To celebrate Tucson this holiday season, our food writer is putting the spotlight on La Doce. Follow along as we eat tacos and soak up the atmosphere at 12 different joints along iconic South 12th Avenue. Share your favorite taco memories with us on Facebook, Instagram or email@example.com.
The more time I spend on 12th Avenue, the more I realize there’s an alphabet of specialties that forms the foundation of a taco vocabulary. It starts, as always, with the ABCs: Asada, Birria, Cabeza. Your taco education begins when you have a platonic ideal of each of these in your head, a unit by which to measure all the other tacos you encounter.
Start with the perfectly marinated and mesquite-grilled asada from Tacos Apson; the succulent and mild, shredded and stewed cabeza at Tacos de Cabeza; and the warmly spiced birria at the food truck Taqueria Lingo Lingo. While many rightfully recommend Rollies’ birria (which we’ll get to in a few days), I’d argue you might not know how Chef Mateo Otero elevates the medium until you are familiar with the best of the classic preparation.
All birria, however, is not created equal: it’s not even created out of the same animal. While many of Tucson’s taquerias (including Rollies) make beef birria, Lingo Lingo uses the traditional goat. You can tell from the extra gamey funkiness, which I typically prefer to cow’s relative mildness.
Looking at Lingo Lingo’s menu, you’ll uncover two other crucial vocabulary terms: quesabirria and vichi (also called bichi, depending on the taqueria). For the uninitiated, quesabirria is birria with the volume cranked up: melted with thick portions of cheese, with the birria consommé for dipping.
Vichi seems to often be the broth from the stewed meats, whether beef, goat or fish. It contains the funkiness the stewing process extracts from obscure cuts of meat, and is often served with cilantro and finely chopped white onions.
Lingo Lingo’s vichi is exactly what you’d want on an unusually cold day in Tucson. The chile and the richness from the meat mingle with warm spices — clove? cinnamon? If it was sweet it could almost be a dessert, but it’s firmly in the umami camp. The unusually buoyant cabbage seems ever-replenishing: each spoonful gets replaced by mild roughage eager to become your next bite. The soup’s light, gamey fattiness complements the wholesome comfort of cozy winter mornings.
The server is young and very kind. When a bee falls into our Coke bottle, she says, “That happens a lot,” in a tone both chipper and commiseratory, and gets us a styrofoam cup to pour the soda into. The older man who was eating here drives away in a vintage yellow Bug; he was wearing a tie-dye shirt and I picture him as a local eccentric.
On our way out, a woman drives up in a lifted truck to make a to-go order, like a drive-thru. The restaurant is otherwise empty; perhaps because we got here only half an hour before closing, perhaps because when you put Taqueria Lingo Lingo into Google Maps, they misdirect you.
The taqueria’s image is incorrect, a shuttered storefront on the east side of 12th Avenue. It’s easy to miss the real food truck, which you can identify from your car: it’s the white canvas tent next to E & F Transmission on the west side of the avenue. A real hidden gem.
Taqueria Lingo Lingo
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. | 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
For more information, check out their Yelp page.