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.
So when I was in Florida visiting family and learned of a Monterreyan restaurant on the I-4 between my parent’s house and Tampa, I made visiting the taqueria a priority. Taqueria Monterrey in Plant City was owned by Rene Valenzuela of Taco Bus fame until recently. With the change in ownership came the end of Taqueria Monterrey’s website and the end of tacos de trompo. The latter I learned only after sitting down at the restaurant (never mind that I could’ve been told that when I called the taqueria a week prior to trekking out there). It was a defeating moment. “I wish I had video of your reaction,” laughed my dining companion and brother-in-law. “You just slumped in your chair.”
“But it’s very much like tacos de trompo,” the waitress tried to assure me. It wasn’t. The tacos were a sad facsimile of the classic northern style, appearing as though they had been pounded thinly before marinating in cheap, stale paprika powder. The borrego we ordered to accompany the non-tacos de trompo were stringy with crispy ends and pinpricks of gaminess. Nothing was finished. We paid and left without more than “la cuenta, por favor.” “Check, please.”
At least I didn’t leave Florida thinking the taco and Mexican food options hadn’t improved since I had last visited. Acapulco Mexican Grocery & Taqueria made sure of that.Taqueria Monterrey 1302 W. Reynolds St. Plant City, FL 33563