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
This is an update of sorts. The first time I visited Chichen Itza, I found the lowest Greenville taqueria/panaderia to be an awful place serving terrible tacos. That was 2011, and Greenville Avenue was just beginning its slow creep to revitalization. Now the neighborhood is on the upswing: Coffee shops, beer bars, restaurants, a bike shop, heck, even a trendy grocery store and food truck park. It was the latter, the Truck Yard, that drew me one weekday afternoon. Unfortunately, the taco truck I had traveled to see was a no-show. Chichen Itza was the only other taco option nearby. So Chichen Itza, it was. Continue reading
I got the call a couple hours before opening time. Luis Villalva, who had previously worked at Revolver Taco Lounge in Fort Worth and most recently worked with Taco Party (he was the guy in the soccer jersey manning the trompo at TacoCon), was finally ready to serve tacos at his own place, El Come [Koh-meh] Taco on Fitzhugh Avenue. “José, it’s Luis. We open El Come Taco at 5 p.m. Come eat some tacos,” was the voicemail message. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it for first service. But I made it for lunch the next day—the day I had waited for since Villalva clued me into his plan at TacoCon. And it was worth it.
El Come Taco translates to He Eats Taco, and, for the time being, tacos are all you can eat when you visit the taqueria. Villalva did tell me huaraches, quesadillas and other antojitos would join the slate eventually. Nevertheless, the tacos are enough. They’re also surprising. Not just because there are off-menu options but because Villalva and staff have brought a little of their former Mexico City operation, Transito, to East Dallas. Continue reading
The whistle of the A-Train blew seconds before the lady behind the counter called to us: “Quieren cebolla y cilantro?” Do you want onion and cilantro? My brother and I both responded with a childish “Si” and returned to our table, each with a plate of three corn tortilla tacos.
La Estrella Mini-Mart serves up the taco basics: barbacoa, chicken, carne asada, lengua and al pastor.
At $1.25 for a single two-bite taco, La Estrella’s tacos may seem pricey. But what the tacos lack in size, they more than make up for in quality.
I don’t recall how I came across St. Tacos. I do know that from the McKinney taqueria’s Facebook photos, I needed to hightail it north on U.S. 75 at my first opportunity. The pictures showed a trompo, a spread of tacos and salsas so delightfully colorful you could read by them, not to mention the painted roads on St. Tacos’ floor.
Would the journey to St. Tacos end in a reward of cochinita so spot-on the achiote and sour oranges mistook the sides of my mouth for boxing gym punching bags? If I made my way to St. Tacos, would I be welcomed with pork sliced off a trompo like a casino card dealer’s flicks cards to the poor suckers with high expectations? Would the pork bear a protective, happy crust from its slow dance on the trompo and bear evidence of chile and citrus wrap? What of the barbacoa? Would it coat my stomach with stale canola oil?
The answer to the latter questions is a resounding “No!” The rest needs some explaining. St. Tacos’ barbacoa is a solid take on the classic preparation. It’s lean without losing body. There is no excess grease. It’s tried-and-true barbacoa through and through. The cochinita gets high marks for being the pugilist I hoped it would be. During my conversation with Eduardo Muensch, St. Tacos’ owner, the Mexico City native revealed how he prepared his cochinita (extended marinating isn’t involved) and where he learned the recipe (Merida, Yucatan). The bistec wasn’t pulverized, a travesty all too common in many area taquerias. Continue reading
When I interviewed La Nueva Fresh & Hot Tortilleria owner Gloria Vazquez for my D Magazine Best Tacos in Dallas feature, I learned that not only has her family been making tortillas since the late 1960s in their home state of Zacatacas, Mexico, but that between she and her siblings the Vazquez clan owns and operates several Dallas-area tortilla factories.
In an email conversation, Vazquez said, “My father, Arcenio Vazquez Muñoz, opened the first Tortilleria in Rio Grande, Zacatecas, in 1968. Currently in Rio Grande there are six locations of which I am the owner of one, they are all still operating the same way they did when my father first opened them. There are [other] locations in the metroplex owned by my two brothers, which have been opened for nine years.” Aside from the Webb Chapel branch, there is a La Nueva Fresh & Hot in Lewisville but what of the other Vasquez family shops? Some of them do business under the name La Nueva Puntada.
Last weekend, my family and I stopped at the Duncanville location after a camping trip. We were filled with excitement and high expectation, and hungry. Like La Nueva Fresh & Hot, the La Nueva Puntada on Camp Wisdom Road isn’t a restaurant, which is contrary to what the website photo gallery led me to believe. Had junior not been drowsy and had our car not been stuffed with camping equipment, we would’ve eaten our tacos in the comfort of it. Instead we took the food home. That wasn’t the best decision. By the time we got home and opened our Styrofoam to-go containers, the tacos had cooled some.
Many taquerías looked closed from the street, but I had never seen Rosita’s open, even though my friends at TacOCliff had reviewed it and another friend recommended it. “Trompo tacos done right,” he said of the “Monterrey style spot.” Over a weekend, I drove by to find its neon open sign aglow. In I went.
While I did find excellent trompo, I also found three large paintings of biblical scenes on the north wall: one of the Last Supper depicting Judas contemplating his exit; one of Moses, the 10 commandments in one hand, a staff in the other framed by lightning; and one of the Nativity. Photos of Pancho Villa hung one the opposite wall. As you see above, the signs of such religiosity began on the exterior of the strip-mall taquería.
The menu over the cake display advertised barbacoa, and it turned out to be a mix of cachete and lengua de res (beef cheek and tongue). I didn’t give it a second thought, and added it to my order, along with carne deshebrada.