Eat tacos, tortas and tamales to maintain a healthy level of vitamin T

Eat tacos, tortas and tamales to maintain a healthy level of vitamin T
MX Tacos / photo by Rob Bartlett

Most people are aware that what they eat should contain at least a modicum of nutritional value as well as hitting the correct coordinate point on the sweet-sour-salty/crunchy-creamy-chewy grid. Along with your A, B, C and K, though, are you getting enough vitamin T?

Vitamin T is naturally occurring in the Mexican diet, but Americans and those of other nationalities need to be careful to seek it out. Luckily, this is pretty easy, what with the popularity of Mexican cuisine. You can find vitamin T in tacos, tortas and tamales, though tortillas and tequila also contain trace amounts.

New trends hitting Orlando include unexpected fillings (keeping in mind, what may be new to our menus is sometimes old news in the original cuisine). Look out for octopus, ceviche, lamb, chicharrones or the newly ubiquitous Impossible or Beyond Burger crumbles. Another protein you may not have considered: chapulines, or deep-fried dried grasshopppers. As far as creative vegetable options go, expect to start seeing nopales (cactus paddles that are harvested, de-thorned and peeled) on more menus, as well as hibiscus flowers and sweet potatoes. Locally, you can find a chapuline taco at Coco Cocina, a hibiscus taco at Hunger Street, a pork-fat taco at Black Rooster Taqueria and a sweet potato taco at MX Tacos. Less "authentic" but still tasty: the Indian butter chicken taco at Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa and the Beyond Burger tacos with avocado sauce and pickled red onions at Pepe's Cantina.

Tortas! It's what's for lonche. Longtime taco fans (i.e., every American) may not be as well-acquainted with tortas, which are simply sandwiches, but still an important part of a vitamin T-rich diet! Served on a crusty round roll called a telera or bolillo, a torta can be filled with anything, but the traditional choices are ham, avocado or scrambled eggs, topped with tomato, onion and chili peppers. The telera/bolillo somewhat resembles a baguette, but a regional variant is the cemita, which is more like a brioche roll covered in sesame seeds.

Rick Bayless' Chicago restaurant Xoco specializes in tortas, serving more than a dozen varieties including braised goat, bacon-and-cheese, and crispy eggplant, but his Disney Springs Frontera Cocina doesn't have a torta on the menu (yet?). Locally, we haven't seen tortas on a lot of high-end menus, though Reyes Mezcaleria used to serve a torta ahogada or "drowned torta" (a Guadalajara version that drenches the torta in tomato sauce); it may yet make a reappearance as a special. Chela Tacos & Tequila serves veggie, pork and chicken tortas at lunch, with fancy fixings like jicama slaw and garlic aioli. And in the cheap-and-fast arena, Tortas El Rey down on South Orange Blossom Trail is, well, the king of tortas.

Tamales are a traditional Mexican holiday food – possibly because, like ravioli or dumplings, they're time-consuming to assemble and many hands make lighter work. Those many hands present in the house around the holidays make putting together the protein-stuffed bundles of masa (cornmeal) dough steamed in cornhusks a much more convivial experience.

As yet, tamales haven't made major inroads as a stand-alone specialty in Orlando, though most good Mexican joints in town have them on the menu. (Last time I was in Knoxville I had a very happy meal at Good Golly Tamale, an all-tamale joint in Oldtown that serves lunch and also sells homemade frozen tamales by the dozen.) The major exception is Tamale Co., the popular food truck that recently opened a brick-and-mortar outpost in the Hourglass Social House, the food hall on Curry Ford Road. Even Tamale Co. isn't a tamal-only place, but they do have 10 variants on the menu, from classic shredded pork to mushroom-and-cheese, so they get a pass. You can also eat in or buy as many as you can carry out at Tienda Mexicana Jalisco, the Mexican grocery on Goldenrod Road. And don't turn your nose up at Chuy's. Yes, it's a national chain, but with its Texas roots, Chuy's is the easiest place to find that classic Tex-Mex specialty, Christmas tamales: tamales striped in green Hatch chile sauce and deep-red roja chile sauce. It's an a-masa-ing way to celebrate the holiday.


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Jessica Bryce Young

Jessica Bryce Young has been working with Orlando Weekly since 2003, serving as copy editor, dining editor and arts editor before becoming editor in chief in 2016.
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