By: Jason Perlow
“Authenticity”. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot when referring to international cuisines, often as a measure of whether or not a restaurant or a food item properly represents the culture of its origin.
Throughout the modern history of human civilization, cuisines have been morphed and adapted because they were looked at through fresh eyes — from somebody else other than the originating culture, usually through war or conquest. For example, Greek cuisine was heavily influenced by the Ottoman Empire. Ashkenazi cuisine, the food of my own ethnicity, is an adaptation of German, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and other eastern european cuisines in order to conform with Kosher dietary laws of the Jewish people living in those countries.
Meanwhile, virtually all of the cuisines of Asia have been through some sort of iterative change or adaptation, especially with ingredients that originated in China, the birthplace of noodles and many other distinctively Asian foods. While adaptation often happens to suit local palates, it is not always successful. For example, one of my pet peeves is Chinese-American food, which I feel is dumbed down from the original regional variations of Chinese cuisine, from Cantonese to Hunanese and Sichuanese, to meet the tastes of blander American palates.
Mexican food is subject to adaptation and change as well. In the past hundred years or so, Mexican-American cuisine evolved in states like Texas, Arizona and New Mexico in order to use more common local ingredients. But Mexican-American cuisine was largely created by people of Mexican descent as a way to make an honest living and introduce the food to gringos. This led to the rise of a sub-type of cuisine commonly known as “Tex-Mex” or “Southwestern”.
Los Bocados, a Mexican-inspired taqueria in Parkland, is going to be the kind of eatery that people will either love because it views Mexican food items like tacos with a fresh set of eyes — or it will be seen by some as highly inauthentic.
Potentially, it could also be viewed as cultural appropriation — which is an irksome term that has been thrown around a lot recently in the press when ethnic cuisines are prepared by someone of completely different cultural origin, in order to serve a gentrified, mostly-white customer base.
Where do I sit on this? Somewhere in between.
The owners aren’t Mexican, it’s a partnership between a Filipino-American, Anthony Hoff, and a Jewish-American, Robert Bushman, who is a Johnson & Wales culinary school graduate. They obviously have a clear passion for what they do and have a historied culinary and restaurant background between the two of them.
The restaurant itself is inside a Chevron station on Route 441. There are a few tables, a cooler with soft drinks, beers and canned margaritas, a push-button Mexican Nescafe coffee drink machine, and an ordering counter.
Most of the dishes on the menu are not authentically Mexican in ingredient configuration, and the pricing is high if you consider the portion sizes. This is especially true when compared with other purely Mexican taquerias in the immediate area, such as La Union’s locations in Coral Springs and Margate.
A plate of three smallish tacos costs $10.50 and a small order of tostadas, which comes as two pieces from a cut in half tostada, is normally $7.50, but are $6 on Tuesdays.
Despite the gas station setting, presentation is a huge aspect of how this place is trying to differentiate itself from other taco joints in the area. I would say that what this restaurant is doing for Tacos and other Mexican street food is analogous to the dolled-up (and very much not authentically Japanese) maki rolls you’d find at any South Florida sushi place — they are culinary school pretty, a feast for the eyes as much as they are for your mouth.
To start with, my wife and I ordered the tostada, which arguably is the best thing we had. It’s definitely diminutive — adorably cute even — and a single diner making a meal of these on a Tuesday to take advantage of the pricing would probably need to eat three of them in order to leave with a full belly.
The protein is a “Barbecue Brisket” stewed in a red chile adobo sauce. It’s delicious, and very tender. The combination of that with the pickled jalapenos, avocado crema, and crumbled cotija cheese is wonderful.
One of the patrons told us that he likes to order the Barbecue Brisket as tacos instead, and the staff will be happy to prepare them that way.
Is it authentic? No. Does it taste good? Definitely.
The tacos at Los Bocados is where I think someone who has a more purist view of Mexican cuisine might take issue. One of the signature sauces that is used in a number of the dishes on the menu is a “Guajillo Glaze” which features a mild, dried chile pepper that is commonly used in Mexican food (for adobo marinades, salsas and various other applications) and is not particularly spicy.
Here, rather than an adobo, the guajillo pepper is used like a sweet (I would say overly sweet) barbecue sauce as it is cooked with brown sugar and white vinegar. It’s fruity. I would say it would be appropriate even as an ice cream topping. My wife said it tasted like a raspberry sauce.
I think the sauce is cloying and conflicts with the roasted and seasoned meats, and the other layered ingredients. I would suggest that before ordering any menu item that includes it, that you ask to taste it beforehand.
The restaurant has other sauces which I feel complement the tacos better, such as a fresh Chipotle Salsa, a Smoky Aioli (essentially a mayo with some chipotle chile in it, but I felt it needed to be doctored up with more Chipotle Salsa) and a very spicy homemade habanero hot sauce. You can certainly ask the place to omit the Guajillo Glaze and use these other sauces instead.
While neither my wife nor I liked the Spicy Citrus Pork, the Carne Asada, and the Hongo (Mushroom) because of the overly sweet glaze — the taco meat fillings themselves, tasted separately were very good — we both very much enjoyed the Mahi Mahi and the Guajillo Chicken tacos.
The Mahi Mahi was not that off in terms of representation from a traditional baja fish taco, although the fish was beer batter fried with a masa (cornmeal) coating rather than grilled.
The Guajillo Chicken used the spice as an adobo meat seasoning along with Monterey Jack cheese, salsa verde, Smoky Aioli and crema. Of all the tacos we had, I liked it the best.
Both of our orders of tacos came with very good, nicely-seasoned fresh fried tortilla chips and the fresh salsa. We also ordered Elote, which are corn on the cob smothered with the Smoky Aioli, lime juice, chile powder and crumbly cotija cheese. In terms of authenticity, these hit the nail on the head. The elotes were expensive, however, at $3.50 per small split cob.
We also tried an order of the Arroz Verde, a rice cooked with a green sofrito and cilantro puree rather than the traditional red tomato and garlic-based one. Although it looks pretty and we really like the overall concept, we felt it was slightly undercooked and the seasoning could have been stronger.
What determines whether or not food is “authentic?” Is it the country of origin where the preparers come from? Is it the use of specific ingredients or the way the ingredients are combined? Is it the use of specific cooking methods from where the food originally comes from? Or even the environment in which the food is served and appropriate price points?
I don’t know the answer completely. Love it or hate it, Los Bocados is definitely different, even if it isn’t authentic.
LOS BOCADOS (Located in the Chevron Gas Station)
7191 North State Road 7
Parkland, FL 33073
Sundays 12-6 p.m., Mondays-Saturdays 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Jason Perlow is a long-time foodie who spent 20 years in the New York City and New Jersey metro areas reviewing restaurants for The New York Times and his personal food blog, Off The Broiler, which he started in 2006 and ran for ten years. He is also the founder of eGullet, a popular food discussion site and not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001, which was featured on Tony Bourdain's "No Reservations" cable television program.
As a technologist by profession, he writes the Tech Broiler blog for CBS's ZDNet web site. He has been a Coral Springs resident since moving to South Florida in 2012.