Eating Goat Eyeball Tacos in Staten Island
The place was flooded with autumnal sunlight, casting a burnished glow on a handful of tables, one occupied by a mother with a couple of children, the other by a pair of female sweethearts. The minute I picked the menu up, I got excited. The focus was on the corn-based collection of antojitos -- things like enchiladas, tacos, hand-formed huaraches, and the like -- but what arrested me were organ meats offered as options. I'm accustomed to taco trucks and taquerias that sell cabeza (face meat), lengua (tongue), and tripe of intestinal origin, but I've rarely seen ojo (eyeballs) offered.
I ordered an eyeball taco, as my friends looked on with some disgust. I'd eaten plenty of eyeballs before, but I still felt a little giddy. What arrived, deposited in a pair of soft white-corn tortillas, and topped with cilantro and onions, were eyeballs that had been roughly chopped with meat from around the sockets and the animal's brow. While there were no eyeballs actually looking up at me, there were clods of gooey yellowish stuff, and I could also make out part of the optic nerve.
As I bit into the taco, the flavor was agreeable -- with a mellow, steamy goat taste familiar to anyone who's eaten weekend barbacoa. But then I hit a rough patch. The eyeball goo had a texture somewhere between gristle and grape jelly, and had to be chewed, with each chew breaking down more of the congealed vitreous humor. Eating it was a task, and not a particularly pleasant one. Between bites, I turned to the wonderful tongue taco, which was tender and fantastically meaty, like a superior version of pot roast.
We ate vegetarian quesadillas made with squash flower and corn smut, both really great, and a bang-up rendition of the breakfast dish called chilaquiles, and, mightily satisfied, resolved to return to the place again. But not necessarily for more eyeballs.
Some of Cynthia von Buhler's art follows.