Talking Tacos With Cholo Soy Cocina’s Clay Carnes In Honor Of National Taco Day

Cholo TacosPhoto Credit: Alex CelisWhile the taco’s origins are shrouded in mystery, many historians say it inherited its name from the sticks of dynamite Mexican miners used to cull ore from salt quarries in the 1700s. Nearly a century later, the tasty Latin staple crossed the border into California and Texas where it was sold by Mexican immigrants. Glen Bell, who founded Taco Bell in the early-1960s, may receive credit for making tacos faster, but not better.

Today, myriad South Florida chefs are crafting unique iterations of the street-style handheld. Fans can also wave down a taco truck like BC Tacos or head to taquerias like Cholo Soy Cocina in West Palm Beach. Owner and executive chef Clay Carnes has been blowing up the taco scene since he opened his pint-sized eatery in 2015. The Food Network Cutthroat Kitchen winner and Wellington resident makes his own masa tacos from scratch and mostly sources ingredients from area farms and local purveyors like Bush Brothers and Swank Specialty Produce in Loxahatchee.

On National Taco Day, Cholo Soy Cocina is serving chorizo tacos and $3 margaritas with every taco order.

Here, we sat down with the fast-talking taco slinger to talk all things taco.

Chef Clay Carnes
Chef Clay Carnes

Photo Credit: South Moon Photography

Favorite taco ingredient:

Anything hot, spicy, and vinegary like pickled chili peppers

Cholo’s most ordered taco:

Grilled steak with shaved cabbage slaw, pickled peppers, chimichurri-aioli sauce, queso fresco, scallions, cilantro, and a lime

Why he loves making tacos:

Tortillas are edible plates you can do anything with, which is cool. Making them from scratch is one of our specialties. Customers constantly tell me how good they are and that no one else has the same flavor. I really enjoy creating combinations and flavor profiles people haven’t seen or tasted before.

Reasoning for the taco craze:

Maybe folks eat them to feel caliente (Spanish for “spicy”) or to tap their inner chihuahua. Who knows. Like chicken wings and pizza, tacos will never die.

Non-traditional toppings he’s featured:

Lobster with tobiko caviar, frogs legs, and fried gator tail

Secret to delicious tacos:

People don’t wait in line outside to eat tacos that taste like garbage. Tacos are easy to mess up, and we don’t mess them up here. We only use the best ingredients like USDA prime beef and fish caught that morning.

Carnes preparing Mexican-style street corn
Carnes preparing Mexican-style street corn

Photo Credit: Alex Celis
Clay shares one of his favorite taco recipes:

Tempura Fish Tacos
4 oz fresh snapper
2 corn tortillas
1 cup tempura batter mix (add water as directed)
¼ cup corn starch
Purple cabbage, shaved
Scallions, sliced
Cilantro sprigs
½ cup frying oil

Pineapple Salsa
4 oz pineapple, diced
4 oz peppers, diced
4 oz onion, diced
In a bowl, combine diced pineapples, peppers, and onions with fresh lime juice and salt. Toss gently. Set aside.

Taco directions: On medium heat, add frying oil to a shallow pan. Dip each fish fillet into corn starch then tempura batter. Gently place fish into pan then cook until each side is golden brown. Remove fish from heat and place on a paper towel to drain. Season with salt. Layer each tortilla with fish, shaved cabbage, sliced scallions, pineapple salsa, and a cilantro sprig.