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I’ll Show You Mine

October 28, 2013

Earlier today I made a certain assertion in my post of the day about Bryan Fitzgerald’s recent write-up of La Mexicana Grocery and Restaurant. Let’s see if I can dig up the exact quote:

Reading through it, he claimed the tacos come with lettuce. That’s wrong. First, real street tacos should never have lettuce. I can’t even imagine the look you might get if you asked for a taco con lechuga. But that green stuff mixed into the onions at La Mexicana is cilantro.

That link is to the post I wrote for All Over Albany on the place, and it includes a picture of the tacos. Here’s the thing. I’ve been to La Mexicana a lot. A whole heck of a lot. For me, it’s a taste of home, and I try to get there as much as possible.

Never, never ever have I seen them put shredded iceberg lettuce on a taco. On other things? Absolutely. A taco? Never. Yet when one of Steve Barnes readers suggested that Bryan may have gotten it wrong, Steve insists there exists somewhere a cell phone picture of a La Mexicano taco with shredded iceberg lettuce.

Let’s take a look at some more photographic evidence of my own, shall we?

Below is the carne asada taco. No lettuce.

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That’s the chorizo taco in the foreground below. The pollo asado is in the background. Neither of them contain a trace of lettuce.

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Apologias for the blurry picture. Ordinarily I don’t post snapshots, but for the sake of the argument, I though it was necessary. Mostly because this picture shows the al pastor taco on the left and the carnitas taco on the right, which believe it or not don’t come with lettuce either.

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And below is another blurry photo just in case you may have thought that the lengua taco (pictured on the left) might be the one remaining example that is traditionally served with lettuce. Here’s a hint. It’s not.

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Now, the tamale? That’s totally covered in shredded iceberg lettuce. Any fool can see that in the picture below.

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This picture of the carnitas torta is a little blurry, but it too has a layer of shredded iceberg lettuce, and it’s seriously one of my favorite things on their menu. You do need to ask for extra jalapeño peppers on the side, because those really make the sandwich sing.

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Come to think of it, as I was looking through old pictures from meals at La Mexicana, I also happened to stumble across one of their tlayuda. In Bryan’s review he mentioned that it contained cabbage, and that didn’t feel right to me, but I let that one go. Looking back on it, those cabbage looking shreds are actually cheese. So I have no idea what he was talking about with this dish either. [Edit: I may have gotten a little carried away. It’s been a while since I had the tlayuda, and I think indeed there may be cabbage under the cheese. -DB]

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So is it possible that some crazy lettuce and cabbage loving person invaded La Mexicana’s kitchen on the one day Bryan came in to get his tacos? I suppose anything is possible.

I’d love to see his picture of the lettuce covered taco, because showing is telling.

You can probably tell that I am more than a little bit skeptical. But, even if there was indeed shredded lettuce on his tacos, Bryan should have called them out on the inclusion of this non-traditional ingredient in their otherwise traditional recreation of Mexican street food.

Because lettuce on these kind of tacos is just wrong. Period. And the food critic for the major daily newspaper in the capital of New York should know that. And Steve Barnes should know that too.

To be fair, La Mexicana also makes tacos durados, but those are entirely different from the traditional soft tacos Bryan was describing in the review. So maybe he just got confused. I don’t know.

I suppose we’ll only find out should someone decide to share that picture.

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10/28 – Addendum for Burnt My Fingers – 2:30 p.m.
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Here is a full size image of that carne asada picture to wipe any notions of lettuce out of your mind. I think it may crash into the text in the right hand column. But I’m adamant about setting the record straight here. This is no lettuce on these tacos. You can see anything you like in a blurry picture, but these snaps don’t lie.

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11/8 – Addendum for Burnt My Fingers – 10:15 a.m.
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For those wondering, the below is the picture from Paul G. on Yelp that Burnt My Fingers insists is lettuce and not onions and cilantro. I disagree with his conclusions, and wanted to post it so you can make up your own mind.

Look at the color of La Mexicana’s shredded iceberg lettuce in the tamale picture in the body of the main post. Look at the color of their cilantro in every other taco picture. Then look at the color of the greenery in Paul G.’s blurry photo below. Even in this snapshot you can see individual cilantro leaves and chopped up bits of stem.

What Burnt My Fingers is demonstrating (and I don’t disagree) is that pictures can be confusing and misleading. I don’t doubt that those involved have made honest mistakes by looking at pictures and seeing one thing when the images were really of something different.

To try and clear things up further I have reached out to Paul G. on Yelp and called the question. Should I hear back, I’ll let you know what he said.

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2013 1:57 pm

    Lettucegate!

  2. October 28, 2013 2:01 pm

    One might, if they’re not looking closely, think the onions and cilantro are iceberg lettuce, but this certainly isn’t something you can make the mistake of when it’s right in front of you on the plate and you’re tasting it.

    More visual evidence on Yelp, if you click on the photos: http://www.yelp.com/biz/la-mexicana-grocery-schenectady

    I didn’t even notice this mistake when I first read the review. I may need to read them more closely. Or not. I only want to think so hard about things like Dave & Buster’s foodthings.

  3. October 28, 2013 2:50 pm

    Between this and the “review” this week that barely even mentioned the food, let alone reviewed it, I’d say this guy has an uphill climb if he wants to be taken seriously as a food reviewer.

    • October 28, 2013 3:00 pm

      I would guess that he’s not to concerned with being taken seriously as a food reviewer. On Bryan’s Twitter profile, this is how he describes himself, “Covering crime, breaking news and restaurants on the side for the Times Union.”

      https://twitter.com/BFitzgeraldTU

      It’s something he does on the side. And frankly, I never got the sense that Cheryl was doing food writing full time for the TU either. The structure of the editorial staff over at the paper could certainly be part of the problem.

      • October 28, 2013 3:52 pm

        You don’t have to be a full-time reviewer to take the duty seriously and do a good job, though.

      • October 28, 2013 6:25 pm

        The TU hasn’t had a full-time food writer in my memory. Ruth Fantasia was a full-time features editor–she was promoted and no longer works in editorial. Steve Barnes has been an arts editor and writer, which includes culinary arts I guess. Celina Ottaway was only part-time and worked as a reporting coach as well. Cheryl was a freelancer. Giving a young reporter with training as a chef a few reviews to do makes more sense than using a freelancer.

  4. October 28, 2013 3:15 pm

    Two posts in one day? A first!

    On your photo of the carne asada taco, I see something that could be lettuce lower center. It’s too green to be onion, and too big to be cilantro.

    Monkey, on the Yelp review page, if you look at Paul G’s photo of a carnitas taco it clearly has lettuce on it.

    My theory is that since there’s lettuce in the prep area, sometimes they put it on the taco. They were probably trying to impress the TU reviewer which is why they used so much.

    And now back to work, everybody.

    • October 28, 2013 3:30 pm

      We’ll get to your question later. For now I have updated the post with a larger version of the carne asada taco. I wanted to clear up any ambiguity. You know, since there was no lettuce in any of these tacos.

    • October 28, 2013 9:59 pm

      That does look like lettuce in that Yelp photo, but I don’t know–I see what looks like a cilantro leaf, with its serrated edges.

  5. October 28, 2013 3:16 pm

    I should have said: Two posts in one day. Is that a first?

    In either case, please note it is phrased in the form of a question.

  6. ads permalink
    October 28, 2013 3:50 pm

    While lettucegate is certainly a problem, the bigger issue to me is that the “$65 for two” thing just perpetuates the idea that good restaurant food has to be expensive. It’s almost like he’s trying to help cover for the more expensive restaurants instead of just coming out and saying that this is delicious food for cheap.

    • October 28, 2013 6:19 pm

      I wouldn’t read a vast culinary conspiracy into it. I think it’s a question of how people are used to eating when they order out. My family will usually go out to eat and get tap water, consider the free bread our appetizer, and skip or share dessert or one app for everyone. This requires reading between the lines a little when reading restaurant reviews: ignore most of the appetizers and the prices for a bottle of wine.

  7. October 28, 2013 5:41 pm

    That first picture certainly LOOKS like lettuce on first glance. But if cilantro and onions taste anything like iceberg lettuce, something is very, very, very, very, very wrong.

    • October 28, 2013 5:47 pm

      Maybe I should have started off with higher resolution pictures from the get go. I’m glad that BMF inspired me to post a larger image where it’s very clear that the taco’s meat is topped with only chopped onions and cilantro.

      Perhaps graphic confusion of Bryan’s blurry cell phone picture is how Steve came to think that La Mexicana really does put lettuce on their tacos. But it’s a traditional taco place. Lettuce has as much of a place on one of their tacos as chicken parmesan.

      • October 28, 2013 6:26 pm

        Would they put lettuce on your tacos if you asked? I’ve been told that my love of toasted onion bagels with veggie cream cheese or hummus is some kind of bagel blasphemy, but I don’t care one bit.

      • October 28, 2013 9:56 pm

        I’m sure they would, Laura–they seem very nice and accommodating at La Mexicana. But I certainly would never expect a reviewer to actually review a modified menu item unless we were notified of that.

  8. October 29, 2013 5:16 pm

    Please tell me this is some sort of absurdist performance, and that you are not goddamn serious. Please. For the sake of the children.

    • albanylandlord permalink
      October 29, 2013 11:16 pm

      Yes I agree. I am almost as curmudgeonly as the profussor, but this concern has me shaking my head in bewilderment. Maybe someone was wrong. Maybe the TU is somewhat (gasp) less than ideal in its reviews. Maybe the reviewer is not an expert on traditional Mexican food but is really good in other areas. Whatever.
      I’m more concerned with Dante’s spoons than this.

    • October 29, 2013 11:39 pm

      I replied to -S on the Tablehopping thread. But for the sake of albanylandlord and easing his bewilderment, I’ll offer the impetus to lettucegate.

      We all have our issues. One of mine is not being able to let things go.

      And there is no surer way to rile me up than to explicitly say that I am wrong, when all of the evidence available would suggest that I am right.

      But I am also a serial food photographer. I take lots of pictures of the food that eat. And as this argument was unfolding, I quickly realized that I had images of every single taco that La Mexicana serves at their restaurant. This extensive photographic proof that I was sitting on almost justified my penchant for taking snapshots on my phone at mealtimes.

      There’s a laundry list of concerns I had about the write up of La Mexicana, and they were detailed in the prior post. But this post served just to share the pictures with Steve and his audience. Because after he challenged my credibility on this issue, I felt compelled to respond with something a little more tangible than just an assertion.

      • November 8, 2013 10:48 am

        So how do you explain the obvious lettuce on Paul G’s photo on Yelp, of a carnitas taco? (That was a question.) I think this whole thing is a tempest in a salad bowl. There is unquestionably lettuce in the prep area, because it is used on other items. I think an inexperienced worker (or somebody wanting to please an eager gringo) just added it when the TU reviewer was there.

        It is interesting, though, that Steve Barnes has never shared the cellphone photo he claims to have seen…

      • November 8, 2013 12:18 pm

        @Burnt My Fingers – I’ve posted Paul G’s picture above for the sake of comparison. I’ll agree that pictures can be misleading. I disagree that the snapshot of Paul G’s taco shows any lettuce on the taco. Rather I see it as another picture of cilantro.

        The reasons are posted in today’s addendum to the post above.

  9. November 7, 2013 10:29 pm

    FWIW, La Mexicana was one of those places that I recommended John Sconzo check out on his occasional stops in the Electric City. He was just there tonight and posted the following picture of his lengua taco on Instagram:

    Lengua taco – no lettuce @fussylittleblog

    A post shared by John Sconzo (@docsconz) on

  10. david permalink
    November 8, 2013 12:10 pm

    Lettucegate rocks . . .no pun intended. Cilantro and lettuce taste very different. Maybe just maybe the TU reviewer got lettuce but if he can’t tell the difference than please stop reviewing food.

  11. November 8, 2013 8:48 pm

    What hath Instagram wrought?! I am the aforementioned Paul G! (I’ll message this to Daniel on Yelp in a second to ‘confirm’ my identity). The two tacos in the photo I posted to Instagram and Yelp (and also seen above) are carnitas and chorizo, topped with onion and CILANTRO. I have been to La Mexicana many, many times and have ordered every type of taco on their menu. I have eaten literally dozens of tacos from La Mexicana and never have received or seen one served with lettuce. The photo in question has an Instagram filter applied to it, which does change the color of things a bit, and may make the white onion and cilantro look more like lettuce(?)

    But I can guarantee you that the photo in question contains zero lettuce! Truly authentic street tacos are the main reason I regularly drive thirty minutes to Schenectady to visit La Mexicana… and it would be a huge disappointment to see them served with lettuce on top!

  12. November 8, 2013 11:01 pm

    Paul G, I bow down before you. Thank you. I will stipulate that the only lettuce on Mexicana tacos seems to be that served to Mr. Fitzgerald… and will plan a visit soon to enjoy a lettuce-free taco for myself.

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