This Food Critic's Quest To Eat A Taco A Day For A Year Is Almost A Wrap : The Salt Mike Sutter has eaten 1,300 tacos so far this year. And it's been tough: He tells NPR's Kelly McEvers about dealing with offbeat taquerias, getting thyroid cancer, and why it's good to have a quest.

This Food Critic's Quest To Eat A Taco A Day For A Year Is Almost A Wrap

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As it gets close to the end of the year, we wanted to check in one more time with a man who has had an interesting 2017. His name is Mike Sutter, and he is the food critic for The San Antonio Express-News, and his plan was to visit 365 different taquerias - 365 days in the year, 365 taquerias. And he's gotten pretty close. But like in life, some other stuff happened, too. First, we'll hear about one of his favorite moments.

MIKE SUTTER: Well, to start out with, I think about the day that I walked out of the Little Taco Factory and saw a priest laying hands on a customer, and I thought, oh, I wonder if they know something about the food that I don't.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) It's like, bless you, my son.

SUTTER: Well, that's (laughter) - well, if you look at a tortilla, it's kind of like a giant communion wafer. Maybe that's what was going on.

MCEVERS: What was your absolute favorite taco so far? What is your absolute favorite taco so far?

SUTTER: My favorite taco I think of the year had to be the place where they were boiling the carnitas in this big iron pot. I mean, it looked like a scene out of "Macbeth" because that's a rare form to do it that way. Traditionally, that is a dish that's boiled in fat. You just take, you know, a pork butt, you boil it in fat and it - everything crispies (ph) up and caramelizes. And then they just take the bits as they come out, put them all in one big bin and then chop that up together. So you get lean, you get fat, you get crispy. And then this place made its own corn tortillas, and then they dressed it out with a beautiful salsa, and it was just simple and beautiful.

MCEVERS: That sounds so good (laughter). I would eat that for breakfast for sure, like a big ole slab of carnitas.

SUTTER: Then you know as well as I do that the things that are considered breakfast tacos don't necessarily have to have eggs. Barbacoa is considered a breakfast taco. There are places that will make you an al pastor in the morning. This al pastor trompo - they do it on a vertical spit that looks like an inverted bell, and they shave it down as the night goes. But at Taquitos West Ave, which feels like eating on the street, the trompo is as big as a Volkswagen.


SUTTER: And it's sitting right next to the guy. He just shaves it down, throws it on the flat top, and that's your taco. Not - you don't see that very often, but, boy, when you do, you've got to get that.

MCEVERS: You know to stop the car (laughter). It's like - yes.

SUTTER: That's right. Yeah, slide sideways to get into that place. And then the trompo - it's so close to the street, you're going to be able to see it from the street, too, and there's just a little lean-to. I love this place too because they don't - there are no prices listed on the menu. You just order your tacos. They give them to you. Nobody charges you anything. You pay at the end of it. It's such an honor system. And I thought it would be so easy just to walk away from this when they're totally busy, but they completely trust you to walk up and pay your $1.40 or your $1.60 for your taco. And, man, that is money well spent.

MCEVERS: So I want to bring this up. I mean, you sound different than the times we've talked to you before.

SUTTER: A little bit different. It's been part of this interesting year.

MCEVERS: Yeah. What happened?

SUTTER: I - in October, it's not exactly a gift, but I got thyroid cancer. And we got that taken care of. We had - I had surgery on a Tuesday, and on Friday, I got back out on the taco trail. I had my big bandage on, and I just decided, well, I'm going to rock this like an ascot.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

SUTTER: We'll just go in and - because it didn't affect my ability to eat, thank God.

MCEVERS: Which is amazing.

SUTTER: That's right. Well, I just decided that there was nothing that was going to get in the way of finishing 365. You make a commitment like that, it only matters if you actually finish it out. So I thought if I had to do that from the great beyond, I was going to eat ghost tacos and that would be the last few days of the year and that would be your Christmas miracle.

MCEVERS: And are you cancer free now?

SUTTER: I am. You know, I don't know if it was the tacos that created the miracle, but it's like my oncologist said, miracles happen. Be available. So I thought, yeah, I'm going to get out on the taco trail, and I'm going to be available every day.

MCEVERS: Mike Sutter, thank you so, so much.

SUTTER: Oh, it's my pleasure.


PARRY GRIPP: (Singing) It's raining tacos from out of the sky.

MCEVERS: In case you were wondering, Mike Sutter already has a project for 2018 that we also might be forced to document - 52 weeks of barbecue.


GRIPP: (Singing) It's raining tacos.

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