Ask a Mexican Food Historian

Gustavo Arellano's "Taco USA"

The most basic lesson of Gustavo Arellano's new book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America ($25), is this: Mexican food is Mexican food is Mexican food.

Be it Puebla's tacos árabes or that terrifying and delicious creation, the pastrami burrito, all of it is the real deal.

In Taco USA, out today, Arellano traces the history of both high- and lowbrow Mexican cooking in the United States. So there's both Oaxacan cuisine's migration story–one intimately tied up with L.A.'s own Guelaguetza–and the odyssey of the Sonoran hot dog, a street snack with a history more complex than its late-night perfume of frying bacon, onion and peppers intimates.

Taco USA has us planning numerous food field trips, including a pilgrimage to San Bernadino's 75-year-old Mitla Café, where the fried-ground-beef-and-mashed-potato tacos that inspired Glen Bell's omnipresent chain, Taco Bell, were invented.

Other bites of Mexican-food history can be found much closer to home, such as the taquitos served at El Cielito Lindo on Olvera Street, which might've won Taco Madness if it took place in the 1930s.

Arellano will be signing copies of Taco USA at La Plaza tonight, not far from Olvera Street. And we can't think of any better company for a dinner at El Cielito Lindo than a freshly inscribed copy of this book.