Gringo in Guadalajara

 All-Night Tacos

 

A taco stand with a wide assortment of salsas and fixings.

 

Guadalajara is a city designed for the late-night eater.  While the U.S. has Denny's and Taco Bell has its "Fourth Meal," Mexico is a comparative heaven when it comes to midnight snackers.  And actually midnight is not quite accurate...1, 2 even 3 AM is more like it.  This is the phenomenon of the late-night taco cart or puesto.  These carts are usually operated by two to four people and offer the very popular, very small, Mexican-styled tacos.  A variety of meat are available including pastor, carnitas, chorizo and the like. Watching the cooking process is not for the faint of heart.  Usually some unfortunately large part of a former animal is waiting to be chopped by a man with a splattered apron and unusually large cleaver.

Customers standing and eating at a puesto.

 

You can find these taco carts almost anywhere.  They are often along main boulevards -- but due to the lack of zoning (or sometimes zoning enforcement) here in Guadalajara, they also operate on side streets and in neighborhoods, presumably keeping the neighbors awake.

 

The plethora of late-night customers is related to Mexico's later clock.  Because of the tradition of a long lunch hour where many school children and adults actually return home between 2 and 4, rush hour doesn't occur until 8:00 and night-lifers often don't begin their evenings until 9:00, 10:00 or later.  This sets the clock back considerably, and a late snack between midnight and 2AM is common for many locals.

Late night tacos, smaller than the American version --- and always soft shell.

 

There are a few customs at the puestos which may seem a bit odd to Americans.  One is the tendency for Mexicans to stand while they eat.  Some taco stands have a few scattered tables and chairs ---and you can always find a spot on the curb --- but most Mexicans seem to prefer to stand. This can be a bit difficult if you have a drink in hand as well, but seasoned customers are expert at balancing their small plastic plates along with a beverage.  The plates themselves are usually red and plastic and covered with some kind of bag, almost like plastic wrap.  This way  the owners can reuse the plates after throwing out the bag.  This saves money and is also (perhaps unintentionally) environmentally friendly.  One final custom is that taco eaters usually do not pay immediately.  Rather, the money exchange works a bit like at a sushi bar in which the owners hope you will keep asking for "uno mas" and adding to your bill.  When you are getting ready to leave, the final bill is tallied.

 

Taco stands remain extremely popular in Guadalajara even with the more recent preponderance of McDonalds, Burger King and KFC.  While a Big Mac at 1AM is certainly tasty, the late night drive-thru pales in comparison to the character of your neighborhood taco stand.