The Five Most Influential Cities in the Development of Mexican Food in the United States

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Out April 12 much-promised book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America finally hits the bookstores next month (April 10), and review copies are slowly making their way around the nation's newsrooms. So I might as well start giving out bits and pieces to entice ustedes to preorder the damn thing.

For the next couple of weeks, I'll concoct lists and drop other bits from the book to serve that end. This week? Settling once and for all what city helped define Mexican food in the United States more than any other. Note this isn't a debate about the BEST Mexican city; this is about which burg hosted the most pioneers, inspired the most people, and helped spread the cult of tacos, tamales, margaritas further than anyone.

Unsurprisingly, it's a fight to the death between California and Texas (sorry, Chicago, but as great as your city is, merely hosting an arrogant, second-rate chef isn't enoughl). The list after you-know-what!

5. El Paso
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The pride of El Paso

What? Dirty-ass, border-loving El Paso? Damn straight. Those who have never spent more than a gas station village in the city will never be able to love it, never be able to appreciate its beauty. And although its specific cuisine never ventured past city borders to influence American tastes, two of its companies did: Old El Paso (which was historically based up I-10 in Canutillo, Texas--but who's counting?) and Ashley's, a long-gone brand. Both of them emerged in the 1950s to change how Americans ate Mexican food at home, namely through the manufacturing of taco shells and the ability to make your own taco shells at home.

4. San Francisco
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The burrito that took over America by ripping off San Francisco

SanFran can boast of only three influential contributions to Mexican food in this country, and one of them--Elena Zelayeta, the country's first famous Mexican cook who was, you know Mexican instead of some scheming gabacha--ultimately didn't prove too influential. But its two other contributions--the Mission-style burrito and tamales--profoundly shaped the tastes of Americans. We all know the story of Chipotle and its burritos stolen from the Mission District--but tamales? Yep. They were America' first Mexican-food obsession, all the way back in the 1880s, and San Francisco was the instigator--and you'll have to read the book to discover the true, amazing story of when and how San Francisco tamales ruled America.

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