Mexican Flavors / Truly, madly, deeply
Western New York is hopefully devoted to Mexican food
Galarneau illustration by Josh Fanigan
Buffalo has long had a love affair with Mexican food, good, bad, or indifferent. Its origins in the region stretch back to (at least) the seventies. But much of what has been called “Mexican” here should more rightly be termed “Gringo Mex.” That’s what Buffalo News food editor Andrew Galarneau calls the enchiladas, chimichangas, and burritos Western New Yorkers have been happily wolfing down for decades.
Galarneau readily admits, “I was OK with the Mexican food in Buffalo until I had real Mexican. Now I’m willing to go way out of my way for the real thing. For years, that meant going to a Medina taco trailer, during the season [when Mexican farm workers would be there]. I went for the corn tortillas, the flavorful meats crisped on the grill, the cilantro … These are the tacos I had from food trucks in Los Angeles.”
“Before I found out about the Medina tacos, the Mexican food in town mainly featured ground beef and flour tortillas; some places had more flavor than others. Listen, I love a plate of enchiladas. It’s tasty, it’s filling, you get lots of it. Man, put cheese and sour cream on anything—I’m there.”
That tolerance is clearly shared by many Western New Yorkers, who have embraced a continuing string of Americanized (to varying degrees) Mexican venues, including Gramma Mora’s, La Tolteca, Coyote Café, El Ranchito, and others. Fresh Mex chains such as Moe’s, Salsarita’s, and Chipotle are also popular here. And, of course, Mighty Taco will always be a go-to for many.
Authenticity, as Galarneau defines it, has largely evaded those who yearn for high-quality street tacos, until 2010, when two gringos started Lloyd Taco (read about it here), which served double corn tortillas with fresh, scratchmade fillings from its first food truck. Cantina Loco came along in 2011, with its Koreatown and fish tacos. Both of these businesses readily admit they are fusion operations. Around the same time, the taco truck behind Monte Alban in Medina was joined by Mariachi Del Oro, which enhanced Medina’s rep as a taco destination.
In 2014, real street tacos, as well as other authentic specialties, became available in the city of Buffalo at Valle of Mexico. “They got the sauces right,” notes Galarneau. “And they did mole. I’d had mole previously that tasted like it came out of a jar. This was the real deal: bitter, spicy, sweet.” The first Valle of Mexico was plagued by service issues, so much so that Galarneau recalls, “I would look around and say to myself, ‘This is how much people miss real Mexican food.’” The restaurant has since moved and become a much more user-friendly version of itself: Mexico City (read about it here). Over the past few years, Mexico City has been joined by other, recent additions like the new La Divina location (see here), Taqueria Los Mayas (see here), and other restaurants that strive for 100 percent authenticity or a fusion of authenticity and chef-driven innovations. New wave venues like Tacos, Community, and Beer (see here), Left Coast Taco, and Deep South Taco have added more choices for local diners. For those who love the familiar flavors—the sides of rice and beans, the cheese and sour cream—such places are still here and even their ranks are growing.
Indeed, there are now far too many Mexican restaurants of various descriptions to list. Check Yelp, Spree’s dining guide, Buffalo Eats, or just talk to someone like Andrew Galarneau. Suffice it to say that those who love this cuisine will have to agree with his concluding understatement: “We’re in a much better position now in terms of Mexican food.”