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American Tacos

American Tacos
A History and Guide

The first history of tacos developed in the United States, this book is the definitive survey that American taco lovers must have for their own taco explorations.

April 2020
288 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 | 34 color and 3 b&w photos, 4 b&w illus. |

Tacos may have been created south of the border, but Americans have made this Mexican food their own, with each style reflective of a time and a place. American Tacos explores them all, taking us on a detailed and delicious journey through the evolution of this dish.

In search of every taco variety from California to Texas and beyond, Ralat traveled from coast to coast and border to border, visiting thirty-eight cities across the country. He examines the pervasive crunchy taco and the new Alta California tacos from chefs Wes Avila, Christine Rivera, and Carlos Salgado. He tastes famous Tex-Mex tacos like the puffy taco and breakfast taco, then tracks down the fry bread taco and the kosher taco. And he searches for the regional hybrid tacos of the American South and the modern, chef-driven tacos of restaurants everywhere. Throughout, he tells the story of how each style of taco came to be, creating a rich look at the diverse taco landscape north of the border. Featuring interviews with taqueros and details on taco paraphernalia and the trappings of taco culture, American Tacos is a book no taco fan will want to take a bite without.

  • Introduction. Your Taco Country Guide
  • Chapter 1. Breakfast Tacos: From Dawn Until Whenever
  • Chapter 2. Golden and Crunchy: Crispy Tacos, Taquitos and Flautas, Fry Bread Tacos, Tacos Dorados, and San Antonio–Style Puffy Tacos
  • Chapter 3. Barbacoa and Barbecue Tacos: Out from the Pit
  • Chapter 4. K-Mex: Korean Tacos Go on a Roll
  • Chapter 5. Sur-Mex: Tortillas With a Drawl
  • Chapter 6. Jewish and Kosher Tacos, Or Deli-Mex: Glatt, Good Eating, and Pastrami Tacos
  • Chapter 7. Alta California Tacos: Chicano Locavore
  • Chapter 8. El Taco Moderno: Contemporary, “Chef-Driven,” and Nuevo Immigrant Tacos
  • Appendix 1. Signs of a Truly Outstanding Taco Joint
  • Appendix 2. A Brief History of the Taco Holder
  • Appendix 3. Taco Parties
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Further Reading

José R. Ralat
Dallas, Texas

Ralat is the taco editor at Texas Monthly and the writer behind the nationally renowned Taco Trail blog. He has written for the Dallas Observer, Texas Highways, D Magazine, Cowboys & Indians, and Eater.


“[Ralat] gives an in-depth look at each taco's history and showcases other aspects of taco culture that has solidified it as a go-to dish on dinner tables throughout the nation.”
Smithsonian Magazine

“A handsome tome…maybe don't read this when you're hungry.”

“Everything a food history book should be: illuminating, well-written, crusading, and inspiring a taco run afterwards. You'll gain five pounds reading it, but don't worry--most of that will go to your brain.”
Gustavo Arellano, Los Angeles Times features writer, ¡Ask a Mexican! columnist, and author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America

“Mexican food is borderless, and José Ralat does an extraordinary job of exploring the diverse and fascinating array of tacos in America. Salud to this work!”
Pati Jinich, Chef, Cookbook Author and James Beard Award Winning Host of PBS’ Pati's Mexican Table

“If tacos ever had a family reunion, José Ralat would help you remember the names and stories of all those in the room . . . even the distant cousins. American Tacos is a detailed, diverse, and salivating exploration of one of our nation's most iconic foods. ”
Adrian Miller, James Beard Award-winning culinary historian and barbecue judge, author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time

“Warning: do not read this book when you’re hungry, or you may find yourself booking a ticket to one of the spots across America that offers regional interpretations of tacos, giving the Mexican stalwart of tortillas and fillings a uniquely American spin. Bravo to José Ralat for his in-depth exploration and analysis of the American taco scene. If you love tacos, you want to read this book. ”
Lisa Fain, author of The Homesick Texan Cookbook

“José Ralat is the ideal guide to what has become an American staple, the US taco: a taco with a unique history and diversity of flavors here in el norte, or Mexico afuera. In this book, we learn of the importance of tacos in relation to cultural respect and appropriation. Ralat's work expands the taco canon.”
Steven Alvarez, assistant professor at St. John's University and creator of the "Taco Literacy" course