Tacos Lalo Los Originales Tacos al Vapor: The Legend of La Rumorosa

Categories: Tijuana Sí!

Bill Esparza

Remember that 18 wheeler chase scene in License to Kill, the rather clumsy James Bond flick starring Timothy Dalton? The one where 007 gets the truck to tilt on its side to avoid a rocket shot by the film's villain, Robert Davi, who is better known as the guy that tried to kill the Goonies? Subsequently, that was the best part of a poorly imagined film that among its many flaws starred an oddly cast Wayne Newton as a bad guy, but to its credit it did include a very young Benicio Del Toro playing a stone cold assassin. That was shot in La Rumorosa, the famous road between Tecate and Mexicali with a steep grade that was quite dangerous when it was just a single lane in each direction through its serpentine pass. Accidents have been reduced significantly since they've gone to 2 lanes each way, and these days it has all the intrigue of a vacation with the Griswold's--unless you want to drive REALLY fast. 

Despite the dangerous sounding name(which is likely a starting point for many long, repetitive stories made up to scare children on their way to eat steamed tacos), the name La Rumorosa comes from the whispering winds through that span of highway in the Sierra de Juarez. In reality the beautiful drive through La Rumorosa is a destination for families, Mexican motorcycle clubs, and commuters that offers an exciting pit stop--one of the greatest northern taco traditions started by the Tacos Lalo stand as legendary at the notorious expressway.   

Bill Esparza

Tacos Lalo set up in the town of La Rumorosa in 1973 with a specially tricked out cart that held all his plastic condiment jars in place--a set up that was copied by later contenders to the title of best tacos al vapor in the north.

Bill Esparza
Mis en place

Tacos al vapor are not as common in Baja California as they are in other parts of Mexico, especially D.F where they rule the streets from sunrise until the mid-afternoon. In the state of Mexico, D.F., and around the capital region they are called tacos de canasta, or basket tacos. Traditionally, they are naturally steamed in a basket, and wrapped and covered with a towel. In reality the vendors in D.F. are more likely to use a box with duct tape or some other such insulating vessel. They're also known as tacos sudados, or sweaty tacos, and tacos al vapor, or steamed tacos. These are regional names.

Bill Esparza
Tacos al vapor in the steam pot at Lalo's

Tacos Lalo is known for a singular steamed taco of shredded beef, beans, and potatoes cooked in a campfire-style blue pot covered with a towel until all these ingredients seep into the soul of the tortilla, and the tortilla itself becomes fused with the well-seasoned filling. 

There are a few rival stands near Tacos Lalo that are usually empty, and merely gain a few customers here and there too weary to wait in the line at Lalo's. You walk over to give them a try thinking you're slick, and you can do better, but all you do is repeat acts of futility, like retirees trying to hit it big in Laughlin. 

Bill Esparza

There's also a stand in Mexicali claiming to have the Tacos Lalo recipe and to be some sort of outpost, but I doubt Lalo would stand for such a farce--they are bland, and forgettable.

Bill Esparza
Tacos al vapor at Lalo's 

The dish is finished with inelegant cuts of fresh onion that add a bit of crunch, and dull iceberg lettuce that finds restitution as an essential soupy filler within the taco, and finally a medium spicy red salsa that blends all the elements inside the tortilla while melding with the oily surface of this fabled street food taco. The taste carries you away, and may trigger pleasant day dreams. If this were the only taco al vapor in Mexico, that'd be fine. 

Unless you're being chased by Robert Davi, there's not a sane reason to miss the opportunity to eat at Tacos Lalo. In Baja, the first thing that comes up when you mention La Rumorosa isn't the road, nor the muttering of soft winds, but " do you know the famous tacos al vapor of La Rumorosa?" I guess some rumors are worth spreading.

Tacos Lalo is located in the town of La Rumorosa on the Tecate-Mexicali--Mexicali-Tecate Carretera Federal 2 on the south side of the highway, west of the winding pass. It's open for breakfast and lunch in to the late afternoon.

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