Recipe Stories: Happiness Tacos

Photo by John Griswold





It can be hard to match the quality of tacos with that of your happiness sometimes. I thought the tacos and margaritas festival would do it: Not just food and drink, but a taco-eating contest, hot pepper-eating contest, live music, and the athletes of micro wrestling (Micro Jackson, Syko, Baby Jesus, Little Show, Pinky Shortcake, et al, I was led to believe). I thought the social would amplify the private sensory experience.

But it took an interstate drive, the crossing of a massive river, and $40 in parking and entrance fees to discover we were in the wrong place. (We suffer in the body for what the mind thinks it needs.) And while my happiness was large; the tacos had gotten small. The arena was packed, food trucks overwhelmed, hamburger stands converted to making tacos with pre-shredded cheese and iceberg lettuce. One of the wrestlers strode past me on the floor of the arena, wearing tights and elbow guards. We caught each other’s eyes and nodded to each other in passing, as professionals will. We both had other places to be.

My taco companion that day and I took a shot at nearby Lucha II, across from the historic Fox Theatre in St. Louis. Lucha uses traditional Oaxacan flavors with modern techniques, such as sous vide and the use of an industrially-hellish wok, to get their meats tender and then seared. The star was the Birria tacos, marinated lamb in peppers with onion and cilantro, and what tasted like mint sauce. They were like soup dumplings and had to be eaten over the plate. We ate and enjoyed, as through the big windows theater-goers walked up the sidewalks under the spring sun and into the Fabulous Fox for Tootsie. Sitting and finishing the lamb while watching all those people do something I did not want to do finally made the perfect match of activity and mood.




I don’t cook lamb much, and I’m not set up for sous vide in my kitchen. Try this instead:

Sprinkle a pork roast with salt, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, less cumin, oregano, a little cayenne, and some black pepper.

Sear (I use a stock pot) on all sides in oil. Take the roast out.

Add a bottle of beer or pear cider to the pot. Boil furiously to remove the raw taste of alcohol, then put the roast back in. Add water if necessary to bring liquid level one-third up the roast. Bring to boil, turn down heat to medium low to keep it at a simmer, cover. Braise for two to three hours, until a sharp knife goes in effortlessly. Reserve the braising liquid.

Cut out all fat from the cooked roast; it smells like wild hog, and there is no happiness in that. Chop then shred the meat. Moisten with braising liquid.

Heat tortillas on a griddle then load with meat, sliced onion, cilantro, lime juice, purple cabbage, a dollop of sour cream, salsa, whatever you like. It’s your happiness, and no other place to be but in it, sharing with a true companion.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.