Better late than never? McAllen, RGV try to enter taco debate

McALLEN — The Rio Grande Valley often feels it deserves to be part of statewide conversations that the major metropolises regularly participate in; after all, there are about 1.5 million people living here.

Infrastructure and education funding doesn’t flow to South Texas in the amounts that many Valley leaders believe it should. And at times, the Valley and other border communities, admittedly, don’t stand up for themselves. Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, is a border-native and has been speaking often during his campaign about border communities needing to stand up for themselves. Steve Ahlenius, president of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, has emphasized “telling our story” to the rest of the state.

A big part of telling the story includes food. McAllen, in an effort to take the lead for the region, produced a video this week crowning the Valley as the state’s taco leaders. However, two large Texas cities already debated who had the best tacos. Two years ago.

While it may not have been the most serious exercise, Austin and San Antonio went back and forth in 2016 about who had the best tacos. News stories were written and videos were made. The mayor of Austin formally declared a taco war with San Antonio.

“We let Austin and San Antonio duke it out and have their thing,” said Robert Lopez, who made the taco video with McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. Lopez is the director of convention and sports tourism sales at McAllen’s Chamber of Commerce. He also has a website where he promotes all things local.

But recently, Lopez noticed a Dallas magazine anoint the North Texas city as the state’s taco capital.

“Dallas?” Lopez said. “Ok, that’s too far.”

After coordinating with Darling, Lopez wrote the script. There are self-deprecating jokes and jabs in the 40-second clip.

“Everyone knows the best tacos in Texas can be found right here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Darling said in the video. “After all, McAllen used to be the fattest city in the nation. We didn’t earn that title by eating lettuce wraps.”

Darling and Lopez both said the Valley didn’t need to get into taco debates with anyone. Everyone on the border knows you don’t need to leave to get good tacos, they both said.

“No doubt in my mind you can visit any of these cities and get some good tacos,” Lopez said. “But I don’t want to go to Austin and pay $7 for one taco. I want six Mexican tacos for $7.”

McAllen has had other priorities, too, Darling added.

“And we’ve been busy on more important things — growing our industries, paving our streets,” Darling said. “We let them have their debates and then we came in and claimed the championship.”

The city has also been trying to combat what it feels is negative attention on the region, with President Trump’s immigration policies playing out here. So a fun, positive video can help, Lopez said.

Darling was also at a Japanese business summit in Houston recently, where all the talk was about the Texas triangle: Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, with Austin right there in the middle of the triangle. There were panels about bringing all kinds of Japanese companies to Texas, but the central Texas triangle of the growing metropolises was the focus.

“It’s a big state, and there’s more than the triangle,” Darling said. “It not only comes to tacos, but other things, too.”