Want to rock your guac? We learned the secret of great guacamole from tiny Tacos Mariana’s in Des Moines.  Now you can make it at home too.

By Hannah Agran; Photographer: Carson Downing; Food Styling: Charles Worthington; Prop Styling: Sue Mitchell
January 07, 2020
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Mariana's Guacamole
Carson Downing

University Avenue is a wide artery that cuts from ’burb to shining ’burb across Iowa’s capital. You’ll find Tacos Mariana’s right in the middle, near a Family Dollar and a bustling Asian supermarket. It’s a low-slung building with a faux-brick facade, magenta roofline and crumbling curb that might be the driveway. A window sign advertises a midweek taco special, when thrifty diners can eke out a meal for less than $5. But that would mean skipping the guacamole. Please don’t.

Mariana Gomez opened her restaurant in 1997, after the meatpacking plant where she worked was shuttered. A sister-in-law and niece joined her, and one still cooks and waits tables today. (“Las mismas ladies,” Mariana says of her loyal crew.) She filled the restaurant with vibrant paintings from her hometown of San Sebastián del Oeste. And that’s where the guacamole hails from too. Mariana doctors her classic avocado-lime-cilantro mash with cucumber, Cotija cheese and chiles. Ask why, and Mariana doesn’t talk about the refreshing crunch or spicy zing. She simply says, “Asi se lo come en el pueblo.” That’s how they eat it in the village. We’re happy to follow suit.

Mariana’s Guacamole

Step One: Mash

Scoop 1 ripe avocado into a medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion, 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro, juice from half a lime and a pinch of salt. Mash well with a potato masher or fork, until no large chunks of avocado remain.

Tips:

• If an avocado is ripe enough, Mariana says, the pit should pop out easily with a gentle squeeze.

• Mariana says that a lime cut end to end juices more easily, so you can just squeeze with your hand.

Step Two: Finish

Add 1/2 cup peeled and finely chopped cucumber, 1 ounce Cotija (about a 1x2-inch chunk) and 1 tablespoon chopped Roma tomato. Stir with a fork to break up cheese and combine well. Serve garnished with 1 chopped Thai bird chile and a sprinkle of extra cheese.

 Tips:

• Named for the Mexican village of Cotija de la Paz, queso Cotija is a salty, crumbly cheese. Find it at large supermarkets, or substitute feta.

• Warning: Tiny Thai bird chiles are kicky! In Mexico, they’re called cola de rata (rat’s tail) chiles, but in the States, they’re usually marketed as an Asian ingredient.

• Avocado prices got you down? Cucumber is here to help.

Carson Downing

Go for the Gold We 100 percent endorse bagged tortilla chips. But for the full Mariana’s experience, try frying your own. Serve ’em warm, lightly salted and still glistening with grease.

Step Three: Fry Tortilla Chips

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Cut a stack of corn tortillas into sixths. In a large heavy skillet or pot, heat about 1 inch vegetable oil over medium heat to 365°. Add tortilla wedges to hot oil in small batches. Cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes, turning once. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels, then sprinkle lightly with salt.

Tip:

• You can skip a thermometer, but it will take more trial and error to hit the crispy sweet spot.

Mariana Gomez
Carson Downing

Get to Know: Mariana Gomez

Grew up in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Takes her tacos with chile toreado—a fried jalapeño smashed with lime juice and seasoned salt.