I recently had the pleasure of Â of interviewing The Taco Inspector RDub!, a very funny guy who also runs a nationally syndicated music show. After reading this interview, you should check out his taco reviews at www.TheTacoReview.com. His taco lyrics, dubbed over popular songs are well worth the visit, as are his live reviews.Â
Taco Matrix: As one of only three licensed taco inspectors in the USA, do you feel a lot of pressure on the job? Have you ever been threatened by a taquero after giving a bad review?
Taco Inspector: Itâ€™s tough. I have to be completely honest, 100% of the time. The people depend on me. Sometimes Iâ€™ll go to a restaurant or stand, and the people who work there, even the owners, are really, really nice…but the tacos may be horrible. Thatâ€™s the hardest part. I hate crushing anyoneâ€™s dream, but the truth has to be told, good or bad. Of course, the best-case scenario is always nice people at the restaurant and great food. Then, itâ€™s a win-win.
As far as being threatened by disgruntled owners, yes. Often. Iâ€™ve had rocks thrown through my windows. My tires have been slashed, and I know there is at least on hit put out on me in Mexicali. I travel with two armed guards at all times. I always have to watch my back. The life of the Taco Inspector can be hard.
TM: Do you cook at all or are you strictly a connoisseur?
TI: I often have trouble making toast. No cooking for me.
TM: Youâ€™ve mentioned in your reviews that you love Sonoran food, which means tacos with flour tortillas. Please tell us what to look for in the â€œperfectâ€? flour tortilla.
TI: The flour tortilla should be fresh, and hand-made if possible. Itâ€™s really hard to mess up a flour tortilla, but Iâ€™ve seen it done. Leave it on the grill too long and it gets too hard. It should have just a few â€œcharâ€? marks on it…enough to give it that grill flavor and be a little stiff, not soggy…but not too stiff.
TM: You always order carne asada. Whatâ€™s the best asada taco youâ€™ve had? Can you break it down into the crucial elements for us?
TI: The best taco Iâ€™ve ever had, and to date the only â€œ5 out of 5 sombrerosâ€? taco, was in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, just across the border, a little stand called El Taco Nazo Real, hidden in the back streets of Nogales. Only the locals know about it. I donâ€™t know why the tacos are so good there, but they are. Itâ€™s heaven there and I have many dreams about that place. You can see the video on my website. Go there and eat. Youâ€™ll thank me.
As far as the â€œperfect tacoâ€?, for me, carne asada is my favorite. One of the other three licensed taco inspectors specializes in Al Pastor. (Bandini at tacohunt.blogspot.com) All of the inspectors have their favorites. Together weâ€™re like a team of super heroes, each with our own special power.
As far as a great carne asada taco goes, it all starts with the carne, the heart of it all. Where do I start? Thereâ€™s so much that goes into the carne.
First off, it has to be a great cut of meat, tender and juicy. And it has to be grilled. Iâ€™ve been to some horrible places, where I donâ€™t know how they cook the meat. Do they boil it? Thereâ€™s no substitute for the old fashioned grill. As well as grilling the meat to perfection, it has to be seasoned properly. Iâ€™ve had some of the tastiest meat, spiced just right. And Iâ€™ve had some of the blandest meat ever, that even a ton of pico de gallo and lime canâ€™t make exciting. Good taco joints know exactly how to season and marinate the meat, so it can taste amazing, even without a tortilla and toppings. A true test of good meat is that you should be able to put a piece of plain carne in your mouth and really taste the flavor. Throw out any morsels of fat or burnt carne. It amazes me how many bad restaurants out there mix in the bad pieces with the good.
Next come the toppings. Everyone has his or her preferences (cabbage, hot sauce, onions, cilantro, etc.) My prerequisite is pico de gallo, plain and simple. Tomato, onion, chile and cilantro. Freshly made. I had a hard time finding pico de gallo at a lot of places outside Arizona, and whenever that was the case, Iâ€™d substitute with onions, cilantro and red sauce. Thatâ€™ll get the job done if youâ€™re without pico de gallo.
Limes are a must too! Weird that all over southern California they use lemons. Theyâ€™ll work, but Iâ€™m a sucker for limes. Use the juice generously. You can never over-do it when it comes to lime juice on the carne.
Finally, a good flour tortilla ties it all together. When I lived in L.A., corn tortillas were more common, but damn, a good flour tortilla goes so good with fresh carne from the grill!
TM: Who is the third licensed taco inspector?
TI: Harvey Schmidlap…specializing in cabeza (head meat). He went to do an inspection in El Salavdor in 2005 and we have not heard from him since.Â There are many rumors.
Â Ed note: Bandiniâ€™s new blog is DailyTaco.org
TM: Some of your taco inspections begin with your own taco lyrics dubbed over popular songs. Now that your show is on TV, do you still have as much control over the content?
TI: We run into music licensing issues when we do the reviews for television. The good news is, aside from the TV network pieces, Iâ€™ll still do my rogue investigations with just me and the flip-cam. And then I can continue to be as crazy and lawless as I want!
TM: There are several taco bloggers out there, but you obviously have Taco Obsessive Disorder. How often do you think about tacos?Â
TI: Every day. Every hour. As much as sex. Sometimes more. In fact, I have had sex with women where tacos were involved.
TM: You recently moved to Brazil. Are there many tacos down there? If so, are they any good? Do Brazilians have their own taco-like street foods?
TI: This is such an interesting question, because tortillas simply do not exist in Brazil! Crazy, huh? I managed to find on of the three Mexican restaurants in Rio de Janeiro and did and inspection there. They actually import their tortillas from Texas! I found that funny because A: I wondered why they just donâ€™t make them there at the restaurant, and B: If they have to import them, Mexico is a whole lot closer, so why Texas? But go figure. Anyway, weird to me that tortillas donâ€™t exist in Brazil. I swear, if I had the capital, Iâ€™d open up a Taco Bell or Chipotle in Brazil and make millions!
TM: With so many taquerias and trucks to choose from, how do you narrow down your choices to avoid those one and two sombrero disasters?
TI: You know, I donâ€™t necessarily try to avoid the horrible taco places. It gets boring if all your inspections are three sombreros and above. Add to that, part of my job is to warn the public of bad tacos in their area, so if I go to a place that has nasty food, at least Iâ€™ve let the public know, and put the restaurant on notice. Sure, it sucks to have a bad lunch, but itâ€™s all part of the job, the sacrifice. I took an oath and I have to uphold it.
TM: When people recommend a place to you, do you just say OK, Iâ€™ll go, or do you ask, â€œWhy should I go there?â€? I mean, when you get tons of recommendations, how do you choose which places to go?
TI: I get tons of requests to visit places. Really, it just comes down to whether or not Iâ€™m in the area. In some cities I have so many requests backed up, like Los Angeles, where there are millions of taco stands. Others, like New London, Connecticut, might only have one review in queue.
Some are from people who swear they know the best-kept secret. Others are requests from folks that I try a certain stand or restaurant first, and check it out before they do. As long as they serve tacos, Iâ€™ll go there!
TM: Other than those frat boy punks in Scottsdale, have you ever felt endangered while inspecting tacos?
TI: For those who havenâ€™t seen the video yet, we were inspecting tacos late one night in, of all places, Scottsdale, Arizona. We ran into some drunk, trailer-trash, inbred, douche-nozzles who didnâ€™t have the mental capacity to understand what exactly a â€œtaco reviewâ€? was. For some reason, they got really upset. These were patrons, not restaurant workers, by the way.) Not only did they get in our faces, refuse to leave us alone, and threaten to kick our asses, but then they called the cops on themselves! Talk about taco turmoil!
The funny thing was that Iâ€™ve done reviews in some pretty dangerous places such as Inglewood and Compton, California, Brooklyn, and the back streets of Panama, and Iâ€™ve never encountered a problem, ever! But leave it to some tobacco-chewing hillbillies in Scottsdale, Arizona to mess up an inspection.
TM: Youâ€™re also a syndicated radio show host when youâ€™re not inspecting tacos. Could you give us a list of, say, five songs that would go great with eating tacos?
TI: Correct. You can check out Sunday Nite Slow Jams, and my weeknight Slow Jams on the air in about fifty cities nationwide. Check out WWW.SLOWJAMS.COM for a list of cities and radio stations and tune in.
As far as Slow Jams for enjoying tacos, here are my top 5:
Debarge: I Like It
M.C Magic: Lost In Love (because M.C. Magic hails from Nogales, Sonora, home of my favorite taco stand.)
Janet Jackson: Anytime, Anyplace
Tony Toni Tone: Me and You
Smokey Robinson: The Agony and the Ecstasy
If you noticed there is a theme here…All songs can be dedicated to your taco!
TM: It appears certain that your musical career will continue to grow. How about your taco career? Any plans to carve out a greater taco empire?
Â TI: Well, being on in all of Arizona on Channel 7 was a pretty exciting step this year. The Food Network my be next. Even a Taco movie in 2012.