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
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.
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
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
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
San Antonio is the cultural and culinary capital of Texas. Its treasures, edible and otherwise, inspire me and teach me something new every time I visit. It’s also home to Garrett Heath, the scribe behind SA Flavor, a thorough, entertaining and knowledgeable blog covering the city’s food and culture, including this site. Aside from the breakfast taco, there is no other taco more associated with San Antonio than the puffy taco, a cumulus-light fried Lone Star gem. Garrett drops a guest post about one of San Antone’s classic puffy taco joints, just in time for Fiesta San Antonio.
San Antonio has contributed so much to the world in terms of Tex-Mex. But while you might be familiar with some of the big names (chili, Fritos or Rico’s Nacho Cheese anyone?), one item that has remained a regional staple, más o menos, is the puffy taco. While you may not be familiar with this dish, it adorns many Tex-Mex plates, is the unofficial mascot of our minor league baseball team and the locals judge you by which restaurant you favor.
The characteristic that distinguishes the puffy taco is the shell. After a corn tortilla is pressed, it is lightly fried in oil, causing it to puff up like a blowfish. The cook then presses down in the middle of the tortilla with a spatula, making an indention that can be filled with picadillo, shredded chicken, guacamole, beans and cheese, almost anything you can put in a taco.
While Ray’s might be the first to claim the puffy taco and Henry may have one of the largest establishments, I particularly enjoy those served up at Teka Molino. A restaurant that has roots in the Alamo City since 1937, Teka Molino serves some of the finest food in town. What sets them apart is that they make all of their masa fresh, in-house. Continue reading
Wherever there are taquerias, there is art that distinguishes each shop from its competition, attracts clientele and marks the origins of business. This folk art takes the form of menus painted onto facades, anthropomorphic tacos and chiles, women hard at work at a metate, Monterrey landmark Cerro de la Silla, whatever the owners or workers can imagine. There need not be any association between what the taqueria serves and what adorns its edifice, as is the case of El Si Hay in Oak Cliff, a Dallas neighborhood famed for its tacos. The freestanding joint does not serve tacos al pastor from a trompo; yet, there on an exterior wall is a painting of a taquero at a trompo. Dallas Observer photographer Catherine Downes was kind enough to take shots of some of Oak Cliff’s remarkable taqueria art, including of El Si Hay. A collection of those wonderful photos, and the next installment in our Tacos Illustrated series is below.
Taco Rico is one of the few Dallas taqueria serving tacos al vapor (steamed tacos).