Personally, I prefer a more subdued acknowledgement of the Battle of Puebla (most people continually screw this up - for the record, Mexican Independence Day is actually Sept. 16). Years ago I spent an extended period working/drinking in Cancun, Mexico. Surrounded by rotten tourist traps and fast-food franchises, ironically the only food I could keep down was the type Montezuma warned us about - roadside tacos. Since returning, I've been on a quest to find that same bona fide fare, and with Taqueria Downtown (236 Grove St., Jersey City), I've struck oro.
Simple soft, corn tortillas with meat, onions, cilantro, genuine salsa and a lime wedge -that's all you need. And while most Mexican restaurants find a way to screw that up, Taqueria Downtown miraculously and consistently nails it. I can certainly vouch for the consistency, considering I've been back at least half a dozen times since my maiden visit about a month ago. These tacos are perhaps the most addictive Mexican export since...well...let's just say the food is pretty damn good.
But my visit on May 5 stood out in particular. Most places would go all out on Cinco de Mayo, but this place didn't really see the need. Elsewhere the Irish bars and tchotchke chains had their shot girls and mariachi bands, as I sat in Taqueria Downtown and quietly enjoyed my taco carnitas while "Stairway to Heaven" cranked on Q 104.3. There's a uniquely comfortable, sort of Mexi-hipster feel to the place that says, "Come for our food because that's our only gimmick - and that's all we need."
In addition to their glorious tacos, Taqueria Downtown offers a full menu of genuine Mexican cuisine, with unbelievable prices ranging from $2.50 to $10.95.
Further cementing the restaurant's brazenly confident vibe is its list of Los Diez Mandamientos (The Ten Commandments). While Mandamientos 1 through 9 are a concise lesson in authentic Mexican food snobbery, commandment number 10 is the one that speaks the most: "10. No tacky red, white and green uniforms with a red sash around the waist." In other words, you won't have to worry about Montezuma's revenge, but you might have to deal with his wry smile and middle finger.
Fair enough, considering...
Christopher M. Halleron, freelance writer/bitter bartender, writes a biweekly humor column for The Hudson Current and websites in the New York Metro area. He spends a lot of his time either in front of or behind the bar in Hoboken, N.J., where his tolerance for liquor grows stronger as his tolerance for society is eroded on a daily basis. Feel free to drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.