Replicating Tacos El Yaqui – The Denver Post

A subgenre of online food writing is a vast trove of what have come to be called “copycat recipes.” There, you can dig up a recipe to replicate, say, Panda Express’ Orange Chicken, or Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion. An entire site for such is at the simply worded copykat.com.

When I lived in Chicago from 2002 to 2016 and contributed to the Chicago Tribune’s food pages, one of the most-read Tribune stories ever was by a reporter who had been made privy to a family album of Harland David Sanders (Colonel Sanders), the white-on-white gentleman who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken. The reporter, Jay Jones, was shown a handwritten list at the back of the album for “11 Spices — Mix With 2 Cups White Fl.”

Had Jones uncovered one of the food industry’s most closely guarded secrets? Back at the Tribune’s test kitchens in Chicago, the recipe sure was “finger-lickin’ good.”

For my turn, I haven’t plunged pixel-deep into any of these online copycat recipes, figuring I don’t much fancy the originals so why bother?

But I was asked by a friend if, by some hook or crook, I might re-create one of his favorite tacos, from a small but famed taco stand in Rosarito, Mexico, a town on the coast of Baja California south of Tijuana. The place is El Yaqui, named after the indigenous people of what is now called the state of Sonora, Mexico, across the Gulf of California from Baja.

Sonora is well-known for cooking and eating beef. Folk from far and wide come for Tacos El Yaqui, pieces of marinated and grilled beef flank steak set into thick flour tortillas, adorned with piquant red sauce, cheese, pinto beans and other garnishes.

But there’s no recipe, online or otherwise. Wisely (or, as a matter of course, simply because this isn’t a foodie star-gazing joint), El Yaqui doesn’t divulge “how it’s done.”

But youtube does. And so do tripadvisor.com comments, and the hundreds of pictures downloaded onto pinterest.com and any number of other image-grabbing sites.

So, I got to work putting together a recipe for El Yaqui’s tacos, using what’s now etched in time for us in the way paper and ink recipes used to do the same.

I could listen to El Yaqui’s founder, Don Felipe Nuñez, describe his method and his (no longer) secret formula, begun in 1984, and watch visuals of what for all intents and purposes was the recipe (“handmade flour tortilla with cheese … meat, beans, onions, cilantro …”) scroll across the bottom of the screen in closed-captions.

Watching other videos, and reading many visitor comments, and picking up tricks from the likes of chef Rick Bayless (a frequent customer to El Yaqui), I assembled a recipe for the tacos.