Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Bridgeworthy: A Vampiro Weekend – In Search of the Mystery Taco

What do an iconic taqueria in the south bay and a little town south of Mazatlan have in common? The answer is a taco with mysterious, unknown origins. I am talking about the Vampiro taco, also known in some regions of Mexico, such as Mexico City or Guadalajara, as a Volcanes (volcano), or in Sonora as a Lorenza.  

This past weekend I woke up on Saturday morning determined to find a Vampiro taco. And so I experienced a few new things. I tried two taco shops I had never been to before and got to taste a new taco. 

My hunt for the mysterious taco led me to Tacos El Gordo on Broadway in Chula Vista and Tacos El Trompo in Barrio Logan. 

Tacos El Gordo has several locations, but the one on Broadway gets the best reviews. This place is an institution and a must-stop on your taco journey. Their Vegas shop was featured in Taco Chronicles, Cross the Boarder on Netflix. 

When I first heard of a Vampiro taco, I drew a blank. I had to look up what it was. Surprisingly, only a few articles have been written about the Vampiro and its origins.  

So what is a Vampiro, and is it even a taco? The articles I have read and most menus use the term taco to describe it.  

vampiro taco
The top crispy tortilla allows you to eat it like a sandwich.

A Vampiro lays flat, much like a tostada. The taco starts with a soft corn tortilla grilled over an open flame or on a comal until dried and crispy. Good panela or queso fresco is added and allowed to cook until bubbly and charred. Next, the freshly grilled and chopped carne asada top the cheese. Then Pico de gallo or, in some cases, just finely chopped cabbage and red onions are added. Then this stack is finished with guacamole, tomato salsa, and a bright red hot sauce that is more than a bit spicy. Some places provide an additional crispy corn tortilla that you can place on top to make it easier to eat, like a sandwich or torta. I heard the Vampiro referred to as a love child between a quesadilla, a torta, and a taco; that is about right. Note that there are many variations, most notably with the meat. I had one made with adobada and one from steak, both from a trompo and a traditional carne asada.

vampiro taco
The chewy cheese of a Vampiro taco is like a quesadilla.

This taco comes from Sinaloa but was perfected in a small town south of Mazatlan called El Verde. This town is known for its tacos but may be more famous for its taqueros. Some of the most talented taqueros in the business of slinging tacos started in this small village. There is a symbolic pin in my culinary map; I must make it to El Verde at some point in my journey. 

The name is so fun, Vampiro, and all the people in the know claim to have no idea of the name’s origin. Some claim the crisp wavy tortilla resembles a bat wing; others say this culinary treat drains the hunger out of you like a vampire. The most plausible origin story is that the red hot sauce runs out of the corners of your mouth when you take the first bite resembling a vampire and his victim. No one could confirm these theories, which adds to the mystery. Origin story aside, this taco or non-taco has morphed a bit from its original form, but that is what food does; it migrates and adapts. 

It is a short journey across the bridge to discover something new and delicious. I hope I have helped you to find something new.  

Slicing the marinated meat that’s been cooked on the trompo, a slow turning vertical rotisserie.


Clyde Van Arsdall
Clyde Van Arsdall
Clyde is a trained chef that has worked in hospitality for nearly 40 years. In addition to cooking, he is a freelance food writer and storyteller. Clyde is a third-generation Coronado local, CHS graduate, and father of three. He owns and operates Olive Avenue Supper Club, a boutique catering company specializing in culinary experiences. You can follow his culinary journey on Instagram @oliveavenuesupper.Have a story for The Coronado Times to cover? Send news tips or story ideas to: [email protected]