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Tacos for the Trail

Posted by Loren Drummond at Oct 02, 2020 11:30 AM |
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In celebration of National Taco Day, we bring you some the WTA staff's favorite riffs on trail tacos.

In celebration of National Taco Day (which, honestly, could be every day), we decided to bring you some WTA staffers' favorite riffs on trail tacos. But when we asked about the tacos our staffers take hiking and make over camp stoves, it turned into a broader conversation that (of course) included burritos and fajitas.

So, while Sunday, Oct. 4 may be National Taco Day, what follows is a meandering love letter to tacos as hiking food and their culinary cousins. 

Burrito by Erik Haugen-GoodmanPickled red onions? Cilantro? Fresh avocado? Hot sauce? What makes your backcountry tacos perfect? Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman

Taco to-Go

One of the perfect hand-held foods, to-go tacos travel well in a car as long as they aren't overloaded. They can be breakfast in the dawn hours or can refuel you after a day on trail. Often the best tacos are served out of trucks and to-go windows, making them particularly well-suited to take-out.

  • "The best tacos I've had in Washington are from Tacos Chalito in Ellensburg. We try to stop there after every trip east," said Seattle-based Janée Romesberg, on our trail maintenance team.
  • For folks hiking out I-90, Rick Beckel, on our HR and finance team, recommends Rio Bravo in North Bend as a great taco stop. "They've got traditional street tacos (al pastor, carne asada etc.) but their vegetarian options are also delicious."
  • You can't go there now, but Kindra Ramos, the director of our communications team, has a soft spot for the roadside fry bread tacos you could snag on the way to Neah Bay pre-pandemic. It's a special kind of torture to know about them, but we felt like we had to share just so we all have something to look forward to next National Taco Day (fingers crossed). 
  • A handful of Seattle coffeeshops carry Sunrise Tacos, which make very delicious, pre-wrapped, vegetarian and vegan breakfast tacos that have saved me from showing up at the trailhead hungry and cranky on numerous occasions. They're pretty small, though, so get at least two, if not three. Coffee and a taco anyone?
  • And while the tamale is a very different food than the taco, we can't pass up an opportunity to shout out Union Gap's Los Hernandez Tamales. Always worth a stop coming or going while hiking Central Washington.

What's your favorite taco spot in Washington? Share it in the comments.

prep & Cooking tips

For car camping, some prep work at home can take car camping or canoe camping to the next level.

  • Bulk and wrap for easy grab-n-go. "It's not technically a taco but I tend to make big batches of breakfast burritos and then freeze them individually wrapped in parchment paper and tin foil," said Jaime Loucky, our chief impact officer. They're good cold, but the parchment and foil wrap would make them super easy to reheat over a campfire or stove. My go to lately has been poblano, potato, egg and TJ’s soyrizo, with a handful of shredded cheddar for good measure."
  • Cast iron to crisp and pre-cooked meat. "For car camping, I pre-make meat and then bring one of those big camping stoves and a cast iron skillet and make burritos and then crisp 'em up on the skillet," said Sarah Coppock-Pector from our membership team.
  • Wild game and a marinade. Holly Weiler, who coordinates our Eastern Washington regional work, elevates the filling prep game: "For my annual late fall trip to Upper Priest Lake, I make a venison steak fajita marinade, cook it wrapped in foil over a fire, and serve it on tortillas. Lucky for me, there are bear boxes in the campsites up there. I normally do this trip via canoe or kayak, but I'd definitely figure out a way to pack it even if I was hiking in."

Recipes (sort of)

Taco purists, look away. The beauty of the taco is how many different ways you can riff on it. Including in a few directions we didn't see expect.

  • For backpackers who cook with the "boil-water only" approach, our advocacy director, Andrea Imler, shares her basic burrito or taco filling recipe: "I've found dehydrated bean mixes to be great. I've found mixes at co-ops like PCC as well as places like Fred Meyer and Winco. I've added sundried tomatoes and taken fresh avocado out on trail with shredded cheese for a first night dinner."
  • Holly's car/paddle camping venison marinade goes something like this: "I slice the venison steak into thin strips, place it in a gallon Ziplock, and add the rest: rough chopped onion, garlic cloves sliced in half, rough chop green pepper, hot peppers cut in half or quarters, a little Worcestershire sauce, either lime juice or red wine vinegar depending on what I have on hand, and a little olive oil. I usually prep it a day ahead, so it's in the fridge overnight and then gets packed into my food container for the trip up lake. This is usually an October or November trip, so refrigeration doesn't matter. (The majority of the ingredients usually come from around my garden, venison included.)"
  • Spice on the side. Rachel Wendling, on our communications team, who happens to be backpacking this very minute swears by this burrito recipe, which she planned on eating this week:
    • 2 tortillas
    • 1 bag of Knorr rice sides (she likes the Spanish rice or four cheese)
    • 1-2 mozzarella sticks (shredded)
    • 2+ Taco Bell sauce packets (she prefers mild, but you do you)
    • 1 avocado
    • Optional: extra fajita/taco seasoning if you just wanna go wild with flavor
  • Fish taco. Falling somewhere between sandwich and smoky fish taco, magazine editor Jessi Loerch's family likes to make their backcountry tacos from:
    • Tuna from a pouch
    • Avocado
    • Smoked salt
    • Mayo packet
    • Mustard packet
    • Sliced cheddar cheese
    • A few slices of onion
    • Small corn or flour tortillas
  • Another "fish" taco. And in perhaps the entry farthest away from authentic taco truck fare (but perhaps just as satisfying on the trail) Janée offers up this 4-ingredient, cheese-on-cheese offering:
    • flour tortilla
    • cheese
    • hot sauce
    • goldfish crackers

Goldfish tacos by Janée Romesberg
Salty, spicy and cheesy. Janée Romesberg might just be onto something with the goldfish taco.

What's Your Key ingredient?

For many, a taco is not a taco without one or two key ingredients, sauces or toppings. From perfectly prepared nopales or pickled onions to Cholula or crema, one topping often makes the taco. If you can't haul ten jars of toppings with you on trail, what is the one thing that makes your trail taco perfect? Let us know in the comments below.

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