Back in NYC after the official tacosmog.com European extravaganza, I was feeling somewhat disillusioned. "I haven't updated tacosmog for a month," I thought to myself, "and my desire to eat Mexican food is not terribly high." I brushed the thoughts aside and enjoyed some Gray's Papaya, but my self-doubt could not stay hidden forever. Pondering it as I drove across the country, "Could I be losing the spark? Is there another type of food I prefer more? Should I purchase a smartphone in order to register the domain name pierogismog.com immediately?"
Well, before become crippled by confusion and world-weariness, I pulled into New Buffalo MI where I met up with a couple of long-time business associates, Emma and Joe. Last time I was in town I tried out Rio's, the most proximal taco vendor, but this time they had a hot tip about a taco shop by the Home Depot out in Benton Harbor: La Perla. Perhaps sensing the emotional roller coaster upon which the life of a taco critic constantly rides, they suggested we go to the Home Depot to buy a couple 2x1s and check out La Perla. After getting guidance from a somewhat bewildered but mostly helpful and enthusiastic Home Depot employee, we ventured off in search of a parking lot "full of cars," which we soon found, and entered.
La Perla is of the deli-grocery style, somewhat like Zaragosa or Mildred. Because they aren't trapped in NYC, they have much more space than either of those two establishments. The grocery portion had a large selection of drinks, hot sauces (including the elusive Pico Pica), an awesome-looking butcher, and a fair amount of produce. As you can imagine, I was getting excited. Taking up almost half the store was the deli portion of La Perla, which had both a fully functional Mexican restaurant (in addition to tacos they had burritos, fajitas, gorditas, sopes, etc. etc.) and an ice cream counter with a bunch of delicious-looking homemade popsicles. The place was packed with people of all genders, ages, and ethnicities, and the man behind us in line was raving about the quality of the La Perla burrito.
Well, the excitement was too much for me, and my blood began to boil (with joy, of course). I ordered three tacos - carne asada, pollo, and al pastor - and sat down eagerly awaiting my food. Business associates Emma and Joe, more observant and ingenious than I, ordered a couple agua frescas. Having tasted Emma's, I immediately went back to get one of my own, and exchanged a $1 bill for a delicious horchata (what a deal!). We were then presented with a basket of chips and salsa, free of charge!! Forgive my overuse of exclamation points and parentheticals, but my blood continues to boil (with joy, of course) as I type. The salsa was smoky, but not in an overpowering way, and still had a nice tomato-y flavor. It was also just spicy enough so that all you wanted to do after each chip was take a sip of delicious horchata (which, as I mentioned, I was in possession of).
Soon came the tacos. All three were presented with lime on a couple of corn tortillas with cilantro and onion, which was a sight for sore eyes. Tasting each of the meats, I was more and more impressed. The chicken was cubed, tender, and especially moist. The steak had a strong flavor without falling into the trap of being overly salted. And the al pastor was shockingly good, perfectly cooked, obviously pineappled but with a dominant and lingering spicy flavor… the superlatives could exhaust every kilobyte of storage on the internet. At this point, I was no longer questioning my desire for Mexican food, and instead letting the simple joy of an unbeatable meal overtake me. La Perla also offered two house salsas: a slightly smoky and bitter red, and a sweeter and tangy green. While normally I'm exclusively a green sort of guy, as soon as I took a bite of my chicken taco I knew it would be better suited by the red. And that, I realized, is an important and often-underlooked trait of a high-quality taqueria: La Perla makes the tastes strong enough so that you can instantly decide what best accompanies what, and give you the belief you need to go against what you're used to. I won't go into great detail about everything I ate, but just know that each taco was better than the last, and the al pastor was truly the crown jewel of all tacos ever consumed by the dedicated staff here at tacosmog.com.
Lest we forget the other foods on the menu, all business associates present gave favorable reports. Joe agreed with the man in line that the al pastor burrito was of high quality. Emma's taco and sope were devoured and acclaimed. La Perla also had freshly-made tamales available by the 6-pack to take home and consume. We bought a pack of pork and a pack of queso-jalapeno to eat later that evening, after a stop at the also-delicious Greenbush Brewing Co. and a full afternoon of blueberry picking. Well, the tamales (despite their obvious disadvantage of being reheated) were excellent, and I can only imagine how good they would be fresh from La Perla itself. I hereby confer upon La Perla the (tentative) title of 'Best Tacos on Earth.' Until next time, Harbor Country...
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