Much of modern-day food media revels in exalted tales of gluttony—entertaining stories in the vein of “Eight hours in Tokyo: 12 bowls of ramen, 20 shots of whiskey, and one drunk-ass encounter with Anthony Bourdain.” Though it’s often a guy behind this kind of story, regardless of gender, there’s an element of caveman preening attached to one’s ability to consume, in less than a savory period of time, obscene amounts of pork belly, or foie gras, or burgers.

This isn’t to say that a woman doesn’t want to test her mettle from time to time. We can’t all sit around writing about bone broth like Gwyneth or go Giada and bend over steaming pots of pasta in a tight scoopneck. We don’t always want to be Alice Waters (sustainability—so limiting) or Gabrielle Hamilton (memoirs—so emotionally draining). Sometimes a woman just wants (or thinks she wants) to spend 48-hours eating copious amounts of commodity meat tacos and raise her hands in victory.

Of course, I’m speaking about myself. I’m the one who pitched a story on a taco trail through the Central Valley of California. This whole idea came to pass on an icy winter morning in New York over coffee with Yaran Noti, the friendly, easy-going deputy editor of Saveur. Yaran asked me if I had any ideas for their May road trip issue, maybe something to do with Mexican food. In the competitive world of food writing, you always say yes.

Joe checking out the Chando's menu.

Joe checking out the Chando’s menu.

Joe, who grew up in Modesto, suggested we head down Highway 99—forgoing the well-reported taco path of the less gritty Highway 1. So a month later, I found myself Google-mapping a group of recommended taco joints (narrowed down after hours of research) and coordinating with our accompanying photographers Dylan and Jeni before embarking on a 276-mile, two-day journey from Sacramento to Bakersfield. Despite some trepidation, I figured I could swing this—I had extra mouths after all, including Joe who drove while I scribbled notes. I gave ourselves an hour per place.

The big day arrived and the last bit of a vicious flu that I’d contracted the week prior was still haunting me. I had Kleenex shoved in every pocket and a full box in the car. My upper lip was chafed from incessant nose blowing. I had circles under my eyes from nights of mouth-breathing sleep. Unfortunately Saveur shoots do not come with makeup artists and wind machines.

However, you know you’re in love with tacos when you can fall for them again and again, against the odds. At 10 am, we kicked off the trip with a bang at the original Chando’s located on Sacramento’s Arden Way. The tacos there were invigoratingly good (see above photo), clouding my brain and making me forget we had miles to go. I excitedly went to town on six of them—adobada, asada, cochinita, papa, birria, lengua—even ordering another cochinita at Dylan’s request so that I could demonstrate a repeat performance of happily eating a drippy, delicious taco for the camera. The rest of the day continued to play out in a similar fashion. We’d order the tacos, Dylan would shoot them, and then I’d dutifully dig in, often with his camera on me, wondering how Nigella does it.

Jeni and Dylan at El Mexicana taco truck in Modesto.

Jeni and Dylan at El Mexicana taco truck in Modesto.

As a co-eater, Joe turned out to be pretty worthless. Like a sane person, he only ate a taco here and there, forcing me to man up. Meanwhile our excellent photographers were too busy doing their work to help out. Thus, the brunt of the consumption was left to me, a 5’ 5” female weighing in at 125 pounds and desperately trying to stay that way. By the time we arrived in Fresno around 7 pm, I declared our dinner taco-free. Joe ate normally and I had a side of broccoli.

The next day, one of the very last stops was at the awesome Aldo’s taco truck located in the straight-out-of-David-Lynch town of Earlimart, complete with a single motel and tumbleweeds. I know that the woman working there judged me for throwing half of her beautiful tacos away—I saw it in her eye—the tacos for which she’d just hand-pressed tortillas. I wanted to explain to her what had just calorically transpired in the past 24 hours, but I don’t think I could have made it sound like anything but a frivolous endeavor that only a gringa with too much time on her hands would partake in.

Jessica #1 taco truck in Modesto.

Jessica #1 taco truck in Modesto.

Sylvester at Viva Taco Bus

Sylvester at Viva Taco Truck

Upon arriving home, I had to immediately get to work on a different story, this time for San Francisco magazine. Another of my brilliant ideas, it was a quest to find the best soup dumplings in the city. Let’s just say that while I eventually got back to tacos more quickly, I’m still in xiao long bao recovery.

The moral of this no-regrets tale of binge eating? I’m not going over to the Goop side, but I tested my mettle and discovered that it required Alka-Seltzer and a distinct sense of immortality. When it comes to this kind of story, the boys can have it.


The delicious tacos at Aldo’s before I had to guiltily toss half of them.

Read the complete Saveur article “On the California Taco Trail” story here or pick up the May 2015 issue!