco truck. I read slowly, wanting to savor — sorry for the pun — the descriptions of a lot of new-to-me takes on Mexican food outside of Southern California. I was also disgusted by some of the many culinary crimes committed in the name of making Mexican food palatable to white Americans’ taste (see: canned tortillas… guácala!).

Back to the book,...more
Caroline Mathews
Taco USA is the second book that I've read this month about Mexican food in America. When I began, I was already a devotee of pure Mexican vanilla and the fair trade coffee of Oaxaca. Now, I've found a USDA certified organic chocolate bar!

Gustavo Arellano's book has gone a long way in answering my questions about the history of Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex, why the traditional recipes changed over time, the nutritiousness of the cuisine, and how the introduction of canning, the invention of machinery, a...more
Though it can get a bit long at times (the chapter on restaurant history really felt like a long haul), the book overall is very good. Arellano is covering a lot of ground, but that is because Mexican food in the U.S. has taken so many forms, it has been transformed so many times, it has been adapted so often that it takes a lot of effort and research to track it all down. Track it all down the author has. From the early restaurants to food in the grocery stores with side trips about tequila and...more
Margaret Sankey
One more reason to miss the chance to do the food class--the history of Mexican food in America. Arellano begins with the Columbian Exchange (beef! chiles! corn! chocolate! pigs!), the goes on to a whole variety of manifestations: tortillas in space (NASA loves crumbless carbs), tamales as street food, "Spanish" recipes in womens' club cookbooks, sit-down restaurants with waitresses in peasant blouses, Midwesterners de-spice tacos and franchise Taco Bell/Taco Time/Del Taco, gourmets discover "au...more
This book doesn't get to the spicy cumin (like how the manufacturer of Fritos stole his Frito-making machine's design from a Mexican immigrant, and then patented it under his own name) until the second half. And that's why you should stick with it through the treacherous first half, which explores the more cumbersome and elusive history of Mexican entrees like tacos, tamales, and chili: subjects that become bogged down with anecdotes and facts because of their unavoidably murky origins.

Above al...more
Brittany Batong
Gustavo Arellano pens an engaging folk-history of the origins of so many of my favorite foods, as well as some regional dishes with which I was less familiar. What I love the most about this book, however, is how it challenges that pretentious "Oh, but is AUTHENTIC?" attitude, and makes an intelligent case for the fact that ALL Mexican food--be it from Mexico City, or some obscure village near Oaxaca, or a modest restaurant in San Francisco, or a food truck in Los Angeles--is authentic in that i...more
Tamale-men and cacao nibs and a tribe that once had the exclusive market on vanilla. I skimmed this and skipped around in the chapters. The book was making me too hungry to really care about a lot of its urban history details. But I like the author's writing style and plan to check in more often on his blog, Ask a Mexican, where he gets more political.

Meanwhile, two things resonated with me.

First is that the food scene in Los Angeles is so much better than the city gets credit for.

Second is th...more
Brad Eastman
First, I love Mexican food, whether it isTex-Mex, Cal-Mex, Mex-Mex or fusion, I love it. However, I had trouble sustaining my interest in the history of Mexican food over 300 pages. Mr. Arellano develops an interesting theme of how Mexican food has been adopted/expropriated/amalgamated (depending on your point of view) by Anglo American culture over and over since the late nineteenth century. He chronicles the rise of tamales, chili con Carne, tortillas, tequila, etc. Mr. Arellano writes in an e...more
Shawn Thrasher
I saw Gustavo Arellano speak at the Upland, California public library a few weeks ago, and was so enchanted that I put his book to the top of my list. Mexican food has indeed conquered America, and Arellano has conquered writing about it in this witty, information packed book. Almost everything you never even knew you wanted to know about all things Mexican food - from tortillas to Pace Picante Sauce ("get a rope") to Fritos Doritos Cheetos and Tostitos. The purist might argue that last point, t...more
Cynthia  Scott
I grouped this with cook books because it is so much about food, but it really is cultural history just as much. Being a southern Californian, "Mexican food" has been a normal ethnic option all my life. I was astounded to learn the history of the specific menu items that American's accept now as common authentic "Mexican" that really evolved in places like
Chicago and San Francisco.

I enjoyed this book so much from the library that I read it through once, a second time for certain passages, and...more
It would be wiser to review this after reading Jeffrey Pilcher's Planet Taco, which is published in September. Pilcher wrote an excellent piece about the origins of the Taco in Gastronomica a few years ago. If the book is like the article, it will provide a more rigorous history than Arellano. That said, Pilcher's book won't likely match the unpretentious and unabashedly upbeat Taco U.S.A., which reads like a simultaneous love letter to Mexican culture and American spirit. Arellano has his axes...more
Got it for a birthday present friend almost a year ago, and finally read it. Interesting read, it felt a little scattered at times, but there was some interesting stuff involved (I particularly got a kick out of the history of Taco Bell).
"Taco USA" tracks the tremendous popularity of Mexican cuisine and its spin-offs, including Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, and West-Mex, which feature a bastardized version of Tater Tots. Author Gustavo Arellano (who writes the syndicated weekly column ��Ask a Mexican!) offers a lively and entertaining gastronomical and historical tour, equal parts research, reportage, and riffs. While it certainly whets the reader���s appetite, Taco USA also aims at history buffs, and anyone intrigued by the paradoxical, pa...more
Everyone loves Mexican food. Yeah, yeah, that's the point of the book. It's why I find myself, a non-Mexican, eating something Mexican related at least 4 times a week since as far back as I can remember. I didn't realize how Pavlovian my response to just hearing about Mexican food was until reading Taco USA. I've always gotten a craving when Mexican music plays for too long, but I found my mouth watering the entire time I read and an almost unbearable craving for Mexican eats upon finishing chap...more
This is a much stronger effort than "Orange County." Sr. Arellano has an excellent, cohesive narrative regarding the rise and subsequent americanization of Mexican food. Is it sometimes a little biased? But of course, but I appreciate his attempts at showing how the bastardization of Mexican food is actually more Mexican than one would believe. I do disagree with his 5 best Mexican meals in America, but the point is to disagree, Sr. Arellano states as much in that chapter. Otherwise, I was fasci...more
Wish I had liked the book as much as I like Mexican food!!! Some interesting stories, a nice little history of Mexican food in the USA.
Justin Johnson
Filled with many interesting histories of the many types of Mexican cuisines in the United States. The book focuses on Southern California varieties, but that makes sense as Arellano is from there. The near exclusion of Tex-Mex was annoying to me; when it was briefly discussed, it was with a clear distaste.
At one point I nearly out the book down, when Arellano launches a seemingly unwarranted tirade aimed at Rick Bayless. I found the passage completely unprofessional and really put a bad taste i...more
The history of the conquering of the United States by Mexican food. The author covers everything from early taco stands to chili to fast food to fine dining to cookbooks. Not necessarily a gripping read, but fascinating nevertheless.
Dave White
Another book that really reads like a series of magazine articles instead of a single coherent narrative. This one holds up better than Banana because Gustavo Arellano is an engaging writer and structures the book so that each chapter explores a single, coherent idea. Early chapters provide a glimpse into a world where grizzled 1890s street vendors were ready to knife each other to protect their tamale patches but don't explore it in any depth. Later chapters about the history of Taco Bell and t...more
Tom Leininger
Do you like trying new tacos? I do, and I enjoyed this book.
I liked it, but I wanted to LOVE it. And I didn't quite love it. I liked learning the origins of the dishes and the people behind them. But I felt an overwhelming urge to copy edit the entire time I read. I also felt the urge to rearrange the content and add my own tidbits of culinary bias. Overall good--I mean he sings the praises of Chubby's on 38th, so what's not to like--but not quite what I thought it should be. Or maybe I just wanted a shout out to the late Paul Sandoval, Denver's best kno...more
I enjoy listening to Gustavo Arellano's appearances on the Alt Latino music podcast and figured I'd take a chance on this book. His descriptions of food made me hungry, and his sense of humor and accessible writing style made the book eminently readable. While he touches on what makes specific foods Mexican (as in the chapter on chocolate and vanilla, or when he writes about peppers), I would have been interested in heard about what makes specific food staples specific to Latin American cultures...more
Lauren orso
Probably the most engaging food history I've read (AND YOU KNOW THAT'S MY THING!). Extremely digestible. No, but seriously, interesting and fun and you can never say both of those things about this kind of book.

Though, I was crushed to find out the Pace "GET A ROPE!" commercial wasn't on the air in NY until 1995, because then why is it such a huge part of my CHILDHOOD? By 1995, I had one foot in the grave and the other on a tamale peel. Tip your bartenders! I'll be here all week!
Christian Overbey
Great book. This is a humorous look at our modern world. The USA has discovered food beyond velveta, potatoes and bacon and this is an historical explanation of the diffusion of mexican food into our culture. It covers the gamut so there is plenty of talk about nachos and margaritas. Mr. Arellano is not a purist. He likes it all and one can jump to his five must try dishes. I tried one because of the book, partly because it's a Denver thing (mexican hamburger).
Guess what? Taco Bell tacos and other beloved Mexican dishes that are familiar to most Americans are not "real" Mexican food. Surprised? Gustavo Arelllano traces the history of the most well-known Mexican dishes and finds that most of them were invented by whites for other whites to eat. It hasn't been until recently that Mexican-American food has been looked upon favorably by Mexicans.
An interesting read though it lagged in some sections.
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Gustavo Arellano is the author of ¡Ask a Mexican!, a nationally syndicated weekly column published by Orange County's alternative weekly OC Weekly. It was first published in 2004 as a one-time spoof, but it ended up becoming one of the weekly's most popular columns.

Every week, readers would submit their questions based on Mexicans, including their customs, labor issues, and illegal immigration. Ar...more
More about Gustavo Arellano...
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“It was a mission of celebration: never had two Mexican-Americans flown up in space on the same mission, and never did burritos shine so brightly.” 1 likes
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