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Not since the coming of Italian American cuisine, with its now-universal spaghetti and meatballs, has another school of cooking so come to dominate the American table as has Mexican cookery. Today nearly every eatery offers a taco salad or a burrito, and no strip mall lacks a Taco Bell or Chipotle franchise. And what bartender doesn't mix a frosty margarita? In a chatty, lighthearted style and with mordant wit, Arellano traces the steady northward creep of Mexican cooking from Texas and the Southwest into the heart of Yankee territory. Before the taco came the tamale, which captivated taste buds at Chicago's 1893 exposition. Mexican food evolved and adapted as it spread northward, and this transformation raises a host of questions for Arellano about the definition of authentic Mexican cooking. The preeminence of contemporary nonnative Mexican expert chefs, such as Rick Bayless, further complicates the landscape, but the variety, ubiquity, and sophistication of Mexican food leave no doubt about its enduring value.--Knoblauch, Mark Copyright 2010 Booklist
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In this entertaining nod to culinary and cultural histories, journalist Arellano ('Ask a Mexican!) traces the roots of Mexican food in the U.S. and explores the cuisine's many offshoots, underscoring why salsa is now our #1 condiment. Knowing it's impossible to pinpoint the birth of the world's first taco, Arellano focuses instead on how the phenomenon of something so simple as a crispy or soft tortilla folded over fillings came across the border. Beginning as street food in California in the 1920s-much later than the introduction of chili and tamales in both California and Texas-tacos gained popularity as inventions cropped up to fry large numbers of shells at once for mass production. It paved the way for Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell, who began his empire in San Bernadino, Calif., in 1951, where he also sold hamburgers and hot dogs in case the taco craze didn't catch on. It did, and today there are more than 5,800 Taco Bells worldwide. Arellano makes the point, one that's particularly relevant in today's heated immigration debate, that as much as some Americans may protest Mexican immigrants, they're in love with Mexican food. While he's clear that no best-of list can encompass all the great places to eat tacos and burritos in America, Arellano's top five (El Rancho Grande in Tulsa, Okla., for example) illustrates just how far from the border the craze has traveled. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Salsa has overtaken ketchup in sales, and Mexican restaurants proliferate around the country. This may not seem surprising given the growing population of Mexican-Americans, but the cuisine crossed over long ago. Arellano, a nationally syndicated columnist, delves through over a century of the cuisine's history to tease out the story of its rise to ubiquity. He eschews a strictly orthodox view of "authentic" Mexican cuisine, instead embracing the broad range of regional variations that have sprung up. The book is fearless, dismissing some high-profile chefs and restaurants while celebrating the contributions of hole-in-the-wall businesses. The writing, lively and witty (if occasionally prickly), proves to be interesting and revelatory as well. VERDICT A compelling, well-written exploration of a major part of American dining. Recommended for academic libraries and public libraries with regional interest in the topic.-Peter Hepburn, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.