One Shot: Knife Modern Steak

Head's up. It's taco time.

Head’s up. It’s taco time.

“One Shot” is an occasional series reviewing non-taquerías’ tacos.

The last time I saw my maternal grandfather, a hulk of a man, I was 5 years old. He had walked through the house carrying a lechon—a spit-roasted whole pork—across his shoulders into the backyard and on to the table where the rest of the food for the family feast was arrayed. He gently set down the pig in the center of the table while I stood at the end barely tall enough to look over the top. And in what seemed a continuous motion from the crispy brown animal to his placing his leathered hands under my arms, lifting me onto the table and sitting me crossed-legged face-to-face with our meal. No sooner had he said, “You’re first, Joseito,” than I had clasped the face of the pig behind the cheeks and yanked the whole thing off. In one piece. It was glorious. I gnawed on the ears and tried to pull the snout, a few singed bristles sprouting from it off the rest of the rough, salty skin. The cloudy white pad of fat on the backside of the face brushed my lips and chin. I loved that day.

When dinner plans were recently thrown for a loop and a friend mentioned the crispy pig’s head at John Tesar’s Knife steakhouse, I relived that day in an instant and said, “Yes.” Continue reading

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Filed under Dallas, One Shot, Reviews, Texas

La Fruta Feliz

Potato & egg, bacon & egg and barbacoa de chive tacos at La Fruta Feliz.

Potato & egg, bacon & egg and barbacoa de chivo tacos at La Fruta Feliz.

A friend and I were finishing errands in East Austin when I caught a glimpse of La Fruta Feliz in my peripheral vision, and without much prodding my friend turned his car around. In we went hungry for handmade tortillas, for what I heard were knockout tacos.

Being in the land of breakfast tacos, I ordered a potato and egg and chorizo and egg taco on flour tortillas with a taco de barbacoa de chivo (goat) on the house corn.

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Filed under Austin, breakfast tacos, Reviews, Texas

Veracruz All Natural

Welcome to Veracruz All Natural.

Welcome to Veracruz All Natural.

After two foiled attempts, my excitement was high for the third try, the sure thing. I was finally going to enjoy what droves of Austinites laud as one of their greatest breakfast taco purveyors, Veracruz All Natural. The original location of the family operation of two trailers and a forthcoming brick-and-mortar sits adjacent to a party store and a barbecue trailer on Cesar Chavez Street, cordoned off by chain-link fencing. Within the confines of the fence, the ground is a mix of broken bottle glass and gravel on which plastic toddler playground equipment, a slide, a picnic table, sat. The rest of the seating was a re-purposed industrial wood spools shaded by straw umbrellas to give the place a coastal feel—the owners are from Veracruz, Mexico—and lawn furniture.

As soon as my large order with tortilla choices up to the cook’s discretion was ready, a friend and I drove five minutes—the maximum tacos will travel without being destroyed—back to his house in East Austin. That’s when the disappointment began. Continue reading

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Filed under Austin, breakfast tacos, Tex-Mex, Texas

Taqueria Las Marias

Taqueria Las Marias' counter.

Taqueria Las Marias’ counter.

Across from Jimmy’s Food Store, Urbano Café and Spiceman’s FM 1410 in East Dallas but probably using nothing that graces the shelves of those iconic Dallas food businesses in a La Ranchera Mexican Super Market is Taqueria La Marias. The taco counter, beyond the cash register to the left of the grocery’s front door, trades in the standard filling options as well as a few guisados resting in steam trays behind a sneeze guard. Non-trompo pastor and fajita are also on offer, although those take a while longer to serve as they’re cooked to order. Skip them. Go for the guisados. They’re on the left side.

The best of which is the guisado rojo de res, pieces of tender, stratiform pieces of beef no bigger than Knorr bouillon cubes in a mellow coral red sauce. It was gone too soon. The pollo y calabaza, chicken and squash in a lacey yellow sauce, also disappeared quickly, if only to get rid of the dry poultry and mushy vegetable. A shot of salsa verde helped but there was nothing that could rehydrate that bird. Continue reading

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Filed under Dallas, East Dallas, Reviews

Tacoqueta

Tacoquet's inviting facade.

Tacoqueta’s inviting facade.

Clarendon Drive east of Hampton Road is a hodgepodge of auto shops, ramshackle churches in converted frame houses, food business, such as paleterias, Aunt Stella’s Snow Cones and taquerias. Among the latter, the newest is Tacoqueta, taking a clever name meant to lure you into the small strip shared with a hair salon. Almost as alluring is the 20 tacos for $19.99. Almost, because with only three tacos (plus weekend barbacoa) to choose from there isn’t much variety for order of that size. What there is an abundance of, though, is excellent service. The ladies behind the counter and working the griddle will answer your questions without hesitation—yes, they have fresh tortillas but only for the menudo—and charm you with a smile while they await your order.

Departing from my usual tacos-only selection, I went with the No. 1 special. The former comes with light, yellow Mexican rice and manteca-bolstered silky refried beans punctuated with minute pintos. Continue reading

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Filed under Dallas, Oak Cliff, Reviews

A History of the Taco Holder

Taco Holder at Richard Sandoval's El Centro D.F., Facebook/

Taco Holder at Richard Sandoval’s El Centro D.F., Facebook.

Introduction and Ingenuity

Old El Paso wants you to believe the wisdom of babes, specifically Spanish-speaking Mexican children, spurs innovation. In a 2004 commercial advertising the Tex-Mex foodstuffs manufacturer’s revolutionary product, a young boy is saddened by his father’s failed attempts at getting their crunchy tacos to remain upright. We see him go so far as to hammer nails into the family dining table, hence creating a workshop-style taco slot. His son bemoans the lack of flat-bottom shells. Eureka! The Stand ’N Stuff Taco is born. The boy is feted as a hero by the entire village framed by cacti and adobe. A voice-over declares “True Genuis. Mexican style.”

However ingenious it might be, the flat-bottom taco shell is not Mexican style. Instead, these prefabricated crunchy tacos exist somewhere between contempt and respect for their place in history. They were developed from the first tacos in the United States (not Mexico), but are considered tasteless bastardizations of their progenitors. Still, they allow for safe entry into the wider world of tacos and carry nostalgia with those who grew up eating them on taco night or Taco Bell. They’re also extremely fragile.

Appearing in the United States in the early 20th century, these hard-shell vittles were created by Mexican immigrants, embraced by Anglo Americans and reviled by Mexicans as aberrations of their traditional tacos dorados (fresh fried tacos). Continue reading

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Four Styles of Trompo Tacos: A Primer

Photo: Markus Pineyro

Tacos al pastor stand in Mexico City. Photo: Markus Pineyro.

If Mexico City, and by extension Mexico, were to have an iconic taco, it would be the taco al pastor. This bantam assembly of marinated pork shaved from a trompo (a vertical rotisserie) on a corn tortilla with pineapple, cilantro, onions and salsa is the object of lust for many taco enthusiasts. Spikes of heat, patches of char, citrus pep here and there: What’s not to like? It’s also considered the most authentic of tacos but it is not the first taco and was not adapted from some ancient Aztec recipe. Rather, the taco al pastor appeared in the capital in the mid-20th century, a product of native and immigrant culinary mash-up. It’s also not the only style of taco with meat from a vertical spit. It’s not even the first such dish in Mexico—several of which, including tacos al pastor, are outlined below.

Tacos Árabes

Four hundred years after the Spanish came ashore on the Mexican mainland, initiating the birth of what would become Mexican food with pork, lard, beef and other comestibles, another group of non-indigenous peoples transformed Mexican food. This mass of people, immigrants from the Middle East, specifically Lebanon and Iran, into the city and state of Puebla, brought with them shawarma, lamb cooked on a vertical rotisserie, and their own flatbread, pita. The Mexican adaptation of shawarma popped up in the 1930s at Tacos Árabes Bagdad and Antigua Taqueria La Oriental, but took the form of pork (itself a Spanish import) served on a small pita-like tortilla called pan árabe. Continue reading

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Filed under DFW, History, Mexico City