4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

El Indio’s Rube Goldberg-esque tortilla conveyer belt makes good TV

You can’t eat authenticity

A history of American cuisine. Chips the way Page likes ‘em — old tortillas cut up and fried.
A history of American cuisine. Chips the way Page likes ‘em — old tortillas cut up and fried.

David Page’s initial interest in San Diego’s venerable El Indio Mexican restaurant was maybe not entirely visual, but he grants that “what interested me the most at the time — provided they could meet the barrier of good, home-cooked food — was, from a television standpoint, their Rube Goldberg-esque tortilla conveyer belt.” He was in the early stages of producing the hit television series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and was duly impressed with the contraption, which cranks out around 1500 tortillas a day. Contraptions make good TV, especially when they make good tortillas.

Place

Indio Mexican Restaurant

3695 India Street, San Diego

But the machine wasn’t why he came back to El Indio when it came time to write Food Americana, his culinary history of the way the USA has transmogrified dishes from other countries into a cuisine that is uniquely and legitimately American. (The book comes out April 20, and may be pre-ordered now on Amazon.) He came back because “it’s a perfect representation of everyday Mexican-American cooking. It’s not what they’re serving now in Mexico City, but it’s a terrific example of the earliest evolution of Mexican food in America as it became a cuisine of its own. And it’s a perfect example of the kind of mom-and-pop place that helped bring Mexican food into the mainstream of American society.”

Chips the way Page likes ‘em - old tortillas cut up and fried.

He’s not a bit bothered by the fact that El Indio’s corn tortillas aren’t handmade in authentic Mexican fashion. “I’m not a big one for the authenticity debate,” he says. “It’s authentic to what it is. They’ve been doing it by machine there for 70 years. It’s a historical part of the way they produce Mexican food here in America. What’s more important to me is that they nixtamalize the corn with lime and make their own masa. I want good ingredients. I want things that have been honestly cooked. Put the work in.”

Beyond that, he asks, what means authentic? “Food evolves with culture. I’ve seen birria taking its place among the popular Mexican foods in America. As research for this book, my wife and I got in a car and drove 90 miles to a food truck in South Philly and gorged ourselves on some of the best birria I’ve ever had. Was it better than the stuff I had when we stumbled on a family-owned restaurant in Jalisco? I don’t know. But it sure tasted good. And I can tell you that the birria tacos that came to America from Tijuana were quite different from the birria — not served in a taco and often made of goat and not beef — in Jalisco. And I would guess that more and more Americans, as opposed to the people in Tijuana, are eating those tacos with cheese. And over the years, more things will happen.”

Page knows his business. Last week, I ordered my first quesa taco at Mr. Birria in Santee, and also made a plan to try their birria ramen upon my next visit. The transmogrification continues apace.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Macbeth At Saville Theatre, Taking Back Sunday and Jimmy Eat World, Leftover Salmon

Events October 21-October 22, 2021
Next Article

San Diego in books - Henry Miller, Rick DeMarinis, Max Miller, Alfred Alcorn

Don Bauder, World Almanac, Louisiana Purchase Exposition Commission
A history of American cuisine. Chips the way Page likes ‘em — old tortillas cut up and fried.
A history of American cuisine. Chips the way Page likes ‘em — old tortillas cut up and fried.

David Page’s initial interest in San Diego’s venerable El Indio Mexican restaurant was maybe not entirely visual, but he grants that “what interested me the most at the time — provided they could meet the barrier of good, home-cooked food — was, from a television standpoint, their Rube Goldberg-esque tortilla conveyer belt.” He was in the early stages of producing the hit television series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and was duly impressed with the contraption, which cranks out around 1500 tortillas a day. Contraptions make good TV, especially when they make good tortillas.

Place

Indio Mexican Restaurant

3695 India Street, San Diego

But the machine wasn’t why he came back to El Indio when it came time to write Food Americana, his culinary history of the way the USA has transmogrified dishes from other countries into a cuisine that is uniquely and legitimately American. (The book comes out April 20, and may be pre-ordered now on Amazon.) He came back because “it’s a perfect representation of everyday Mexican-American cooking. It’s not what they’re serving now in Mexico City, but it’s a terrific example of the earliest evolution of Mexican food in America as it became a cuisine of its own. And it’s a perfect example of the kind of mom-and-pop place that helped bring Mexican food into the mainstream of American society.”

Chips the way Page likes ‘em - old tortillas cut up and fried.

He’s not a bit bothered by the fact that El Indio’s corn tortillas aren’t handmade in authentic Mexican fashion. “I’m not a big one for the authenticity debate,” he says. “It’s authentic to what it is. They’ve been doing it by machine there for 70 years. It’s a historical part of the way they produce Mexican food here in America. What’s more important to me is that they nixtamalize the corn with lime and make their own masa. I want good ingredients. I want things that have been honestly cooked. Put the work in.”

Beyond that, he asks, what means authentic? “Food evolves with culture. I’ve seen birria taking its place among the popular Mexican foods in America. As research for this book, my wife and I got in a car and drove 90 miles to a food truck in South Philly and gorged ourselves on some of the best birria I’ve ever had. Was it better than the stuff I had when we stumbled on a family-owned restaurant in Jalisco? I don’t know. But it sure tasted good. And I can tell you that the birria tacos that came to America from Tijuana were quite different from the birria — not served in a taco and often made of goat and not beef — in Jalisco. And I would guess that more and more Americans, as opposed to the people in Tijuana, are eating those tacos with cheese. And over the years, more things will happen.”

Page knows his business. Last week, I ordered my first quesa taco at Mr. Birria in Santee, and also made a plan to try their birria ramen upon my next visit. The transmogrification continues apace.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Harry Partch, Gustavo Romero, Diamanda Galas

San DIego's grand pianos; Spreckels, First Methodist, St. Brigid's organs; tenor takes lessons, the piano repairman
Next Article

Property astir on El Cajon Blvd.

Lafayette Hotel, Red Fox Room, Mississippi Apartments
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close