And that’s a (tortilla) wrap…

As this class comes to a close, I think it’s only appropriate to give my favorite meal on this taco taste-testing tour the past semester.

My choice would have to be Tacos N Madre while I was in Ocklawaha, Florida over spring break. Those tacos were some of the best I had ever eaten. The people I got to experience it with are all my favorites. The fact that I was in sunny Florida was a wonderful touch for sure. And the overall review of the restaurant along with the employees was incredible. I loved everything about the trip there. The taco stand, Nalu’s Tropical Take-Out, came in a very close second, but mostly because they weren’t your typical tacos. I love authentic, corn-tortilla’d, cilantro-filled, carne asada steaming tacos, so I chose what I considered the best. Although it wasn’t in Kentucky, I would have to say my favorite place in Kentucky — particularly in Lexington — would have to be Gran Tako. The food is made so perfectly and their carne asada is so tender. I loved it.

Barry-Jester ain’t no Jester

To say the least, Ann Barry-Jester knows her food.

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Anna’s GoPro fork while taste-testing burritos (Photo courtesy to Anna Barry-Jester)

A writer and documentary photographer for FiveThirtyEight, Anna Barry-Jester is famously known in our class more specifically for her Burrito Bracket Challenge. Although Anna’s focus is on Public Health, she often covers food as well considering they go hand-in-hand.

We had the privilege of getting to know Anna better and her motives behind her food writing, the burrito bracket, and the chance to ask her opinion on the famous Tortilleria y Taqueria Ramirez here in Lexington, Kentucky.

This video provides an introduction to Anna’s rubric for researching burritos across the United States.

Getting to talk to Anna helped me understand her food writing. I was very interested in how she exactly did everything based off of a rubric, so I decided to ask during the Skype session, “Do you think your hunger each day changes what you think about the burrito?” I was curious mostly because I personally don’t think I could give a fair judgement if two burritos were just about equally as good, yet you were in a better mood one day than you were the other, so you may have preferred one burrito over the other. I don’t think I would be able to separate my feelings and the satisfaction of my taste buds enough to fairly decide which burrito was better. Her response, though, was that she doesn’t really care what a restaurant looks like and the atmosphere doesn’t affect how she view the food. She has low expectations, but she did say it may have been a mistake not completely factoring that in because sight greatly affects your experience.

Anna went on to describe some research that had people try food blindfolded to see the role that sight has in our enjoyment of food and explained that it was proven that being able to see your food and know what you’re eating affects the level of enjoyment of the meal.

I was really impressed with Anna Barry-Jester and honestly jealous of her job. She seems like a very down-to-earth, fun, and passionate person who loves food, travelling, and writing. Thanks so much, Anna, for taking time to speak with us!

If you’d like to see more about Anna Barry-Jester, check her out on her webiste, Twitter & Instagram here:
Website: http://www.annabarryjester.com/
Twitter: @annabarryjester (https://twitter.com/annabarryjester)
Instagram: @annabarryjester (https://www.instagram.com/annabarryjester/)

Javier-self a yummy little taco

On March 29th, we got the opportunity to have a Skype interview session, a writer for the food section of Vice called Munchies. Our class was featured in one of his articles earlier this year including an interview with our professor, Dr. Steven Alvarez. (If you’d like to read Cabral’s article, click here!)

In this article, Cabral really focused on asking questions to understand all the the class was about. One of my favorite things our professor said about this class, WRD 422: Taco Literacy when he was asked, “What does homework look like in your class?” Dr. Alvarez responded,

“At the very end of the course, my students will be generators of knowledge, have a portfolio full of multimedia food journalism, and they will be over the fajita stage of Mexican food.”

This quote, nearing the end of this class still rings true. I am at the very end of this course with exactly 8 days until my last assignment is due and 13 days until I graduate undergrad at UK and I can happily say this class has prepared me, if not overprepared me and allowed me to take a peek into a telescope focusing on something I didn’t know tons about beforehand. Now, I can look back and say I truly do feel as though I am a generator of knowledge, and I have this wonderful portfolio site full of multimedia food journalism. And more than anything, I will scream from the rooftops — I AM OVER THE FAJITA STAGE OF MEXICAN FOOD. I have seen the light!!

All this to say, we decided to do a reversal of roles — we Skyped Javier Cabral to ask him about food writing, how he got into it, and what is looks like working for Vice.

Javier Cabral told us about what his work day looks like — consisting of writing about an article a day. Pretty stressful stuff, but he loves it. He loves getting paid to try food (which he assured us he was overly passionate about!) and also writing about it (his other passion!). The way he described his work day overwhelmed me — having a pending deadline due everyday.. It seems so stressful to me. But at the same time, he expressed that there’s times that he can’t think about what to write about, so the last minute ideas really challenge him to run with his ideas and branch off of them.

One of my classmates asked how Cabral got into food writing and one of the coolest parts of the interview was when Cabral told us how he had loved writing since he was really young and began a portfolio when he was about 14 years old I believe. He discussed his absolute love for writing and how going to college but not finishing actually led him to write for the Muchies column at Vice. Javier Cabral seems so dedicated to writing and food that it all began so early and he has pursued it ever since then.

Getting to chat with Javier Cabral was really interesting to see that if you’re passionate about something, you will work as hard as you can — even if it means having pending deadlines hanging over your head everyday when you wake up (that makes my head hurt). He loves what he does and is incredible at it.

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Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Javier!

If you’d like to keep up with Javier Cabral, follow him on Twitter & Instagram:
Instagram: @theglutster (https://www.instagram.com/theglutster/)
Twitter: @theglutster (https://twitter.com/theglutster)

Spring Brexington — Part 2

It was the second to last night before we trekked the 12+ hour trip back to Lexington. The majority of everyone at the camp we were staying at in Ocklawaha, Florida went to Disney World for the day. We had the option to not go, so about 20 of us decided to make our own fun and stay at the camp to have volleyball tournaments, swim, and play soccer. Later that night, though, we had quite the appetite from all of the exhaustion from the physical activity. My college, haven’t-played-organized-sports-regularly-since-high-school body was hurting and tired. I had the time of my life, but I needed a good, hit-the-spot kind of meal for dinner. It was decided — MEXICAN.

There was a restaurant about 25 minutes away (which wasn’t far since the camp was in the middle of nowhere) that my roommate Jamisen had reserved for all of us. It was the closest Mexican restaurant we could find. “Tacos N Madre” was the name. The Spanish geek in me giggled at the name. We drove for about 45 minutes instead of 25 and then finally arrived at this little strip of restaurants on the side of a big road. The bright yellow sign shined bright and hung high in the sky.

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The bright sign hanging in the sky

The Best AUTHENTIC” it read with clip art of chili peppers, campesinos in sombreros, and cacti adorned the sign as well. This place looked like it could barely fit 5 of us. We crammed in to the restaurant and scattered ourselves among the open tables that were smushed together anticipating our arrival. This seemed like it was not a common place among most Floridians and that majority of white people usually don’t come often considering the stares of confusion.

I was not phased. One of my favorite things is to go to restaurants where Spanish is primarily spoken because the customers are also primarily Spanish-speaking. I love it because since I am able to speak Spanish, I feel as though I can literally feel the stereotypes breaking and a gap being bridged between people. It’s an incredible feeling being able to communicate in a language that is not my mother language with other people who may only be able to speak that language. It’s fun seeing the meseras’ surprised face when they’re about to take my order as I say, “En espanol, por favor?”.

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A terribly produced pano pictures featuring the crew packed in like sardines!

I chose to go with my usual this time — tacos. I was too hungry to spend time looking for another option. The menu had a collection of options — front and back with fairly small font. As my friends and I made small talk to avoid thinking about our hunger and to keep from saying rude things regarding the long wait, we found out there was a mini tres leches dessert cake you could get. My jaw dropped. I remembered helping my sister make tres leches cakes plenty of times when I was younger and being obsessed with it, so all of my nostalgia was being made whole again by Tacos N Madre. There was no doubt in my mind I was ordering one later.

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So many options!!

Tacos N Madre was a little understaffed to handle us that night with only about three women serving in the entire restaurant, but it was evident they were working to the best of their abilities to feed us. My table’s server, Sandra — a short, polite woman who knew her stuff. She whisked around our table of about 20 in about 10 minutes. It may have taken a while to drive there, order, get our food, and eat it, but overall, Tacos N Madre had the BEST tacos (truly) I think I have ever tasted. I had never been to a taqueria that wrapped their tacos in papery holders, but this place did. Sided with rice, extra rice, and (my favorite) a pina-flavored Jarritos, I began melting.

This carne asada was to die for. Paired with cilantro and onions, the combination was perfect. A few times in Lexington when I have been to Ellos on South Broadway I have gotten these tacos and they’re amazing, but I think Tacos N Madre outdid themselves. Not too much onion and not too much cilantro, but plenty of carne asada. It’s like Sandra read my mind and knew exactly what I needed.

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Two tacos de carne asada with wrapping similar to tissue paper and LOTS of rice!

As we all chowed down, each person was satisfied. We were ranting and raving about how incredible the food was. It was well worth our 2 and a half hour trip there and back.

Next up was the tres leches cake. I was so mesmerized that I forgot to take a picture. This drinkable-looking cake was scooped out and put into a clear, plastic cup about the size of a coffee mug. They topped this masterpiece with whipped cream and an amaretto cherry. A little more liquid-y than the last I remembered eating Tres Leches, but nonetheless downright WONDERFUL. Every single bite it seemed as though it got better and better. The the milks joined together to make the perfect sweet and satisfying dessert. Usually when you have a dessert, you need something to wash it down, but this Tres Leches cake was two in one! Bite by bite I surprised myself that I could hold down that much food considering how full I was.

As we headed to the cash register and headed out, Sandra and I said our goodbyes and she wished us safe travels saying, “Cuidate!” or “Take care of yourself!”. This experience was one for the books and all I could think about was how so many friends missed out because they went to Disney World. Haha!

Tacos N Madre, I love you. 

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We will miss you more than you know, Tacos N Madre!

Spring Brexican — Part 1

The relief of finishing the final assignments before Spring Break showered over me (praaaaise!!). I could not wait to finally be able to fully rest for a week during a much anticipated and needed “descanso”, or “rest” for those of you non-Spanish speakers. Florida couldn’t get here soon enough!! Not only was I excited for the ocean breeze whipping my hair around, seafoam tickling my toes, and the sweet Florida sunshine bronzing (or frying?) my skin, but also, I couldn’t wait to get out of Lexington to try tacos from a different region for this class!!

St. Augustine, Florida was the first stop on the way down. The eventual destination was Ocklawaha, Florida, but we had a few places to go before getting to Ocklawaha on Sunday. When we got off the interstate after what seemed like 12 years of traveling instead of 12 hours, everyone was awake, happy, and ready to have sand in between their toes. Despite how our bodies might have felt — mine being exhausted and hungry and poorly redsted with a kink in my back — we were without a doubt bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We wound down the windows and turned up the music as we crossed over the Matanzas River. Once getting off the bridge, we passed a small taco truck on the way to the parking lot for the beach and we decided that was where we were going for dinner later. It was close, it seemed cheap, and it looked cool — it met all the requirements.

We arrived and parked. Running away from the car as fast as possible towards the beach, each of the six of us stretched our legs that had been crammed tightly in confined areas full of pillows, snacks, wires controlling music, and other napping bodies all day. I felt as free as could be. I had long awaited this trip. The consensus was to just rest on the beach from the drive, meaning no swim suits. We were just going to either lie on some beach towels or hang up a hammock in between two palm trees (the dreaaaam!) to take a little “siesta”. None of that happened. We wrote in the sand, had competitions for who could do the fastest crab walk, ate some snacks, threw a frisbee. Still exhausted, but now starving, we thought it was a good to head out to the taco shack nearby.

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Pictures on the beach (selfie stick, of course — we wouldn’t be tourists without it!)

Nalu’s Tropical Takeout,” it read.

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Never in my 22 years of living had I ever had a tropical taco. My mouth was salivating. I was like a little kid in a candy store. “GIVE ME ALL THE TACOS,” my stomach was demanding. As R. Kelly put it, “MY MIND’S TELLIN’ ME NOOOOO… BUT MY STOMACH, MY STOMACH’S TELLIN’ ME YESSSSSSS!” That how it goes, right?

The aroma coming from the truck were delightful. It smelled as though a citrus-y and fruity flavored barbecue was brisking the air. Since we were in Florida, everything was mostly fresh seafood. I’m not huge into seafood, but shrimp and certain types of fish I can do, especially for this experience since it was fresh as can be. I ordered the “tropical shrimp tacos” with a meal description of it containing shrimp, mango, black bean salsa, cilantro, tropical cole slaw, cheddar jack cheese, and lime.

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Zach, Brittany, Janie, Kaylee, Kaitlyn, Ross, and Zach & Brittany’s twins… or are they?

“Casey!!” they yelled out my name. I couldn’t wait. Everything about this spot was perfect. The colors, the fact that it was so close to the beach, the Hawaiian feel to the taco truck, every single dish being full of tropical flavors. I basically ran to the window that had humidity billowing out of it. Enclosed in a Styrofoam tray, I grabbed the container, thanking the cooks, and sat next to my friends at a table surrounded by a bedazzled fence with pieces of seaside artwork of mermaids, sunsets, and waves, giving the aesthetic a livened-up, warm, welcoming feel to it.

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The beauty that is Tropical Shrimp Tacos (heart eye emoji)

I cupped the taco in my hand, clenching the top to keep the ingredients from tumbling out. I sunk my teeth into the flour tortilla, and I knew this was a great decision. The mango and black bean salsa made my taste buds jerk in the best way possible. The grilled shrimp marinated in a little bit of spice made my tongue burn and my nose sweat. It was spicy, but it was so worth it. I didn’t even care; all I wanted was to absolutely devour every bit of this meal as soon as possible.

This incredible meal came along with a side of rice, yet it had a greenish or neon yellowish tint to it. Confused, yet intrigued, I tasted it. It was white rice, but for some reason it was green. It didn’t taste any different except the consistency was stickier and it was topped with something called “baja sauce” which was similar consistency to mayonaise and ranch dressing mixed together. It was a little spicy for my liking. I searched for a a replica of this strange rice to see the background story of it, but I think it is unique to Nalu’s Tropical Takeout — there was nothing about tinted white rice. Even on the menu it is labeled as just “rice”. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was nothing that could make this experience better. I didn’t think there was much else that could make it better either… until we discovered A SNO-CONE STAND RIGHT NEXT DOOR. God bless. It was the best day ever. If I’m ever in Saint Augustine, Florida again, I will be hunting down this taco stand. If I had to rate it, I would give it an 11 out of 10.