America’s First Taco Editor Says That Burritos Are Actually Tacos
By Helen Rosner
Twenty-two years ago, Texas Monthly, the venerable “national magazine of Texas,” published a ranking of the state’s fifty best barbecue joints. The magazine had named the state’s best barbecue before, but the Top Fifty was an extraordinary feat of carnivorousness—a giant inventory of smoked meat, involving hundreds of meals and uncountable thousands of miles—and it became a phenomenon, on and off the newsstand. Regularly revised and updated in the years since, the list drives tourism both to and within the state, names and shapes trends, makes kings of newcomers, and topples long-established empires. So tremendous is Texans’ desire to read about barbecue, so essential is the food to the very notion of Texan-ness, that in 2013 Texas Monthly appointed the food writer and meat savant Daniel Vaughn to the freshly created role of barbecue editor.
This week, the magazine announced the creation of a new position to stand alongside its barbecue editor: beginning September 18th, José R. Ralat will become the magazine’s and the nation’s first taco editor. Ralat—who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in New York City, and now lives in Dallas—has been something of a professional taco-eater for more than a decade, first writing taco reviews for the New York Press, and then, after decamping from Brooklyn to Texas, ten years ago, launching a weekly taco column with the Dallas Observer. He’s the author of the blog Taco Trail and, until the end of this week, the food and drink editor at the Dallas-based magazine Cowboys & Indians. His new role sounds like an office drone’s daydream: a full-time salary, plus benefits, just to wander around Texas and eat tacos? Sure thing, kid, dream on. But, as with its editorial commitment to barbecue, Texas Monthly considers this job to be not only serious business but essential Texas journalism: in a state where more than forty per cent of the population is Hispanic, including Mexican and Mexican-American residents, tacos are part of daily life, and key to Texan culinary identity.
I recently spoke with Ralat by phone about his new gig; in our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also explored how to categorize burritos, why tacos are essentially Texan, and Ralat’s mission to correct the record on breakfast tacos.