Texas has had a pretty rough run of late. Jerry Jeff Walker passed. Austin became a Mecca for exiles from California. They taunted Daddy California about losing power because of wildfires, only to watch their grid fail because of snow. They have spent much of the last month huddled together in a darkened honky-tonk burning their The Chicks records for heat.
Texas used to have Wooderson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Troy Aikman. Now they have Rogan, no power on and aches, man.
And then along comes a Forbes writer declaring that Kansas City is America’s one true taco capital.
Well, that put a burr under their saddle.
“I love Kansas City—both of them,” writes Texas Monthly Taco Editor José R. Ralat. “Still, to declare one of them the nation’s taco capital is laughable.”
I am sympathetic to the argument that our claim is a bit overblown—any fair-minded person would conclude that Los Angeles is America’s taco capital—but it’s far from “laughable.”
It’s not just that KCK has fifty taco spots, it’s that the city has such a diverse and excellent collection of taco spots in a small geographic area. KCK doesn’t just draw migrants from one small area of Mexico, it draws from a wide range of regions in a way that’s fairly unique in the States, let alone for a small Midwestern city. (And, of course, there are not two Kansas Cities, as Mr. Ralat mentioned—there is one Kansas City, it’s just in two states.)
Forbes has become something of a clickbait site of late, something I’m aware of having watched the entire city of Portland spend two weeks in convalescence about an opinion piece that documented their fall from grace. And parachute journalism is almost by definition bad—you can’t know much about a city unless you spend a lot of time there, and in the right frame of mind.
But Ralat’s publication, Texas Monthly, has no qualms about doing exactly this type of thing when it suits them.
Just a few weeks ago, Daniel Vaughn, an event promoter who writes about BBQ for the magazine, went on a national radio show and trashed Kansas City barbecue. Vaughn declared that “most of the big names in Kansas City… cook with gas” (not really true—we once spent many hours compiling a spreadsheet on this) and then said that Kansas City brisket is “so tough they have to slice it with a deli slicer” (please go tell the old man working at a New York deli that he’s not slicing brisket right).
In these parts, brisket is sandwich meat. That’s what it is, that’s what we do with it. We’ve been doing it that way a long time. We slice it up thin and put it on bread with pickles and spicy sauce. And if you can’t innately understand why Arthur Bryant’s is a sublime brisket experience, that’s a defect in your soul and there’s not much we can do except pray on your eventual deliverance. Barbecue is about more than one very specific Germanic-Czech brisket preparation. They have a lot of good barbecue in East Texas that never gets any attention from the Austin transplants who make lists because it’s part of a foodway they don’t seem to appreciate.
The great thing about Texas is that it’s great. Big, pretty, interesting. The downside is that it lacks the sort of cosmopolitan perspective you get in a place like Kansas City, where our culinary traditions embrace diversity and shun uniformity. And that is for sure true when it comes to tacos in KCK, where taquerias highlight their geographic roots and the most knowledgable diners pick specific dishes based on the hometowns of the people who make them. It makes for a pretty good claim to KCK being a “taco capital” and congrats to the folks at Visit Kansas City, KS for capitalizing on that.
So, in our view, the claim that KCK is America’s taco capital is, perhaps, a little overblown in light of the existence of Los Angeles. But we’re solidly on the second tier, with Phoenix, Chicago and the entire state of Texas. And if Texas wants to talk about that “rivalry,” we’ll call it a win.