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Food Critic Now Halfway Through Taco-A-Day Quest. Will He Fold?

Jun 2, 2017
Originally published on June 2, 2017 6:26 pm

One taco is good, but two tacos are better. By that reasoning, hundreds of tacos should be incredible.

And Mike Sutter, food critic for the San Antonio Express-News, is now about halfway through his "365 Days of Tacos" quest to eat at a different taco joint every day for a year. So far, he's consumed about 700 tacos.

Back in January, NPR's Kelly McEvers talked to Sutter as he set off on his taco trek. He did it before in 2015, when he consumed a whopping 1,600 of them. But then he moved to San Antonio, a town where tacos are a part of the fabric of life, and where some taquerias have been around for decades. The challenge, he told us at the start, would be limiting himself to just 365 different kinds.

Six months in, we thought we'd taco bout how it's going. A transcript of the conversation follows, edited for clarity and brevity.

Kelly McEvers: Be honest. Are you sick of tacos?

Mike Sutter: No, because you can put so many different things inside of a taco. It's just an infinite wonderland of choices – the constant being the tortilla. But even that, [with] flour or corn, you can multiply your choices by two, and it just becomes this infinitely rolling equation.

What are some of the surprises since we talked to you in January?

I think I've had some unusual proteins. I found some brains in my barbacoa. I found a knucklebone in my cabrito. But that's sort of an occupational hazard – any full animal roast is a contact sport. This is the NFL of tacos.

For those people who do not live in taco country, what wisdom do you have to impart to them? What have you learned that you can teach us as a nation?

I think we have to respect the tortilla. That's the number one thing. The big difference in San Antonio is how many places make their own tortillas. And that makes a huge difference because it's a fresh bakery product. But a bigger lesson, I think, is that we have to be careful not to call everything you put in a tortilla a taco, in the same way that you don't want to call every political scandal a "gate," because it starts to lose its meaning after a while.

NPR's Laurel Dalrymple contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

One taco is good, but Mike Sutter thinks a lot of tacos is even better, like a lot. He is the food critic for the San Antonio Express-News. And he is now almost halfway through his quest to eat at least one taco a day all this year and write about it. I talked to him back in January at the beginning of this amazing endeavor. And we are going to check in with him again now. He's with us from member station KUT in Austin. Hey, there.

MIKE SUTTER: Hi. I'm glad we're following along with the important news of the day.

MCEVERS: Absolutely.

SUTTER: I'm about 173 places into it so far. And that's about 10 away from the halfway mark.

MCEVERS: How many tacos have you had so far this year?

SUTTER: Well, 173 times, at least, four - I mean, we're knocking on the door of 700 so far?

MCEVERS: Be honest, are you at all sick of tacos?

SUTTER: No, because you can put so many different things inside of a taco, the constant being the tortilla and even that - flower or corn. So you multiply your choices by two. And it becomes just this infinitely rolling equation.

MCEVERS: But, you know, come on, there's got to be like a Tuesday night when you're just like, please, I can't eat another taco.

SUTTER: Well, I did hit that point a little bit yesterday because it was an 8-taqueria day yesterday. And I had to take a dinner break in between those to do the other part of my job.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) You had to take a dinner break?

SUTTER: Well, I did...

MCEVERS: I don't understand that.

SUTTER: ...Because I have to be a restaurant reviewer on top of just a taco guy. I feel - some days, I feel like I'm getting stuff like a foie gras goose.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) So you take the dinner break, and what happens?

SUTTER: After that, I had to go to the trailer outside the male strip club.

MCEVERS: So wait. Did you have a taco at that truck?

SUTTER: Well, I did. I ordered tacos out of pastor, which I should have been a little bit wary of. As I looked into the trailer - and it just thrown up its flaps. And there was at least a foot-tall mound of raw meat sitting on top of the flat top grill, trying really hard to get cooked, I guess, in time to be served. And maybe then I should have thought, this isn't the best possible idea. But I did have the tacos. And they were awful.

MCEVERS: What are some of the surprises since we talked to you in January? Like, what are some of the real, like, standouts for you?

SUTTER: I found some brains in my barbacoa. And I found a knuckle bone in my cabrito.

MCEVERS: You did not.

SUTTER: Yeah, I did. Well, it might not have been a knuckle bone. I don't know. It was certainly an animal bone of some kind - a mammal bone. But that's sort of an occupational hazard. I mean, any full animal roast is a contact sport. This is the NFL of tacos.

MCEVERS: So I live in L.A., which means I'm surrounded by some very good taco situations. But for those people who are listening who do not live in taco country, I guess I want to know, like, what have you learned that you can teach us as a nation?

SUTTER: Well, I think we have to respect the tortilla. The big difference in San Antonio is how many places make their own tortillas. And it makes a huge difference because it's a fresh bakery product. A bigger lesson that I think is, we have to be careful not to call everything that you put in a tortilla, taco, in the same way that you don't want to call every political scandal a gate because it starts to lose its meaning after a while.

MCEVERS: So enjoy them but be a little discerning.

SUTTER: Yes, let's do that.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) And don't try to eat 700 in half a year.

SUTTER: Well, no. I'm not going to advise against that because that would make me a hypocrite.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) Mike Sutter of the San Antonio Express-News who is eating tacos everyday this year.

SUTTER: And you can come with me on that journey at Express-News.com/tacos.

MCEVERS: Oh, I thought you were inviting me to actually come with you.

SUTTER: All right. But you have to agree to go to the one outside the strip club.

MCEVERS: Done. Yes.

SUTTER: (Laughter) OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FUNK ARK SONG, "HORCHATA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.