Next to, perhaps, pizza, tacos have changed the most since I was a kid. In those days tacos were a tasty, but extremely limited, food option that inevitably consisted of a somewhat stale hard corn shell that broke into smithereens when you bit into it, ground beef browned to within an inch of its life, a dollop of refried beans, and taco sauce — along with the vegetables of your choice, if you wanted to ruin a good thing.
At some point, however, some culinary visionary realized that taco-ey goodness should not simply be a means of delivering browned ground beef to the digestive tract. So chicken tacos were introduced, then pork, and the hard corn shells were ditched in favor of flour-based soft tacos . . . and then the food and flavor floodgates opened.
All of which leads us to the blackened walleye tacos that I had for lunch yesterday at a place called Pura Vida, just off Public Square in downtown Cleveland. These delectable eats could trace their lineage to the tacos of my youth, I suppose, but they bore as little relation to those basic staples as modern humans bear to our pre-mammalian ancestors who crawled the earth during the Cretaceous period. The walleye, which is one of the best eating fish you can find anywhere, was absolutely fresh, and the blackened preparation gave it a very tasty kick. Add a light citrus avocado creme sauce, throw in some red cabbage slaw, corn, and tomato bits, and liberally douse with freshly squeezed lime juice that you supply through the grip of your own two hands and you have the perfect, flavorful light summer lunch — as opposed to the gut-busting tacos of days gone by.
Pura Vida allows you to choose a side with your taco treat, and I went for the African peanut stew. It was a sentimental choice, because I once worked with a guy from Africa who prepared a curry peanut soup that was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve never seen it served anywhere else. The Pura Vida version, which is made from sweet potato, kale, curry, and peanuts and includes a healthy spoonful of diced peanuts on top, had just the right combination of sweetness and spice and also had a nice, coarse texture. It was an excellent pairing for the tacos.
Where with the continued evolution of the taco take us? I can’t wait to find out.