If tomorrow the front page of the paper reads “secret cult of carnitas wizardry uncovered in local mexican market” or “Boise food authorities confounded by the perfect Al Pastor” or even “Barack Obama initiates CIA investigation of conspicuously delicious asada”, I would barely blink. In fact, I’d probably be relieved.
At least then I could explain what the hell is happening in Campos Market.
Last week I made the trip to its hallowed ground, hidden inconspicuously on Orchard Street in a remodeled bar. Though the sign still boasts a crescent moon and a martini, the interior has been transformed into a joyful marketplace. The pinatas overhead and the mariachi music on the air make the aisles of tortillas, tomatillos, and gummy candy all the more enticing.
In the back, there is a handful of wooden booths and a small kitchen. The menu is intuitive — on one side, a list of meats; on the other side, the possible enclosures for that meat. I was eating lunch with my girlfriend, and we ordered six tacos, two enchiladas, and the all important pineapple Jarritos.
Moments later we were greeted with two massive platters of Mexican food. We selected the asada tacos as the logical starting point for our hungry rampage.
We took a bite, then stared at each other. Dead eyed.
Perhaps it was only carne asada, cilantro and onions on a corn tortilla. Perhaps it was only a taco, purchased for $1.25.
And yet, we we’re experiencing something beyond meat. Something too perfectly greasy and seasoned to have emerged from the stacks of marbled flesh in the deli case beside us. We chewed with gluttonous delight.
“This is my favorite restaurant,” my girlfriend categorically announced.
We took another bite.
“I’m not kidding. This is my favorite restaurant.”
We added some house salsa.
“Hoooooo my god. What do they do to their meat?”
My ability for articulation had vanished with the Asada, so I merely turned with enthusiasm to the enchiladas.
This moment typified Campos for two reasons.
The first is that campos is very, very good. And good in a specific way — it’s a simple, authentic (or so it seems to my uncultured eyes), and delciously sautéed experience, one that does not feign the more prim and proper trappings of an upscale taco, nor approaches the gummy self hate of Taco Bell.
Yes, the salsa is tasty. Yes, the beans are delightful. But this is a meal that starts and ends with the meat. It hits you in two waves — the first wave of, wow, yum, meat — and then the second wave of, WTF THIS TASTES YUMMIER THAN I WAS PREPARED FOR AND I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY.
This of course leads us to the second part, the part where, attempting to cope with the greatness of your tacos, you ask :“What do they do?!?” The flavors are almost a little too gratifying, especially when paired with a well timed splash of jarritos.
My personal theory is the the grill has been seasoned by years and years of good cooking, so that now, upon encountering some well crafted Al Pastor, a love affair worthy of The Bachelor takes place right on the griddle.
But the funny thing about Campos is, as much as you might wonder, and speculate, you don’t really want to know. Peering back into that kitchen would be like ripping the curtain off of OZ. The bottles of clorox haphazardly tossed next to the sinks and the stacks of pig appendages in the deli case quietly suggest a grim reality in terms of the foods cleanliness.
But ignorance, I remind you, is bliss. After eating a campos taco, you will have no regard for how it was constructed. It may not be the carefully shredded, kneecap free, white meat to which you’re accustomed (and don’t even think of asking for a hard shell), but a delicious taco, this is unequivocally.
As a man of subtlety, I am not prone to declarative statements, but I will throw aside my more political instincts to make one unabashed claim — a conclusion founded upon a lifetime of eating in my hometown:
Campos Market makes the best taco in Boise. And it is altogether possible that their dominance extends across the state of Idaho.
A statement such as that necessitates the full five stars.