The Best Tacos in the Southwest

I’ve made it to Seattle where the food is said to be amazing as amazing can be, but I would be doing the Southwest an injustice if I didn’t lament leaving behind the delicious tacos I’ve encountered there. From fried avocado tacos to pickled cactus tacos, here are a few of my favorite taco spots in the Southwest:

Taqueria in Phoenix

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Roosevelt’s Row is a little known secret in Phoenix, at least to those who don’t live there. It’s the artist district of the city, where buildings are spray painted with vibrant murals and container galleries open their doors to the public on First Fridays each month. Along with great local art, this neighborhood has a few really great restaurants and bars (looking at you, Bliss ReBar).

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For tacos in Roosevelt’s Row, look no further than Taqueria. The menu is full of sumptuous meat and vegetable pairings, grilled to perfection and melted together with fresh queso. I ordered the Nopales with grilled cactus and the Tinga with chipotle chicken and pickled onions. The grilled cactus was interesting, and not for me, but definitely worth a try.

Taqueria in Roosevelt's Row, Phoenix, Cactus taco, Chicken taco

 

Torchy’s Tacos in Austin

Torchy's Tacos Austin Texas Southwest Blog

I know I’ve already mentioned Torchy’s in my Austin Food Truck post, and if you follow the @cleavingleaveland Instagram handle, you’ve probably seen Torchy’s pop up a few times. Ummm that’s because it’s DELICIOUS and I make it a rule to visit every time I go. My favorite items are the Fried Avocado, the Dirty Sanchez, the Republican, and the Trailer Park. You can ask to make any taco trashy, which means adding in queso and some other tasty toppings.

Torchy's Tacos Austin Texas Southwest Foodie Blog

For breakfast tacos, I enjoy the Wrangler. But honestly, you need to try the entire menu and then keep going back for more. And don’t forget to ask for the secret menu!

Coreanos in Houston

Best Tacos of the Southwest

If you like tacos with a Korean flair (AKA throw some kimchi on it), then you HAVE to check out Coreanos. I encountered this food truck outside of the Day 4 Night music festival in Houston, and I think it was the only thing I ate all weekend. They make a mean burrito and some really tasty tacos, but their biggest hit is definitely the “Kimcheese fries”. I prefer the burritos to the tacos because they remind me of the kebabs I tasted in Europe—halal roasted meat with french fries thrown in, brought together by a zesty mix of spicy and cool creamy sauces.

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This isn’t traditional Mexican food, or Korean food, by any means. But it is unforgettable, and your tastebuds will not be sorry.

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Driving Up the Pacific Coast Highway

Getting from Long Beach, CA to our next assignment in San Francisco was the easiest, shortest move I’ve made in our whole 2+ years of traveling. So of course, we chose to make it longer and significantly more beautiful by taking the 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway, the entire way. This was a bucket list item for my fiance, so I let him pick all of our stops on the way up. Here are some highlights from everything we saw:

1. The Elephant Seals of Piedras Blancas

Getting out of our car to see the elephant seals was the first moment we realized that we were not in Los Angeles are anymore. It was COLD and WINDY, and I was NOT ready for any of it. I stuck it out though, and the elephant seals were pretty cute and amusing. But like every beautiful place in nature, it comes with a back story on how humans have altered it.

Elephant Seals in Piedras Blancas off the Pacific Coast Highway

Elephant seals are the largest of their species, and can grow up to 16 feet in length, weighing in at about 5,000 pounds. Like every animal today, they have been hunted, and their habitats have been destroyed, near to the point of extinction. They used to live in remote coves and beaches far away from humans, but in 1990 people started colonizing those areas. Now you can pull off the Pacific Coast Highway to see hundreds, sometimes thousands of elephant seals laying on the beach in Piedras Blancas. This used to be a rare sight, something one would expect to find in a National Geographic magazine. But now it is a total tourist attraction.

Though the photo doesn’t really do them justice, the seals were actually pretty lively creatures. They were boppin’ around, throwing sand on themselves and each other to keep cool, and sometimes having a small spat over where to they wanted to lay (which was often on top of each other).

2. McWay Falls

This was the fiance’s find on the trip, a secluded 80-foot waterfall in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. If you look really hard at the back of this GIF, you can see the waterfall coming down onto the beach. The falls are named after Christopher McWay, who homesteaded the canyon in 1870. Helen Brown, another settler in the area, purchased Saddle Rock Ranch from McWay and named the creek and waterfall in his honor. She also named the park in which the falls resides after Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a “true pioneer” of Big Sur. One of my favorite parts of pulling off on secluded stops on along the west coast has been reading plaques about the pioneers, which are mostly Lewis & Clark in the Pacific North West. But in Big Sur Area, it’s all about the Browns and the Burns.

The entire park is now closed, as well as surrounding areas, due to the Soberanes Fire that has been tearing through Big Sur for the past several weeks.

3. Pfeiffer Beach

purple sand beach in Big Sur

Also known as “the purple sand beach in Big Sur.” The sand really is purple, unlike the black sand beaches of Humboldt which are really just made of black rocks. The amethyst hues of the sand look like they came from fairy dust, but are in fact a result of the heavy minerals that inhabit it, mostly quartz and garnet. This is one of the most photographed parts of Big Sur. I also enjoyed it because it was the first time I could get on an actual beach on the coast (mostly due to our time crunch of having to get to San Francisco by nightfall). The extreme force with which the waves crash from the Pacific is exhilarating.

Some history of Big Sur’s settlers: The Browns were the first to own land that is now Big Sur, though no one quite knows how they came to be there. Julia Pfeiffer Burns was a daughter of the first settlers in Big Sur, Michael and Barbara Pfeiffer, who arrived at the area in 1869, when Julia was just under a year old. Julia lived as a single woman most of her life, leasing land from the Browns and living with her parents well into her forties. In her father’s old age, Julia managed the family ranch.

Julia married her husband, John Burns, in 1928, and together they ran cattle on Saddle Rock Ranch and rented a hot springs hotel, where Julia provided food and service to guests. Julia formed a very strong friendship with Helen Brown while living it what is now Big Sur, and it was this friendship that led Helen to name Julia Pfeiffer Brown park after her when she died. In the book Big Sur Women, Helen describes Julia as a hard worker who “loved people, picnics, dances, and whipped cream cakes.”

4. Advice for the Drive

Big Sur sunset

First piece of advice is – definitely do this! Driving up the PCH is so relaxing and beautiful. Seeing such a long stretch of untouched landscape without any phone service to distract you is good for the soul.

Second piece of advice – figure out where you’re going to eat ahead of time. The coast is pretty barren save for a few private residences, and there is no cell service at all. So pick your lunch spot beforehand. We ate at Ragged Point Restaurant, which had average food but beautiful views.

Third piece of advice – get gas before you get to Big Sur. If you’re coming south, get gas in Carmel. And if you’re going north, I would stop at the cheapest spot you find. Gas is scarce and very expensive in Big Sur.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Last piece of advice – take your time. The road is has a lot of sharp bends and turns, and you will need plenty of time to look around and take in the views. Drive slowly, everyone else will be doing the same, and allow yourself to pull off and take some photos. There are many places that you can go back to and visit, but making an entire drive like the PCH twice is not exactly an outing you plan often.

Even if you try to speed through it, the PCH will stop you from doing so. So relax, and appreciate the now.

Making Friends on Tinder

When it comes to making friends while traveling, I’m what you might call a “hustler.” No matter what, I’ll get the job done and end up with at least one good friend and a few acquaintances by the end of a 3-month assignment. But when Long Beach was proving harder to make friends than I had bargained for, I decided to take desperate measures and sign up for a Tinder account to try to make friends. This is my experience.

To start, I took certain steps to make my Tinder experience as platonic as possible, such as:

1. Limiting my matches to women only. This was just a preference for me. I didn’t want to deal with any guys that would act interested in friendship at first but expect it to go somewhere romantic later, despite me already being in a committed relationship. To weed out this kind of riffraff, I stuck to just women. Plus, women are awesome.

2. Stating up front with the first line in my bio, “Just here to make friends!” It seems like this would be a given, but I came across a lot of single ladies who were apparently trying to make friends as well, yet didn’t quite state it in their bios. Instead their bios would say something like, “I just moved here and don’t know anyone!” or just a list of things they love. This left it to my discretion whether or not it was safe to swipe right for friendship. I judged a lot of photos if I was unsure. If her photos were of her hiking (so many hiking photos) or hanging out with her dog (so many dog photos), I’d probably take a chance and swipe right.

After taking those few steps to make my intentions clear, I dove into the world of Tinder, and here is what I experienced:

Bios are essential for someone looking to make friends on Tinder.

Unlike with dating, most people don’t go about making their friends by first determining if they’re physically attracted to them or not. As a friend, your physical looks are just not important to me at all. I want to know about your interests, if you have a sense of humor, if you read good books, and if you’re down to hang. Therefore, whenever I came across a Tinder bio that was empty, I swiped left. Whenever I came across a Tinder bio that asked, “Does anyone actually read these things?” I declared, “Yes! I do!” Then I swiped left.

Everyone on Tinder in the LA area is looking or someone with an Annual Disneyland Pass.

Or vice versa, some people on Tinder already have the Disneyland pass and are looking for people to go with. The reasoning is that it’s really expensive to own a pass, and the only way to justify paying for one is to go a LOT of times throughout the year. Those who don’t want to buy one are looking to piggyback on the passes of others, while those who already have a pass also have friends who, understandably, don’t need to take 10 trips to Disneyland every year, and so the pass holder has to look elsewhere.

So basically, anyone with the pass shoots automatically to the top of the LA Tinder food chain and can be as picky as they want with their right swipes, because everyone will match them back. I don’t like or care about Disneyland (not sorry), but even I started feeling like this whole Tinder-friend-making process would go quicker if I had that pass. But then, how would I ever know if my new Tinder friends like me for me? Would our friendship ever truly be real?

Much of the awkwardness of online dating was present.

Even though I wasn’t looking for anything romantic, I still found myself experiencing some of the same things that my friends who do date on Tinder have also dealt with. For example, I was constantly editing my bio at first. Sometimes I would think it was perfect, and then after five minutes of swiping I’d realize that my bio sounds more like a resume than a profile and anyone who sees it will most certainly swipe left at the dorky list of skills and qualities in front of them. Or, even more neurotically, I would think my bio was fine and then come across other people who had something in their bio that I related to but OMG I TOTALLY FORGOT TO EXPRESS IT AND NOW THEY MAY NEVER MATCH WITH ME BECAUSE I FORGOT TO SAY THAT I LIKE CAMPING AND WHAT IF OUR FRIENDSHIP WAS MEANT TO BE BUT NEVER HAPPENED BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T KNOW, THEY JUST DIDN’T KNOW?!

Needless to say, the bio editing got a bit crazy. At one point, what I consider a key descriptor of who I am went from “I love Beyonce” to “I’m much more like Rihanna than Beyonce” to “I’m much more like Solange than Beyonce” and eventually, “Beyonce can hang.”

Much of the frustration of online dating was also present.

Starting a conversation with someone you’ve matched with – What do you say? Because eventually I get sick of the same old “Hey how’s it going?” and a lot of people aren’t interested enough to respond to that anyway. Sending a smiley face just felt too flirty for friendship. Sometimes I would remark on something I read in their bio and realize later that I definitely came off creepy or lame. I very quickly felt the need to market myself with everything I did, and would second-guess myself later if I didn’t receive a response.

Never having used Tinder for dating, I initially thought this wouldn’t be that hard. “I’ll just be myself,” I thought, “because I’m awesome and really good at showing it!” But the thing is, people don’t know I’m awesome from an app. And TELLING them I’m awesome is the worst, and trying to make a total stranger laugh is actually pretty difficult. It’s not that I didn’t know how to go about connecting with someone, but more that I found myself navigating mirky waters of social interaction as I felt weighing on me this expectation to charm someone instantaneously, but without misleading them on a platform primarily used for dating.

Whenever I did engage in good conversation with someone, it would carry on for days. But then the second I would suggest taking this convo to a next level, meet-in-person situation, the girl on the other end of the convo would disappear! Or deflect for days until I eventually gave up. I mean seriously, I had 97 matches and I maybe got 6 phone numbers out of that, 4 of which actually led to hanging out in person. I understand why some girls put, “Swipe left if you’re not interested in actually meeting up!” in their bio, because seriously, so many people on Tinder will just chat forever. Which to me, is completely worthless. I have plenty of friends to text all day. I’m a traveler in a new city, and I want a friend to experience this physical space with me.

Accidentally sending someone a “Super Like” is WAY creepier when you’re just trying to be friends.

For those of you who left Tinder before this update, “Super Like” is the like button you press when you want the other person to know you swiped right for them, and well, you SUPER LIKE them. Unless you pay for an upgraded Tinder account, you only get one “Super Like” per day, so it’s kind of a strong gesture. I actually haven’t met anyone who really uses the “Super Like” button.

To “Super Like” someone requires only a mere swipe up of your thumb. Which, with all the swiping left and right of different people’s profiles, can easily happen accidentally. It’s mortifying when it does, but if you’re looking to date the person, I guess it could come off as flirty, cute, or flattering. But when you get a “Super Like” from someone just trying to be your friend, it’s pretty creepy.

“Hey I am friendless right now, and I don’t know you, but I REALLY want you to be my friend.”

It happened to me twice accidentally, and neither one of those girls have swiped right for me yet. I don’t blame them.

Meeting in person was weird at first.

At some point the usual question had to come up; “So, what brought you to Tinder?” But somehow it just seems like it would be more natural to ask someone about their intentions when you’re setting up a romantic relationship rather than a friendship. I’ve never gone into a friendship asking the other person what they are looking for in a friend or why they came to be looking for friendship in the first place. That being said, it has been interesting hearing about how other girls discovered that Tinder could be used for making friends. One of the girls who I met up with has a best friend who was recently diagnosed Lupus, and while this girl spends a lot of time by her friend’s bed hanging out with her, she eventually decided to look to Tinder to find new girlfriends to go out with on the weekends.

Making friends through a text conversation format pushed me to explore more of Long Beach.

Everyone I spoke with asked me what I had discovered so far in Long Beach. Answering this question over and over again, I felt motivated to not have the same answers every time. What had I explored in Long Beach? Surely in the first month I had ventured beyond 4th street restaurants and thrift stores?

One girl I met up with had lived in Long Beach her entire life, despite a brief college experience in rural northern New Mexico. She was a single mother of a 3-year-old, living with her parents, and was using Tinder to both date women and make friends – whatever relationship was worth getting away from her family sometimes to socialize. She took me to Yogurtland for my first time, a very California experience of frozen yogurt. Then I introduced her to open mics in the area that she had never even heard of before. Together we began listening to local music and reading local poet’s works. Although she grew up in Long Beach, she was just as much a newcomer as I was in the way that often happens after you go away to college and come back to experience your hometown as an adult.

So there you have it. If I had to rate my experience of finding friends on Tinder, I would probably give it a 6 out of 10. I did make friends with people with whom I probably would have never struck up a conversation otherwise. But even without the dating aspect, Tinder is unreliable and exhausting in its mystery. My fiancé and I leave for San Francisco in a week, and instead of jumping back on Tinder, I think I will try out FriendZone, an app I recently heard about that is used just for making friends. I’ll post about it if there’s anything worth sharing.