“The '90s were a real shot in the arm for Mexican food,” says Rodriguez. “I used to have to go to Chicago for authentic Mexican food. Now we don't have to do that because we have all kinds of wonderful places.”
Now Detroit boasts and abundant variety of regional Mexican specialties, like the Instagram-worthy mangonada, to moles from the Poblano/Italian eatery El Barzon, and decadent seafood dishes inspired by the menus of coastal state of Nayarit.
So with so many more options, where does that leave the botana? Some might sneer at the old-school restaurants like Armando’s, Los Galanes, Xochimilco, or Mexican Village as outdated and gringo-ized. But without these trailblazers, non-Mexican Detroiters may not have so eagerly supported today’s more authentic Mexican cuisine.
For that reason, these eateries deserve respect and the botana deserves a spot as one of Detroit’s most beloved dishes. Like the community in which it was created, it's a testament to the convergence of cultures brought together in the area and tasked with making the most out of what they had. It's a gigantic, hearty plate of cheese, meat, and more, but it's also a dish that speaks to the history of the city itself and how its tastes evolved as it became a magnet for workers from throughout the world.
Fortunately, eaters of our generation get this. Jose Franco, 30, whose family immigrated from San Ignacio, Jalisco to Detroit when he was 2-years-old, ties some of his earliest childhood food memories to the botana.
He tells me he never really thought of the botana as “authentic” Mexican food like the carnitas or chili rellenos his mother would prepare. But that wasn’t important. A carryout order of botana from Armando’s was a special treat.
“We knew were going to eat Armando’s when we saw that square box with the logo and the aluminum foil on the plate,” says Franco. And that meant they’d be enjoying botana.