Experiencing new cultures without leaving town.

Today I travelled to Guadalajara, Mexico, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, two cities in two different countries (yeah I know Puerto Rico is a US territory but culturally another country).     The best part is I didn’t have to board one plane or boat to get there.    Le me explain.   I am currently researching where to find the best tacos in Grand Rapids, Michigan.      When I say “best tacos”, I’m referring to how authentic the tacos are and how they compare in taste and presentation to the tacos that I eat when I travel to Mexico including the street vendors.    I order “Mexican”  tacos which means two corn tortillas hot off the grill filled with chopped seasoned steak and topped with cilantro and onions.   Included with the tacos, is typically two hot sauces, red and green in color, and a lime.   Sometimes, but not always, it will come with a side of roasted onions and halapeno pepper and radishes.      There’s a large latino population in Grand, Rapids and like any city or town with residents from another culture, you’ll find the foods of that culture including tacos.  

Ok so you might ask how I can compare eating tacos to travelling to other countries in one day.    Since I can only eat so many tacos in one day or evening, I have to break my research down to eating tacos at two to three places max per day.   Today, I decided to go to 2 restaurants on the east side of Grand Rapids after work.    My first stop was to “Tres Lobos” which in my opinion had some great tacos with a very colorful festive atmosphere that could have been found in Mexico.    The server was a young Mexican woman that was friendly but not too interested in engaging in conversation, mostly due to the fact that she had other customers.   I could see back into the kitchen and I could have  been looking into a kitchen of some place south of the boarder.   Overall, a great place with awesome tacos with a glimpse of the colors and music of Mexico.

Inside Tres Lobos

The second place that I planned on visiting is “Tacos el Caporal“, I hadn’t been there yet but heard good things about it.   It was located just down the road a couple miles.   As I was driving, I noticed another establishment that had a sign that said “Las Palmas” Latin fusion cuisine.     It wasn’t Tacos el Caporal but because it was a small place with some smoke coming out of the stack on the roof  I just had to stop.      As I walked in, I noticed a family sitting at one of the tables and the smell was that of good cooking.     The woman behind the counter was very welcoming and before I could even ask had some water in front of me.   She was latino but she didn’t look Mexican.    I asked if they had Tacos and of course she said yes and she called back to this older woman in the Kitchen.     I started to look at the menu and it said the finest foods from Puerto Rico.    Ok, it didn’t exactly fit into my search for “Mexican” tacos but it was a taco.

Las Palmas Foods from Puerto Rico

Tacos at Las Palmas are $1 each with Steak, chicken or beans and they are delicious.    I normally get “asada” or steak taco with cilantro and onions  but they serve them a little differently at Las Palmas and the woman serving me sold me on the spiced chicken.     The taco was served on a corn tortilla, spiced chicken topped with onions lettuce and tomatoes.   I only ordered one so that I had room for taste testing at my next stop.      Based on the service and the taste of my taco as well as the looks and smells of the food coming out of the kitchen, I’d highly recommend eating there for some real authentic Puerto Rican food.

Tacos at Las Palmas

The best part of my visit to Las Palmas was experiencing the friendliness of the owners.   The woman that served me said that it was owned by her son and that her mother, the owners grandmother, was the cook.  I told her that I had friend who lived in Puerto Rico and that I wanted to visit them someday and began asking the woman about where she was from on the island.   It turns out she was from near San Juan Puerto Rico and they decided to move to the mainland US a few years back and because there aren’t many places to find good Puerto Rican foods in Grand Rapids they decided to open the doors of Las Palmas.   We ended up talking for 20 minutes or so and in that time the woman took me back to her home state.    When I left Las Palmas I not only felt like I found a new place to eat  with good food but new friends with a beautiful culture  from the island of Puerto Rico.    I almost feel like I’ve been there.

Next stop was Taco el Caporal.   I didn’t have to travel far since I could  see the building from the parking lot of las Palmas.   The first thing I noticed as I walked up to “Tacos El Caporal”  was that it was busy and the patrons were mostly latino.    Being busy and full of the people from the culture who’s food is being served is a good sign for a restaurant.   I knew the food was going to be good.    I ordered two tacos to go.   As I was waiting for my tacos, I struck up a conversation with a woman sitting on the “to go” bench with me.    She was from Mexico and born near Guadalajara and then lived in a few other places till coming to the United States.   She told me that “Tacos El Caporal” was her favorite place to eat because the food tasted closest to the food that she grew up with.   Just like the woman from Puerto Rico she was happy to share her experiences of Mexico and the culture.    My taco were ready and I had to get going.    My quick trip to find authentic  tacos turned into 2 1/2 hours of learning and experiencing new cultures.   It was a good day and one awesome adventure.   

Kitchen of Tacos El Caporal

What was you cultural adventure?


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