just got back from a trip to Mexico. We spent half of the time in Mexico City (smoggy in air but very cool in spirit, especially if you stay in the lovely Condesa neighborhood at my new favorite bed and breakfast, The Red Tree House) and half of the time in Isla Mujeres (that, while beautiful, was a little too full of Hotel California-loving tourists for my taste).
Beyond getting away from it all, I think the main reason to travel is for the revelatory, a-ha moments it can provide. In the case of Mexican cuisine, I had this one: Mexican food is only as good as its salsa.
Particularly in regards to taquerias. The afternoon that we arrived, Jorge, our great host at the Red Tree House, suggested we head straight to a taqueria around the corner from our hotel. Named El Califa, the stylish taqueria is open until the wee, wee hours (Mexico City-ians are very European in that they start dinner at 10 pm). I wouldn't call Califa fresh-Mex, but the popular spot has definitely has put a little bright California spin on the more traditional taquerias near by—something that my San Francisco self loved as much as I wanted to love the comparable, more down-home spots.
As soon as we sat down, a foursome of salsas were set in front of us: One, grassy and bright with fresh green chilies-and-onions. One, mild and mole-esque. One, a tad sweet but with a good heat. And my favorite one, with chunky charred chilies. With fresh tortillas, I think I could have filled my tacos with just the salsa and been content. It was just an added bonus that they came in all sorts, from tacos al pastor carved in smoky chunks from the spit along with slices of pineapple (I mean, stupidly, ridiculously good) to grilled cheese (a slab of grilled, oozy, stringy cheese!) to just plain, thin cuts of steak. We tried all the other taquerias one night for an al pastor hop (apparently we're not the only ones to conceive of this idea), I'd say Califa is the best, purely based it on it's salsa status. After salsas, the quality of the tortillas come next.
The down side to this, is the fact that I can't think of a taqueria in SF that compares in its salsa righteousness. There's a lot of mediocre, pink-tomato pico de gallo here. Not saying that I'm going to abandon La Taqueria, not saying that some taquerias don't have one good salsa, but where, oh, where, can I get so many perfect salsas? Let me know and I'll add it to the next Big Eat SF.