Taqueria La Esquinita . . . What Is Authenticity Anyway? By Carlos Camargo
There’s a city in north-central Mexico called Ciudad de Queretaro, the hometown of Owner and Executive Chef of Taqueria La Esquinita, Erick Gutierrez. It’s an ancient city that predates the Spanish Conquistadors and features agricultural settlements dating back to 500 BC. A city riddled with unique cement homes and old European style architecture where no two walls are the same color. The people of Queretaro are friendly, family-centric, and hardworking; typical Midwesterners. It’s here where Chef Erick developed his values as well as his taste for truly good, honest Mexican food.
He sits at one of the tables in his dining room, calmly sipping a glass of ice water, enjoying a short break from the line. “Mexican food is so much more than what people think.
Every region, every family, every mother has their spin on every recipe. And it all varies by the geography of the region because some places are by the coast and obviously specialize in seafood, there are towns in the middle of nowhere where lamb and pork dishes are the best, and of course big cities where ﬁnger food is most prominent. Tacos, for example, are a city food and in smaller towns they take a back seat to ‘guisados’ or casseroles.”. He suddenly turns to the kitchen, the stove sizzles, the clinking and clanking of plates as they’re served on the pass. He calmly comes back to the conversation.
For Chef Erick, the term “Mexican food” holds a deeper, more personal meaning than even he’s willing to admit. “My mom wasn’t a great cook, she was one of the few people that cooked with canned ingredients, so I usually went to my aunt or grandmother’s house for dinner. They were more like your typical Mexican homemakers that are completely dedicated to the stove, wearing an apron at all times. No matter how you want to look at it, they make the best food. I have never lost my appetite for that kind of cuisine that only comes from a truly committed Mexican mother.” Anyone raised in a traditional Mexican household will agree. Mexico is a very traditionalist place, where customs and family values reign supreme.
Growing up, Chef Erick would seek out dishes from every region of Mexico, satisfying his curious taste buds wherever he could. He became obsessed with cuisine at a relatively young age, though unlike some chefs, he doesn’t dwell on the romance of classical technique nor dreams of Michelin stars. Erick is more focused on recreating dishes he’s had throughout his life in an attempt to share a real taste of his native Mexico with the world. “We try to make everything with the kind of authenticity that is for Mexicans, by Mexicans. In other words, we don’t use anything canned, we try to prepare from scratch as we would at home.” Most people don’t have a concept of what true Mexican food is because in the U.S we have diluted its signiﬁcance. In Mexico, food is everything. We passionately discuss great food while eating dinner with our friends and family.”
Passionate as he is, Chef Erick keeps things simple and attributes his menu to the cuisine of Michoacán, a coastal state in the southwest, where typical dishes resemble what we’re used to seeing at Mexican restaurants. They’re very generous with their portions and traditionally include the side of rice and beans that is considered standard for Mexican restaurants in America. “Their dishes are simply packed with ﬂavor and they demand to be eaten with good company. That’s what authenticity is, not just fresh ingredients or technique, it’s the memories shared with friends and family at the table instigated by great and generous dishes.”
At his restaurant, Taqueria La Esquinita, authenticity is deﬁned by their expansive menu and their daily guisado. “We pick our guisados based on what sounds good. Just like in any Mexican home, we make what we want to enjoy, not what we need to get rid of or what’s most cost eﬀective. We owe it to our guests to give them something that excites them as much as it excites us.” The same goes for their two taco trucks, conveniently located in Tumwater and Littlerock. Packed with fresh ingredients every morning and manned by cooks that share Erick’s passion. “Taco trucks, they’re inspiring because instead of trying to make a fast-food truck we have the opportunity to bring our excellent product to people who don’t have the time to come to us. It’s an opportunity to take what we’ve done here and extend it to anyone, anywhere, whether at a birthday party, sporting event, or festival. Really anywhere people come together to have a good time”.
By this time the restaurant is getting full and Erick’s attention is glued to the line. Just as he’s about to excuse himself he oﬀers a taco and a margarita. “You have to eat! You’re already seated, might as well have a good time while you’re here.”