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Cinco de Mayo is coming up, and a perfect place in Arkansas to celebrate and taste the cuisine is your local taco truck or food stand. But let’s be honest, the menu can be intimidating. How many times have you stood there in line trying to Google the menu and defaulted for a chicken quesadilla and bottle of water? It doesn’t have to be that way.
Let’s break down some of the typical items from a local taco stand and make the menu more approachable as you decide to branch out further and further. YOLO, right?!?! Don’t miss out on some of the “most amazing food you will ever eat” because the menu is intimidating.
Sopes – fried masa patty with meat and toppings stacked on top.
Gordita – Mexican pita sandwich
Tostada – corn tortilla fried crisp and stacked high.
Torta – Mexican sandwich served on fluffy white bread or roll
Huarache (Guarache) – masa dough and refried beans flattened out and cooked like a flatbread to go on the bottom of meat and toppings.
Taco, Burrito, Quesadilla – traditional vehicle, as expected. Just know they will serve “as it comes” unless you specify otherwise. For a taco that usually means chopped onion, cilantro and lime wedges. Quesadilla and burritos will sometimes include crema, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.
Horchata – a sweet, rice milk drink with flavors of cinnamon and vanilla.
Agua Frescas – roughly translated as “freshwater,” a refreshing beverage made from water and blended fruit.
Menudo versus Pozole – in cold months, these warm soups can be the perfect comfort food but often stump a gringo who is not prepared. Menudo is a soup made with the honeycomb membrane of a cow’s stomach in a red chili pepper broth with hominy oregano, onion and lime. Pozole is a more traditional Mexican stew usually made with cabbage, hominy, and pork like an al pastor taco.
Nopal – very traditional as a condiment, this cooked down cactus leaf sometimes fills a vegetarian option.
Salsa Verde versus Salsa Roja – verde = green and roja = red. Salsa Verde uses a jalapeno and tomatillo base. Salsa Roja is not your typical cantina-style salsa. Instead, it uses roasted tomatoes and ground chilies de arbol to bring the heat. Dip your pinky in for a taste before you pour.
Elotes versus Esquites – traditional Mexican Street Corn that is grilled and coated with mayonnaise and spices (or flaming hot Cheetos!), you just have to decide if you want it on the cob or in a cup. Typically, Elotes is on the cob, and Esquites is in a cup, but it can also mean with mayo or without. You want to try this if you haven’t, but let me suggest in the cup! Also, note this is a traditional festival and weekend celebration food, so it’s usually only available on Fridays and Saturdays.
Mangonada – the best mango smoothie you’ve ever tasted swirled with chili lime powder.
Walking Taco – while not authentic, it does sneak up on some local menus for the reluctant gringo – this is typically a bag of Fritos with chili poured over the top and consumed with a plastic fork.
Churros – Think funnel cake batter fried as sticks and covered with cinnamon sugar.
Pollo – chicken, grilled or shredded based on the truck.
Carne – beef, usually a flank or skirt steak that is marinated and grilled.
Al Pastor – pork shank marinated in an adobo sauce and cooked in spices that usually include pineapple; it’s often shaved over the grill and chopped.
Carnitas – slow-roasted pork, usually shredded like a pulled pork sandwich.
Lengua – beef tongue, usually a little greasy, but can have a deep smoked and grilled flavor.
Pescado – fish tacos, while super popular in California, it’s rare that Arkansas taco stands mix fish into their menu. Still, it can be shrimp or fish tacos with a traditional mayonnaise-based cold coleslaw on top.
Cabeza – head, yes, a whole steer head is slow roasted and the meat removed – think chicken wing or crawfish, the best stuff is in the hidden places.
Buche – tripe/tripa – OK, stick with me here. Buche is pork stomach, and Tripe is beef stomach – both can have a deep rich flavor if given the time to marinate and slow cook, but it is one of the chewiest meats. This is where you want to share and try something new!
Desabrada – slow-cooked shredded beef.
Picadillo – homestyle taco meat, ground beef with spices, onions and peppers.
Chapulines – rarely at an Arkansas taco stand, but if you see it -run. It is slow-roasted GRASSHOPPERS!
Don’t be intimidated. Ask questions. And whatever you do, try something new!
Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in South Arkansas with her husband and sweet Boxer, Bailey and one-year-old son! Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now she is using all of those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom!