Oversized planters outside the busy cafe on Broadway hold a little slice of the Mexican countryside: basil, mint and a few corn stalks. Margarita Verdejo planted them after helping her daughter, Rosalyn Vera, open Cocina Luchadoras two years ago.
When the corn began overtaking the other greens, Vera planned to yank them out. Her mother insisted they stay, as a reminder of her humble origins back in Puebla Mexico.
Vera gets it. “Our maíz is sacred,” she said.
Corn is serious business at Cocina Luchadoras, the popular Fells Point taqueria, where staff arrive as early as 6:30 a.m. to grind it up for the shop’s tortillas, which it also sells by the dozen. By 10 a.m. during a recent visit to the restaurant, cook Leo Nieves was placing round balls of dough in a press to squish them down circular tortillas. He tossed them onto the griddle, where they would be fried into the perfect taco canvas.
Tacos are something that “unifies us as a country,” Vera said. The tacos at Cocina Luchadoras reveal a mix of regional influences, including Mexico City, where Vera grew up, Puebla and Oaxaca. Nieves is from Veracruz.
Mexican visitors frequently tell Vera how her shop reminds them of home. Inside the shop, brightly colored posters proclaim the strength of women and people of color. Last year, she made headlines after receiving threats over an anti-Trump sticker on her door.
“We’re always being targeted one way or another,” Vera said. But Vera, who has “Chingona” (“Badass”) tattooed on her wrist, takes pride in her toughness. She sees her cafe as a sort of rebel stronghold in the face of immigration raids, family separation and the many specters that terrorize the area’s immigrants. “I’m not going to stop. I’m here to prove that we are a successful business. We’re bringing love to the community,” she said. She has plans to start a nonprofit to help immigrant women start their own businesses.
The world has plenty of problems. But tacos are a bright spot.
Gone are the stale, hard tacos of youth, topped with hamburger meat and cheddar cheese. In their place are fresh corn tortillas, maybe two of them, stuffed with marinated meats, chopped onions and cilantro and garnished with lime, radish and a spicy, fresh salsa that brings together the symphony of flavors. And, typically costing around $10 for two, they’re one of the cheapest food thrills you can find.
With the growth of taco shops like Cocina Luchadoras, Cinco de Mayo Taqueria in Highlandtown and the new R&R Taqueria near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Baltimore seems to be entering a new era of taco deliciousness. The next time you hear a Californian complain about not being able to find any Mexican food in Baltimore, just scroll and/or swipe through this photo gallery of the city’s most popular taco spots.