Thursday, April 16, 2015

OC Register's Anti-Taco Critic, Brad Johnson Strikes Out Again

The best tacos come with comfy chairs and Kenny G

The problem with Mexican cuisine in the United States--outside of Los Angeles, and the OC Weekly--is an unprepared group of bloggers and writers--the national trend is towards Asian and Latin-American cuisine, and it's either get informed or come off sounding like a Brad Johnson, the food critic of the OC Register. In Los Angeles, even your basic blogger can put together a pretty damn good taco list--all the major publications, the LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times, Eater LA, and the publication I write for, Los Angeles Magazine, have credible taco coverage. Hell, even Zagat can crank out a solid taco list--take that Brad Johnson!

OC Register critic, Brad Johnson's ideal taco lounge

In the OC, editor and compa, Gustavo Arellano, and his band of crack food reporters are sharp shooters in all cuisines, and have doctorates in taco journalism. San Diego pubs are doing a good job, mostly. Out there in NYC, the fine dining critics are scrambling to hit the streets and taquerias, but are they're clueless and inexperienced when it comes to Mexican cuisine (just like Johnson), aside from table side guacamole--something that would be right up Brad Johnson's alley. Johnson has showed his lack of knowledge and respect for Mexican cuisine since day one. I remember the idiotic ideal he put out there when he first started at the Register, that he'd be judging Mexican restaurants by their chips and salsa? Estupidez!

As Gustavo Arellano pointed out in his OC Weekly post titled, What Kind of "Best Tacos" List Bans Food Trucks? Why, the OC Register's, of Course, Johnson set down a narrow criteria specifying that tacos on his list would only be from places where he could sit down. It's anti-taco culture, lazy and makes no sense. Taco culture and tradition has its strongest expressions at the street stands, fondas and carts in Mexico; in L.A. it's a combination of street stands and food trucks. If Johnson were here, Guerrilla Tacos wouldn't be on his list, even though the ingredients are plenty fancy enough for the OC's lead hotel restaurant critic. We enjoy sitting down, too, but the tacos should be exceptional for a taco quest for the best taco.

What's even more shoddy is Johnson's poorly researched treatment of each vendor, the odd categories he created for the list, and complete ignorance of Mexican cuisine. In the 80's, there were other cuisines for a good critic to know: French, Italian, and California's emerging cuisine. Times have changed, and if you can't vet the Googled sources you find, Mr. Johnson, you'd best get some help--try Zagat, and then go from there.

The taco categories of chicken, lengua (lengua is a category?), seafood and barbacoa de res aren't categories--there are no chicken tacos in Mexican cuisine (they are common in Mexican-American cuisine, but unremarkable), outside of Mexicali; tongue is served at tacos de fritanga vendors at their steam stations, and at steamed beef head specialists--barbacoa de res is a guisado. The carne asada on Johnson's list isn't cooked over mesquite and therefore isn't even carne asada. Seafood tacos at a carnitas joint--who does that? Real carnitas vendors should only do regional carnitas; they're not competent when it comes to seafood. And those al vapor tacos from La Especial aren't Mexico City style tacos de canasta; the fillings are different, there's no lettuce used in D.F., and they wouldn't be called tacos al vapor.

Not to mention, these taquerias aren't the best of what the OC has to offer and they're not likely the best tacos you can eat while sitting down in a hotel courtyard listening to Kenny G, either. Ultimately, it exposes a lack of conviction by Johnson, at least when it comes to Mexican cuisine, and  a failure to serve OC readers, not to mention the restaurants and people working hard to make great tacos, whether in a truck, a stand or taqueria.

But it's not their fault, the restaurants--that would be dilettante critic Brad Johnson, who takes tacos and Mexican cuisine about as serious Dick Cheney regards civil rights and international law. Stick to the papas francesas (try some salchipulpos, though, you're going to love 'em) and the Fairmont Hotel brunch, comepapas. 

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