A lifetime of tacos, and not a bad one yet

I love tacos. Not just one taco in particular, but all tacos everywhere.

I do believe that it is possible to have bad sex, but not a bad taco. (I have never had either, just for the record.) I even have my own secret taco recipe--try putting Lawry's Seasoned Salt on the lettuce.I also can share my secret, revolutionary way to eat tacos, especially tacos on the go. I call it "Steve's Taco Sleeve." It's born out of, and utilizes the fact that most good tacos these days are made with two (dos) tortillas. "Steve's Taco Sleeve" relieves the taco eater of the burden of trying to keep all of the taco's filling in the original 6- or 8-inch tortilla configuration. For your dining and dancing pleasure, just follow the steps in the illustration.

I grew up in Los Angeles, so Mexican food has been a part of my gastronomic lexicon for quite some time. My mother, who is not Mexican, has been making tacos every week since the 1950s. My grandmother from Minnesota used to load up the trunk of her Cadillac with tortillas, salsa and taco sauce at the end of her yearly pilgrimage to L.A. then sell the stuff to her friends back on the streets of Edina, Minn. Here's my favorite part: She marked the stuff up 300 percent. That's pretty bold for a Lutheran.

My grandmother was on to something. Chi-Chi's was started in Minneapolis back in 1975, and helped establish the concept of a full-service Mexican restaurant in the Midwest. When I moved from Los Angeles to Detroit in 1975, I was shocked to discover that I had to go down to the Mexican section of Detroit to get anything that even resembled authentic Mexican food. When I moved to Chicago in 1978, Su Casa on Ontario Street was the go-to Mexican restaurant for most around here. I soon learned of Pilsen and to this day stop and get my tortillas fresh at the Del Rey tortilla factory on 18th Street.

Fish tacos are big these days. When I was 10, we would buy fish tacos for 10 cents on the road between Tijuana and Ensenada. They were fried in a contraption that was fashioned out of the bottom of a 50-gallon oil drum. The tortillas were hand-made and still warm and the fish had just been caught in the bright blue Pacific Ocean. Later, as surfers learned about fish tacos as they surfed up and down the Baja coast, the fish taco would migrate to Southern California. In SoCal, they prefer their fish tacos grilled. It's healthier, Dude.

I don't mean to sound snooty or condescending with my taco tales, I just want you to know that I know what I'm talking about. From Taco Bell in La Grange to tacos al pastor on the streets of Mexico City, I have eaten tacos in all of the taco-eating countries of the world, and I've always found something about each and every taco that was pleasant and enjoyable. To quote the late great Richard J. Daley, "There's nothing in this world as beautiful as a taco." He actually said that about a fish, but I'm sure he would have meant taco if he'd ever had one. I bet he would have really loved fish tacos.

I was given the list of finalists for "Best Taco In Chicago," and I would have tried them all, if gas weren't $3 a gallon. I did manage to hit half of the list, and there wasn't a bad taco in the bunch.

I must also tell you that I was quite relieved to see that my favorite taco place in Chicagoland wasn't even on the list. The people who frequent my taco stand won't be reading the Tribune until they put out an edition in Spanish. I'd like to keep it that way.

I just hope that when they finally get around to revising the immigration laws, enforcing them, or whatever it is that they plan to do, that they keep in mind how much we have all benefited from the influx of our friends from south of the border in terms of a great taco and our ability to basically get one anytime, day or night. You can't really put a price on that, but it's usually around a $1.65, and that's for steak.

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Steve Dahl can be heard weekday afternoons from 2 to 7 p.m. on WCKG-FM 105.9.

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