Young and Hungry

Pica Taco: Much Better Than Eating Dirt


Tacos, I'm beginning to think, are the trendiest food in town, which, if nothing else, helps justify my reckless appetite for these hand-held babies.

The evidence: At Masa 14, I  devoured the brilliantly conceived and simply executed pork belly al pastor taco, in which a sweet, slightly deflated Chinese steamed bun stands in for corn tortillas. I circled 'round and 'round Dupont Circle, then stood in a cold miserable drizzle to sample the scorching, salsa-drenched offerings at the new Tomatillo Taqueria. And I've eaten my way through various animal parts at the humble Hyattsville operation, Taqueria La Placita.

Today, I stopped by Pica Taco, which prepares what is the best lengua taco I've had 'round these parts. Stuffed into a pair of commercial tortillas, which are warmed on a sandwich griddle, the tongue is cut into thick dices and slow cooked until the texture is closer to foie gras than the chewy slabs so often associated with the organ meat. The simple onion-and-cilantro garnishes, with a small squirt of jalapeno-based salsa, brings out the tongue's subtle, slightly livery flavor. It's a terrific taco, even if you don't like tongue.

I had to admit to Loose Lips, however, that I didn't have a clue about Pica's name. That's when he told me about the eating disorder known as "pica." The definition is after the jump, but after reading it, I really think someone needs to suggest that Pica change its handle. I'm sure the owner has no clue...

From WebMD:

Pica is the persistent eating of nonnutritive substances, such as dirt or paint.

The Handbook of Clinical Child Psychology currently estimates that prevalence rates of pica range from 4%-26% among institutionalized populations. Research among non-institutionalized populations takes the form of individual case studies, making prevalence rates difficult to estimate.

How Is Pica Diagnosed?

If pica is suspected, medical evaluation is important to assess for possible intestinal blockages, as well as potential poisoning from ingested substances. If symptoms are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical examination. The doctor may use certain tests — such as X-rays and blood tests — to look for poisons and other substances in the blood, and to check for blockages in the intestinal tract. The doctor also may test for possible infections caused by eating items contaminated with bacteria or other organisms. A review of the person's eating habits also may be conducted.

Before making a diagnosis of pica, the doctor will rule out other disorders — such as mental retardation, developmental disabilities, or obsessive-compulsive disorder–as the cause of the odd eating behavior. This pattern of behavior must last at least one month for a diagnosis of pica to be made.

  • Sergio

    Ever heard of "picante"? I guess not.

    Essentially "?ica" means "hot".

    Have any friends who speak spanish, if not, you should make some before calling a whole culture's food staple dirt.

  • Tim Carman


    Don't misunderstand. I'm not calling a whole culture's food staple dirt. If you read through this blog, you'll see a number of blog posts on tacos -- and my affection for them.

    I also knew that there was a completely logical, Spanish-derived reason behind Pica Taco's name. But as Loose Lips' immediate reaction indicates, some Americans will think of the eating disorder first before anything else. That's not what a business wants.

    Large companies will vet their business names over and over until they find one that will not offend anyone or have any negative associations. Obviously, a place like Pica Taco can't do that.

  • Former Staffer

    I went to law school in Tucson. I can't find anything around here that even resembles Sonoran food. Salvadoran, yes. Sonoran, no.

  • Sergio

    Hi Tim,

    I understand what you're saying (and thanks for your feedback).

    But here's what I'm's a taco shack owned and operated by latin folk. Any spanish speaker would immediately know what pica means; its probably one of the first 20 words little latin babies learn. I know one of my bi-lingual nieces learned mom, no, and pica... in that order.

    However, you as a native English speaker had to be told what pica referred English.

    So I guess my point is, during my only visit to Pica Taco, I thought it was pretty good (I'm from Houston, Texas, so I know my way around a taco) and I thought dedicating a majority of your blog piece on some obscure medical reference didn't do justice to the food or the establishment.

    (I guess this is akin to Chevrolet trying to sell the Chevy Nova in Mexico...only to learn that "No va" in spanish essentially means "doesn't go".)

    Thanks and happy eating,


  • NovaGirl

    If I ever (not likely!) open up a restaurant in another country, I'll be sure to get highly insulted if the locals are unable to discern exactly what the name of my establishment refers to.

  • Sergio

    I don't think anyone is throwing up their arms in bewilderment trying to discern what the restaurants names Bistro d'Oc or Dahlak mean.

    And..for all I know, the owner's of Pica Taco could are born and bred Washingtonians who have a basic understanding of the spanish language due to their extreme passion for delicious tacos. You can now remove "pica" (pronounced "pee-cah") to your Rosetta Stone tutorial, in addition to cilantro, tortilla and lengua. (Que sabroso!)

  • Former Staffer

    lengua es muy mal. asada!

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  • gringuita123456

    pica = picante, inf: picar: as in "ay que mi pica" (Shit, that's hot) Seriously, there wasn't anyone on your staff who could have saved you from this?

    Even as a veggie, I enjoy lots of your columns, but this (amigo mio) is seriously sloppy fact finding.

  • chuck

    Dish of the week, I love it.

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