30 Tacos Tumbras a Tomas
June 13, 2010
Grand Central Market Space A05, 317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Our first visit of the year to the famed Grand Central Market started out great. The Grand Central is a fantastic place full of vendors, the timelessness of produce, neon signs that are either old or retro, and woodchips on the floor. The dining area at the north end is open to the sidewalk to the north and the market to the south, with the floor sloped and stepped on its way down to Broadway. The interior finishes are concrete and skylight. It’s a tremendous place.
Tacos Tumbras a Tomas is one of the best reputed of the three or four taco vendors in the Market, and famed in particular for the large size of its tacos. It looks just right – photogenic. Ordering at Tumbras a Tomas is like ordering at a crowded bar – you push your way to the front until one of the many taqueros behind the display case looks at you and yells “Next!”
I ordered one each of the “ranchera asada” and carnitas estilo Michoacan” tacos. Al pastor isn’t on the menu board, but they do have it – Carmen ordered one each of the carnitas and the al pastor tacos. They are $2.50 each. You will be asked your choice of green and red salsa. The taquero said that the red is hotter, so that’s what we got.
The tacos are the biggest I have ever seen. Two tacos completely cover a normal-sized paper plate. As taco authority Bandini wrote, it was like getting the meat from a carne asada plate lunch and a carnitas plate lunch along with a few tortillas. In addition to the substrate tortillas, an additional bilaminated pair was thrown on top for good measure. The chief merit of these tortillas is that they are big. That’s the chief merit of the tacos, too.
We portaged our heavy plates of tacos and found a table, where we proceeded to pick at our unpickupable tacos with the forks. The carne asada was unusual – saucy and savory and gamy, and diced into very small bits, it bore more resemblance to typical al pastor than carne asada, although it showed unmistakable beefiness. Usually I think of the classic taco meat dichotomy of as consisting of al pastor on one side, with its maximalist, tons-o’-flavor sensibility, and carne asada on the other, representing spare, elegant minimalism. So this asada was okay, but it was an octoparrot.
The grey, shreddy carnitas was impressive for the fact that it looked like meat – chunks of various shapes, sizes, colors and consistency that clearly came from many different parts of the animal. It was mostly tender and moist; we both pulled a few giant chunks of fat from our tacos, but that’s okay, as there was still an overload of pork remaining. Extremely salty and smoky flavored, this pork bore a very strong resemblance to the Kalua pork served overflowing in a Styrofoam tray, at fast-food Ohana Hawaiian BBQ in Monterey Park. This was a recipe for feeling gross, which is what I’m doing right now, and meanwhile the experience has driven Carmen to pass out on the couch in the middle of the afternoon. The al pastor might have been the best of the lot – it was of the saucy variety, savory and quite salty, but a whole taco’s worth still might mess you up.
After forking out about a third of the meat from my plate, I forked a half-measure of carne asada and carnitas onto the spare bilam-tortillas, creating a hybrid taco. These tortillas were a bit dry and had a good leathery quality. The mixture of carne asada and carnitas was odd, creating a dank salty, grungy sludge. The carnitas chunks I ate in this octoparrot taco were particularly fatty, giant chunks of soft, white, melt-in-your-mouth fat. They must slow cook this stuff for ages.
Finally there was little enough meat remaining to pick up my tacos. I picked up carne asada – folded over and hefted in the hand, it was still larger than any taco I’ve been served this year. I ate most of it, but did experience catastrophic failure of the bilam’d tortillas halfway through. Perhaps the perforations of a thousand fork stabs and the 90 minutes or so that seemed to have passed since I started had something to do with it, but the tortillas underlaying the meatpiles seemed inadequately prepped.
Finally I picked up the carnitas taco, and ate about half of it before setting it down in utter revulsion. Today I profoundly experienced the feeling that gives meaning to the Spanish word “empalagado”, that feeling of being full not because of your stomach, but because your palate cannot handle any more – although my stomach concurred with my mouth this time.
How big are the tacos? If I said they were three times as big as a normal taco, I think readers might be skeptical. How can they be that big? But I promise you, there was more than three tacos’ worth of meat on each of these monsters. Frankly, the size of these tacos is obscene. I believe that today was the first time in my entire life that I have not finished all the tacos I have been served. I am disgusted at the thought of tacos. I resolve never to eat tacos again. That’s terrible, Kenny. How ‘bout nobody win? The cincuenta taquerías project has never before been in such jeopardy.