Upon entering Carnicería San Jose, a small taco joint located at 214 North Main Street in downtown Goshen, Indiana, diners may think they’ve stumbled into the wrong place. From the front door, San Jose appears to be nothing more than a typical Mexican supermercado: visitors are greeted with aisles of dried beans, spices, and poblano peppers. It takes a stroll to the store’s rear section to reveal the mouth-watering truth: Carnicería San Jose is the home of some of the best, most authentic tacos Goshen has to offer.
What makes a taco truly great? If you’re a fan of Mexican-style tacos, there’s only one answer: the meat. Mexican tacos are worlds apart from our Americanized, Taco Bell-style wraps that ooze with sour cream, “cheese” sauce, and ground beef product. Adorned with nothing more than minced cilantro and onion, Mexican tacos are simple affairs. Instead of a large flour shell, two miniature corn tortillas serve as the vehicle for tasty cuts of seasoned beef, pork and chicken.
Goshen has at least six restaurants serving this style of taco: Carnicería San Jose, San Marcos, Restaurante Familiar, Los Primos, El Duranguenze, and Taqueria San Jose. Carnicería San Jose stands apart for two reasons: lengua and al pastor. Lengua,“tongue” in Spanish, is just what it sounds like: chopped, boiled sections of cow’s tongue. San Jose’s rendition of this classic cut is slowly simmered for hours to soften the meat, then quickly fried and served unseasoned. The texture is unbelievably buttery, so soft it gives new meaning to the idiom “melts in your mouth.”
Al pastor, literally “of the pasture,” is a reddish-hued, seasoned pork dish that has been slow-marinated in a special concoction of dried chiles, pineapple juice, and onion. Every shop has its own secret recipe, and I made it a goal several years ago to complete a “tour de pastor” of Goshen. San Jose emerged the clear winner in my book, achieving in their meat a perfect blend of tangy pineapple sweetness and subtle red chili heat.
If these offerings sound a little too adventurous for your tastes, San Jose offers the more standard asada (steak), pollo (chicken), and chorizo (sausage) options. Each food order is also accompanied by two squeeze bottles, one full of fiery red salsa picante, the other of slow-burning salsa verde. I personally prefer the combination of both red and green salsa on my tacos, but if you’re not used to spicy food, consider yourself warned—these sauces might catch you off guard! As an added bonus for frugal GC students, tacos cost only $1 each on Tuesdays and Thursdays (instead of the regular price of $1.50).
The ambiance in Carnicería San Jose can be described as “unpretentious” at best: harsh fluorescent lighting illuminates six small tables located directly beside the store’s butcher shop. A small TV usually blares a Spanish soap opera, and a lone teenaged waiter points to a sandwich-board wall sign when asked for a menu. This only adds to the authenticity of the experience, though. You can see the workers preparing the cuts of meat that go into the tacos, hear the sizzle as the steak hits the grill, see the steam rise as the meat cooks, and smell the delicious aromas of fresh cilantro, onion and lime. If you’re looking for a romantic first date locale, you may want to look elsewhere. If, however, your goal is to find some cheap and delicious Mexican food, Carnicería San Jose may soon become your new go-to taqueria.
–By Daniel Driver