I had this kind of grand dream of it. Cooking Tex-Mex in the middle of the desert that is Joshua Tree. Warm arbol salsa slicked chips. A sunny side up egg, its rich yolk cascading into a kiss at the bottom of the platter. Thin, wispy lines of tangy Green Jalapeño Tabasco sauce mixed with soft crema. Crisp green herbs, maybe a little thinly sliced radish, a handful of crumbled cotija.
Then, and this part of the dream is just as important as the first, having real authentic chilaquiles, made by someone who’s mama’s made it for years, when we finally made it to Texas. San Antonio to be exact, the birthplace of Tex Mex. And you should know this wasn’t some kind of half-baked plan, either.
When my husband asked me what I wanted to do on our road trip from Portland to New Orleans, I think I responded with these exact words:
“I just want to find some really good Tex Mex.”
He laughed. He thought I wasn’t serious. “No really,” I went on. “You plan the rest of the trip however you want. But leave me an hour for tacos in Texas.” Then, like any good husband, he told this to friends and coworkers and perfect strangers who happened to ask what we had planned for our road trip, suggesting with a wink and smile and probably a pinch of seriousness that had the entire trip itinerary been left up to me, we would have high-tailed it to Texas, spent seven days filling our stomachs with chilaquiles, burritos, tacos, and refried beans, before driving clear through to Louisiana. I won’t admit whether he’d be right about that because that’s besides the point. The point is, we made the first half of my weirdo Tex-Mex dream come true in Joshua Tree. We ate our weight in what I’ve started calling Red and Green Chilaquiles, made with red arbol pepper-based salsa and green jalapeño sauce-spiked crema and all the toppings. And then one week and several national parks later, we went in search of part number two—authentic made-by-the-experts Tex-Mex in San Antonio.
And so we stop at a small place just off I-10 on the Eastern side of San Antonio. It’s the last morning of our trip, about 9am. We are just seven hours from home. The place looks more like a neighborhood pool hall than a restaurant but the internet says it has the best breakfast tacos in town and the line out the door confirms it. We take our four tacos – two chorizo and egg and two chilaquiles tacos, the best of both worlds – to go and tear into the white paper bag as we pull back onto I-10. I rip through the foil of the chilaquiles taco, take a first bite, eager to see how my own homemade chilaquiles from the week prior stack up to its warm interior. I snap a photo of the half-eaten taco and post it to an Instagram story with some quippy caption that says, “When in Texas, we taco.” I find character limits stressful. I say something to my husband about having “chosen well.” I tell him, “This is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten.”
The next time I look at my half-eaten chilaquiles taco, it’s on the floor and glass-speckled.
After the police leave and after we’ve used half a roll of industrial-strength duct tape and a piece of cardboard to patch the eight-inch half-hole in the windshield, we are back on the road—with four cold half-eaten tacos and two still-shaking humans. I spend the next seven hours staring at the duct tape patch. And it, just at eye level, staring back at me. I try to avoid, unsuccessfully mostly, imagining what could have happened had our windshield not had that special protective layer built into it, the kind that prevented the rock/brick/very heavy object that the man had hurled at us from the interstate shoulder from finding it’s way to my face. I eat a cold taco. I wonder about him. How one human could house so much anger and also have no mind for the fragility of it all. I curse about why the dash cam failed that particular morning, I curse about why us why us why us. I give thanks that it was us. Because what if it had been the car behind us, the one with just your standard windshield?
I think about whether this would’ve happened had I not been so damn insistent about eating Tex Mex in Texas. But then again…
This post was sponsored by Tabasco but the words and photos and recipe are my own. Thank you, lovely readers, for supporting the brands that keep C+M thriving! And thank you for the words of love and support in response to that particular Instagram story. Life is weird and scary and sometimes really painful but in the end we’re all in it together. <3
- 2 tablespoons of canola oil
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1 red onion, chopped roughly
- 10 dried chile de arbol, stems removed
- 2 large tomatoes or 6 roma tomatoes, about 1.5 pounds, chopped roughly
- ¼ cup of water
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt or 2 teaspoons of regular table salt
- Juice from ½ lime
- ¼ cup of crema
- 1 tablespoon of Green Jalapeno Tabasco sauce
- 1 fried egg, yolk still runny
- 15-20 ounces of thick tortilla chips
- Cotija cheese
- 1 large bunch of cilantro, leaves chopped and stems discarded
- 3 radishes, sliced into very thin rounds
- Add oil to a medium-sized pot and heat over medium-high. Add garlic and onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until onion has softened slightly. Add chiles, cooking for 2-3 more minutes, and then tomatoes, water, tomato paste, salt, and lime juice. Continue to cook over medium-high for another 5-6 minutes. Use an immersion blender, or food processor, to puree the arbol mixture until just smooth.
- Combine crema and Tabasco sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Fry egg and set aside.
- Toss tortilla chips with arbol salsa in a large bowl, gently, taking care not to crush the chips. Cover with aluminum foil and let rest in bowl for 1 minute or until chips are warmed through and the texture is somewhere between slightly softened and still slightly crisp. Transfer to a serving platter and top with Jalepeno crema, cotija cheese, cilantro, radishes, and fried egg.