Conventional thinking about the evolution of the taco puts its origins at the end of the 19th century, which is surprisingly recent for a dish that today serves as the foundation of Mexican cuisine.
The kicker is that the taco is just as American as it is Mexican – one culture embraced the soft corn tortilla-filled delights as snacks to feed the influx of workers taking advantage of Mexico’s industrial revolution; the other culture made it easier to grab and adapted it to the ground beef and cheese that was more readily available in the central United States. Both are “authentic,” but everyone has a preference.
For me, it’s the 3-inch tortillas that are most associated with south of the border and the more esoteric Mexican restaurants less prominently featured in the city.
If you happen to find yourself around Hydraulic and Wassall on the weekend, you might be lucky enough to visit Taqueria Mi Lindo Michoacan during the few hours it is open. The restaurant is small, with only nine seats arranged in a semi-circle around the kitchen area that occupies the majority of the space. At its center – behind glass, under heat lamps and inside a big metal bucket – is the reason this Mexican restaurant is unlike any others I have seen in Wichita.
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Inside that bucket is the restaurant’s version of carnitas – an entire pig, or the remnants of one, picked apart over the course of the day as it is gradually served by the tortilla. No seasoning is needed here. Alternating pieces of meat and fat are carefully selected and placed into the supple homemade tortillas and served with a side plate of cilantro, onion and lime wedge. The result is nothing short of exquisite, and the carnitas have enough rendered fat to ensure the meat remains moist but not enough to make it greasy.
If this were all Mi Lindo Michoacan served, it would be enough, but the restaurant has a standard roster of meats: asada (marinated beef), lengua (beef tongue) and cabeza (also known as barbacoa, or barbecued beef). The meats all are well-prepared and are excellent accompaniments to the carnitas tacos. The meats are even better when served in a quesadilla along with the mild Mexican melting cheese that gives the dish its name or served in as a modified take on a grilled cheese that I think I prefer over the American version.
One other taco filling is offered and is noteworthy because it’s not often seen around here. Birria, an imprecise term meant to represent the meat from goat, beef or lamb – in this case the latter – is served here either as a taco filling or as the star ingredient in a flavorful stew.
I don’t know whether Mi Lindo Michoacan bucks the tradition of beef tripe in the name of utilizing the entire pig, but the large bowl filled with generous helpings of the stuff is certainly fresh either way. It’s served in a simple broth of chiles and water alongside plenty of cabbage, cilantro, onions and tortillas. (Tacos are less than $2. Soups cost a few dollars more.)
Taqueria Mi Lindo Michoacan is a small restaurant that wisely limits its menu items – everything offered has been described here – choosing to do a handful of things well and one thing extremely well. It’s a template for success that many other restaurants around town would be wise to follow.