How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

On the trail of the Tapatío Doritos

Photo by Jeremy Brooks/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Last week, I came across a Facebook update from a friend with a photo that made my heart skip a beat. It was a small photo of a bag of Doritos, on the front a familiar and revered image: The smiling man in the sombrero from the label of the Tapatío hot sauce bottle.

Her message:

OMFG!!! I have been waiting a long time for this.

Ditto, sister. L.A.'s own Tapatío hot sauce, the closely-guarded secret of a local Mexican American family business, is a regional obsession. Before it became available nationwide, I remember smuggling it in my carry-on bag to California expats on the east coast, even to a friend who had moved to Europe.

And wisely, after years of creating bizarre flavors that range from the very un-taco-like "Original Taco" and even faux pizza, Frito-Lay recently got wise, apparently, to the fact that many people like to douse the company's chips in Tapatío sauce. Sure, there are flavors like "Flamas," blazing-hot Doritos the deep red color of imaginary hellfire with a lemony tang, but it's no Tapatío sauce. The Tapatío-flavored Doritos - along with Tapatío-flavored Fritos - have only been available recently.

Now, as I follow the Tapatío Doritos thread on my Facebook page that has nearly 30 comments by now, the burning question seems to be where to find them.

One man wrote in response to my friend's update:

I gotta find some of those. Are they hard to find, or are they everywhere? We go through a huge, cost-co sized bottle of Tapatio in about 1 1/2 months. Crazy.

Another update:
My friend found them in Hollywood others have spotted them in the So. Bay. I have yet to find them myself. The ruffles with limon and tapatio have not been spotted.

Someone else wrote:
Tapatio is good on ANYTHING. But especially chips of any sort.

That I can vouch for, having eaten the stuff growing up here long before it was available in the far-flung places it is now. Los Angeles has Hollywood, the Dodgers, and Tapatío sauce.

Before heading out today to try and find my own chips, either the Doritos or the Fritos (of which I like the plain version with hot sauce), I searched around online for Tapatío love and found a few oddities, including a bizarre video from a guy who got hold of some of the Doritos.

The best thing was this ode to Tapatío sauce, which I found in an "I Love Tapatío Hot Sauce" section on Experienceproject.com. Its author wrote it stream-of-consciousness in hip-hop phonetics, making it read like a post from a hot-sauce-loving rapper who has read too much Kerouac. But stick with it, because it's oddly sweet:

Deff a socal thing even tho now that im in miami and i see it out here ive seen its caught on i literally grew up on tapatio specially me an my momz fav doritos or kc masterpiece lays chips or any chips really an tapatio cant go wrong an then on all my momz food we used tapatio on tacos de frijoles chinitos y tocino also spam cooked an diced an put on a tortilla wit sum ketchup an tapatio an my fav hot dogs wit ketchup mustard n tapatio ive tried other hot sauces like my dads fav since he from tamazula jalisco salsa tamazula an dont get me wrong das my number 2 but na an also amor, buffalo, valentina, an u can even throw in tabasco an water'd down hot sauces from down south an yea no comparison tapatio goes wit everything oh yea i forgot cup o noodles or jus top ramen wit sum lemon juice an tapatio shiiiiieeeet i even got it in my cars glove box so yea I LOVE TAPATIO.

And with that, I hit the road to look for chips. I'm sad to report that today's search yielded no fruit. Even in the overwhelmingly huge snack aisle at the local Food 4 Less, there were no Tapatío-flavored chips. But I was already there, so I settled on a bag of Original Taco Doritos, the weird taste of which takes me back to my childhood, and a bag of the crimson-dusted Flamas chips.

I asked the checkout clerk if they carried Tapatío-flavored Doritos. She said they'd been stocking them, "but those we run out of quick."

She looked at my purchases, then back at me, a petite woman with two large bags of Doritos.

"Munchies?" she asked.

"No," I said, smiling. "Just part of my work."

For anyone who has located the Tapatío-flavored Doritos, where, pray tell? Here's a nifty map tool, in case you'd like to help those of us who are on the hunt.

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