I love rolled tacos. Or is it taquitos? Flautas? Tacos dorados? For me, and for most people growing up in San Diego, they will always be called rolled tacos but whatever you may call them wherever you’re from, these deceptively simple-looking dishes are my personal favorite form of the “taco”.
I personally feel the rolled taco is the most superior form of a taco- and should be heralded as such. On the surface, rolled tacos look like a novelty- something meant for an appetizer or quick bite. Conceptually, you could probably consider them as a more labor intensive form of a crispy taco with little to no difference between the two- same fried tortilla, stuffed with meat, and topped with condiments.
However, I feel there’s a lot more balance in a rolled taco than a regular taco for the following reasons:
1) A perfect rolled taco has a multiple textures and provides a better eating experience. First, there is the immediate “crunch” when you bite into the crispy exterior layer of fried tortilla in the rolled taco. Yes a hard-shell taco has crunch- but that’s all it has, a one dimensional crunch throughout its entire form. With the rolled taco, you’re greeted with an inner warm soft and pliable layer of tortilla, deep with the corn flavor, getting the best of both worlds of a crunchy shell and warm tortilla.
2) Rolled tacos have a nicer ratio of filling to tortilla. In a hard shell taco, the amount of filling is overpowering. If you’re eating a crispy beef or lamb taco, you eating beef, with the shell as an afterthought container. Don’t get me wrong, that could be a great thing sometimes but in the case of vegetarian type tacos such as potato tacos, the sheer volume of starch in a shell is overkill. In a rolled taco, the rolled shape demands less filling and allows for a complimentary amount of filling to the tortilla, providing a balance in flavor.
3) The structural integrity and shape of the rolled taco is more versatile for a larger range and amount of condiments and toppings. Throw in globs of guacamole, cheese, crema, sauce, or whatever you like inside a taco shell and it loses structural integrity and gets hard to eat. Bite a taco incorrectly, and all the ingredients fall out. Add to much liquid or sauce, and the shell disintegrates and falls apart.
Sure the shape of a rolled taco has minimal surface area for which some condiments won’t adhere (try keeping lettuce on top of a rolled taco), but you can literally serve anything you’d like on top and the rolled tacos and it will NEVER fall apart. Drench it in guacamole sauce, cheese, whatever- and the structure holds up. The issue of the small surface area and toppings falling off can be easily solved with the use of a fork to scoop up the bit of guacamole that fell off, or you could have fun and dip your rolled tacos in any sauce as you eat it while the filling remains contained within the roll, something you can’t do with a hard shell taco.
4) Its perfect for splitting dishes/sharing. There’s always the conundrum of late night eating at taco shops- “Do I get a burrito, taco, carne asada fries, or rolled tacos? Which ONE do I get- especially that I’m craving a little of everything?”
Well, the compactness of the rolled taco also means that in almost in all occasions, the rolled tacos are served in bunches of 3 or 5, for some reason I’ve never seen an even amount of rolled tacos on a plate. If you’re a skilled sales person, you can trade one rolled taco for a 1/2 of a burrito. Or if you’re generous, you can be the hero of the night and extend good will by ordering a side of rolled tacos and share them amongst your friends.
5) Last, the compact shape of the rolled taco lends itself to better distribution of ingredients when you take a bite. Bite into a regular taco and you’ll get a mouthful of the meat layer, or worse, a bite full of all shredded lettuce, gross. Next time you eat a rolled taco, close your eyes when you bite into them and you can get the whole spectrum of ingredients and flavors in one bite- the tortilla, the meat, the toppings, and the hot sauce all in one glorious mouthful. Don’t really close your eyes though, it looks creepy. Combined with the versatility cited in number 3 above, you can literally optimize each bite of the rolled taco for taco eating bliss.
Next week, we’ll take a look at a photo essay that I’m working on that traces the evolution of the rolled taco, from its inception in Southern California in the early 40’s to the today’s incarnations which you can find everywhere from gourmet restaurants to a display case in 7-Eleven.