When we moved to Oak Park in the mid-80s, there seemed to be just one Mexican restaurant in the Village, and that was La Majada on Harrison. As the years went by, many new Mexican restaurants came on the scene, including Lalo’s and Maya del Sol. Recently, Tacos 76 and Taco Mucho have opened in Oak Park.

We’ve eaten Mexican food in London (where we had a wonderful minty pea empanada) and Florence (which seemed to have mostly Tex-Mex versions of Mexican classics). Part of the reason for this international popularity of Mexican food is that some of the world’s most popular cuisines use ingredients that originated in what is now Mexico, for instance:

  • Chilies, key signifiers of Mexican cuisine, were first cultivated in what’s now Mexico, and it’s impossible to imagine the food of India, Vietnam and Thailand without the chili pepper.
  • Chocolate, arguably the world’s favorite sweet, can be traced back to the Olmec, one of the first people to inhabit Mexico.
  • Corn was originally developed from a native grass, teosinte, in Oaxaca, Mexico, and it has now spread around the world; China is now the largest producer of corn.
  • Tomatoes were developed in southern Mexico, and the name itself is derived from a word in Nahuatl, the language of the ancient Aztec. What would Italian cuisine be like without tomatoes?

Of course, it’s in Central Mexico that we find the first uses of avocado and many varieties of beans which, like chilies and other foods of Mexican origin, are so woven into the fabric of our lives that it may seem as though they’ve always been with us, everywhere. Mexican food is now international.

Aside from the many Mexican contributions to world food, another reason for the enduring popularity of Mexican food is that it’s extraordinarily flexible. Years ago, there was a rash of Korean Taco Trucks in Los Angeles, and we’ve seen tortilla-wrapped food at sushi restaurants in Chicago and Tacos Lyonnaise sold on the streets of Lyon, France, one of the culinary capitals of the world. Tacos are hand-held, easy to eat, and because they’re basically “wraps,” they’re flexible enough to contain many different kinds of food…and they do.

Mexican cuisine itself is extraordinarily open to the cuisines of other countries. The All-American Hot Dog itself has been adopted by Mexico, incorporating ingredients that have grown there for centuries. The Mexican Hot Dog – with the wiener wrapped in bacon, dressed much like a traditional dog, though with added jalapenos – seems to have originated in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora (it’s sometimes even called a Sonoran Hot Dog). The Mexican Hot Dog was once an oddity on the Chicago dining scene; I wrote about it for the Chicago Reader in 2009. Now, the Mexican-influenced wiener is served at a number of locations in Chicago, and I believe it has made its first appearance in Oak Park at Taco Mucho, where it is called the Jalisco Hot Dog. This version of the Mexican Hot Dog (pictured above) features the bacon-wrapped sausage topped with crema, Dijon mustard, queso fresco, pico de gallo, and jalapenos: a delicious blending of Mexican and US foodways.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...