Young and Hungry

Prickly Pared Down: El Centro’s Lackluster Cactus Taco

Remember Kang and Kodos, the evil space aliens from The Simpsons, with their undulating green tentacles? I was recently reminded of those slimy-looking limbs when sampling the nopal tacos at the new El Centro D.F.

That's cactus, to those of you unfamiliar with Mexican plant terminology.

The muted Army green-colored slices of prickly pear taste much like you might expect: very similar to bland green beans with a slightly waxy chew. The cactus is even cut into a similar shape.

I really, really wanted to like this interesting vegetarian alternative to El Centro's beef tongue or pork shoulder tacos. But no such luck. Though steamed and grilled, the nopales simply can't muster any umph.

Tossed with the slender green strands is corn, tomatoes and chayote, a rather dull Aztec fruit. Even the guajillo chile sauce fails to liven up the party between the house-made tortilla, so it may be necessary to slather the taco with the accompanying refried beans.

The total package fails to impress with its dull presentation and even duller taste. I've never worked with cactus before, but there must be a way to create a more edible dish. Maybe deep-fry the little guys? Char with grill marks? Roast until sweeter? Or maybe just douse in a killer sauce.

How to cleanse my palate of this limp pencil of a vegetable? A slightly hot, slightly sweet Mexican mojito (pictured below), which, thankfully, El Centro provides in copious quantities.

Photos by Stefanie Gans

  • Drez

    I think chayote/I> is a squash and not a fruit?

  • Drez


  • Stefanie Gans

    I looked it up when I wrote it, and now just double checked.
    According to the Food Lover's Companion, chayote is a "gourdlike fruit" and can be "prepared in a way suitable for summer squash;" can be "baked like acorn squash;" or "used raw in a salad."

  • anon

    chayote is "gourdlike". It does best when it retains a bit of its characteristic snap. A quick saute or sear works well.

    Too bad the cactus tacos disappointed. It sounded good on paper. Oyamel does a grilled cactus paddle which is quite good, though not in taco form.

  • Drez

    It's part of the same family that contains cucumbers and squash and watermelon.
    Perhaps they're all technically fruit, but it's conventionally referred to as chayote squash.
    Just saying. :)

  • JW

    I went to El Centro yestyerday to check it out. In a word - disappointed. Split the Al Pastor and the Carnitas. The Al Pastor was more like El Grissle. Not very flavorful and loaded with nasty parts. The Carnitas was much better, but still pretty bland. They charge 6 bucks for a cup size portion of guacamole - it's not bad but it is only one cup.

    For 9 bucks you get 2 tacos and s small portion of rice and black beans. The beans were good, but cmon.

    I won't ge going back.

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