It's in the bag

The joys of the walking taco

Jun 27, 2012 at 12:00 am

One of the more interesting non-ice cream treats available at many roadside refreshment stands is the "walking taco." For the uninitiated, it is a small bag of corn chips lightly crushed, cracked open, and dressed with taco fixings that can include ground beef, shredded cheese, salsa, chopped lettuce, tomato, cilantro, onion, avocado and, possibly, much more. The vendor will typically stick a plastic spoon in this bag of goodies, handing it to the customer, who then spoons the confection into his mouth, ostensibly while walking around.

Another thing about walking tacos: People tend to have strong reactions to them. And not just the "Oh, this is yummy!" kind. Taco purists will refuse to call it a taco at all. Some will revert to the non-Midwestern term "Frito pie" — even though it's obviously no more a pie than a taco. Some will object to the use of a trash-producing bag — as if the corn chips came any other way? Finally, some people bristle at the American vulgarization of an authentic Mexican treat — something thousands of other, better restaurants already do on a much larger scale.

We disagree. We think the walking taco is a little bit of inspired genius, a real piece of roadside Americana, the work of an anonymous culinary innovator who freely passed on his gift to the common cultural heritage.

If we have one complaint about the walking taco, it is this: Why so humble? Why this stingy bag of mass-produced chips? Why these pedestrian ingredients? Why not allay the haters' concerns with a compostable container and spork? Why not use high-toned, fresh-made chips or cracked tostadas as a foundation? Imagine using pulled pork or chunks of quality beef! Imagine the walking taco of the future: cilantro, lime and onion with carne asada over stone-ground blue corn crisps, or shrimp mounded atop Cotija cheese and broad triangles of fresh, still-hot nacho chips. Though we won't sneer at "Frito pie," we must admit that the walking taco is one roadside creation still waiting to be kicked up a notch or two by any enterprising chef willing to give it a try.