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
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
Monterrey Café was difficult to find on a rainy Sunday morning en route to Dallas from San Antonio. A friend’s Google Maps iPhone app pegged it on one side of I-35. My search had it on the opposite side. When we did find the restaurant, we what we found was a freestanding building with colorful murals on its exterior. One the façade, a matador toyed with a bull. A front window bore a scratched, sans serif font in pink declaring homemade flour and corn tortillas. While the south wall a man walked alongside an oxen-led cart. The parking lot was full. A welcoming, potentially great roadside shack, if ever there was one.
We entered into a busy dining room with another space to the left. Black slide letter signs with menu items hung above the tables in the front room where we sat. Everything was a little worn. The service was quick, attentive and in twists and turns in English and Spanish. And the breakfast tacos fresh, served on dusty, cushioned flour tortillas. Continue reading
I have a soft spot in my heart (and stomach) for food typical of Monterrey, the capital of border state Nuevo Leon. From the city—the tech center of Mexico and the country’s third largest city—come tacos de trompo and hamburguesas estilo monterrey, as well as cabrito and carne asada. Both of the former dishes are plentiful in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas thanks to a large Monterreyan population. Businesses specializing in them are distinguished by painted representations of trompos (the vertical spits on which pork for tacos de trompos are cooked) and of the Cerro de la Silla, the latter being Monterrey’s geographic landmark. The hamburger is the result of proximity to the United States, a class of cultures that heaps pork, avocado, and whatever else the cook desires, on top of a beef patty. The taco de trompo are related to Mexico City’s iconic antojito, the taco al pastor.
Whereas the pork for tacos al pastor is marinated with some combination of chiles, achiote and sour oranges, the meat for tacos de trompo is seasoned with paprika, giving the meat a smokier, spicier flavor. The tacos can also be greasier. After the taquero slices the meat from the trompo, he places it on corn tortillas that have been warming up on a well-oiled flattop griddle. He then flips the taco meat side down and lets the meat char and adhere to the tortilla before being served. They’re exquisite. Continue reading
Filed under Florida, Reviews
U.S. Highway 281 cuts the country in half, running north-south from the border with Canada and International Peace Garden in Manitoba to the Mexican border in Brownsville, Texas. Along the way, it winds through the Texas Hill Country, bypassing Austin. It’s a peaceful road framed by ranchland, cedar and live oak trees and about every quarter mile or less by deer processing businesses. The highway is also dotted with small towns in which barbecue joints and Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants abound. El Agave, an adobe-style structure with a festive interior that includes lacquered booth seats bearing tropical and Mexican iconography carved into them and painted with a bright-the-better aesthetic, in Johnson City, Texas, is one of those establishments.
The menu includes Mexican and Tex-Mex standards and 12 tacos, of which I selected three: carnitas, barbacoa and carne guisada with cheese, the latter based on the recommendation of our waitress. Continue reading
Filed under Reviews, Texas
Late last month I spent a week in Central Florida, in a mid-size town along I-4, just east of Tampa. I was there with my wife and son to visit family and kick back for vacation. I did little beyond play with my nephews and niece, chat with my aunts, my parents, my sisters and my 89-year-old grandmother. There was more than enough beer from Cigar City Brewing, out of Tampa, but not much Mexican food, never mind tacos.
The region where my parents live is predominantly Cuban and Puerto Rican. So, Cuban sandwiches, lechon and arroz con gandules were usually within a tortilla’s throw. Mexican food, the type beyond leaden, cumin power-punched Tex-Mex, has only begun to show up in small pockets in the last decade. Inland, luck plays a large role in securing noshes in corn tortillas. In Tampa lovers of comida from South of the Border have it a bit easier. The most famous is the Taco Bus. Another example is Acapulco Mexican Grocery & Taqueria. The five-year-old market and restaurant near MacDill Air Force Base is adjacent to Armenia where a collection of Mexican business have sprung up, was recommended by a local food writer as the one taqueria to hit in Tampa if there was no time for any others. And tucked behind shelves stocking Mexican and Caribbean market needs—everything from chile morita and piñatas to habichuelas roja and plantain chips and so much Goya!—Acapulco is fantastic. Continue reading
New upmarket taco operations, whether a truck or a brick-and-mortar concern, give me pause. Are the owners only in the business because they like tacos and see them as an easy entry into the food industry? You know, because a taco is anything you want it to be? Such is the case of the now defunct 333′s Gourmet Taco Shop. Charging up to $12 for a sloppy product on Kroger tortillas was never sustainable long-term. Or are they driven by something more? Flatlanders Taco Co., a lonchera wrapped in a mod Dia de los Muertos shell, is an example of the latter.
Inspired by their time living in Colorado and years of traveling and studying in Mexico, Texans Ashley and Tyler Hall returned home to offer tacos influenced by Tyler’s lifelong intimacy with Mexican food in the United States. “For me, I grew up eating tacos and tamales. Mexican food has always been a two or three night a week meal in my family,” he says. “My first homemade authentic meal, menudo, was while working as a dishwasher when I was 13. That was my introduction to a flavor profile that has always got me looking for the best homestyle Mexican cooking wherever I am. When I met my wife 7 years ago, the obsession doubled with her love for it as well. Now it’s almost every meal. Everywhere we travel, we try to find an off-the-beaten-path Mexican grocer, restaurant, stand or truck to get our fix, always taking note of our favorite and unique sauces, salsas and taco combinations.” The result, Tyler says, is an effort to create specialty tacos while staying within the bounds of tradition. And it’s promising. Continue reading
Chicago: Taco capital. Home to Rick Bayless, the chef who helped changed Americans’ minds about Mexican cuisine and turned south of the border foodways into a fine-dining force, and a sizable, diverse Mexican immigrant population, offers aficionados of Mexican food, plenty of options. Chicago is also home to Titus Ruscitti, author of the Chicago Taco Tour blog, the tacologist behind the @tweetsoftacos Twitter account, and contributor to Serious Eats, LTHforum.com, Thrillist and Travel Wisconsin. We at the Taco Trail are honored that Titus, or Taco T, as he’ll be known here, is also Taco Trail’s newest contributor.
Without further ado:
Today we head to a part of Chicago rarely seen to those not from here. Actually, the same goes for many who do reside in the city. The East Side of Chicago sits in it’s own little part of the cities landscape. Most people see it driving over 106th Street while taking the Chicago skyway in or out of the city. What you also see when taking that route is the last of the industrial areas which goes by “Da Region” amongst locals. You can check out a taco report I did on the old-school Mexican-American restaurants of northwest Indiana. But today we’re going to stay on the Chicago side and check out the trail along 106th Street, which is basically the last line between the city and the state of Indiana. Continue reading
A few blocks beyond establishments like Ellerbe Fine Foods, the Usual, Spiral Diner and the Bearded Lady in Fort Worth’s Near Southside neighborhood, is a counter-ordering taqueria. The business, Tina’s Cocina, which opened in September 2013, offers no-nonsense tacos. They won’t knock your socks off but they’ll do you right.
The deshebrada—spelled without the “h” at Tina’s, probably to help non-Spanish speakers with the pronunciation—is brisket stewed in tomatoes and pepper until it shreds delicately. While there isn’t much in the way of heat, the taco is a homey, warm job in sweet yellow corn tortillas. Barbacoa is another pleasing nosh. Whereas most taquerias and Mexican restaurants employ beef cheek for their barbacoa, the kitchen at Tina’s uses ribs cooked covered in yucca. Continue reading
I have scads of gripes about long lines. Mainly due to their cultish aspects. The way I see it, if I’m going to wait in a long line hours before a restaurant opens it will be at a place where a specific food was invented, like La Fogoncito, birthplace of the gringa taco (a taco al pastor with cheese in a flour tortilla). However, lines are a rarity at a good taqueria.
Breakfast tacos weren’t invented at Stripes gas stations with Laredo Taco Company outposts and there are long lines, but the lines move quickly. When I visited a Stripes/Laredo Taco Company in the Rio Grande Valley, I waited maybe a couple of minutes between getting in line and receiving my tacos. With large flour tortillas that are fresher than that. Your tortillas are made after you order. And don’t be surprised if the woman taking your order breaks some bad news: they’re out of what you want but will be have another batch in 10 to 15 minutes if you’re willing to wait. This kind of freshness can be difficult to find in quiet hole-in-the-wall taquerias in Dallas. Continue reading