Get me talking about tacos and see me light up like a child who receives the exact gift he wished for Christmas morning. From their history and folklore to their variability, there is much joy in tacos. In no particular order, these are the tacos that brought me that joy in 2014.
A plate of tacos at Los Torres.
Taco de Barbacoa Roja Estilo Sinaloa at Los Torres Taqueria
Unlike the barbacoa commonly available in Texas, this specialty of Sinaloa (where the Torres family has roots) is a mix of beef and pork, dark red from chiles colorados and fragrant spices. It’s always included in my order at Los Torres, where homey braises and handmade tortillas band together to give Dallas it’s best taqueria. When you visit the little spot in Oak Cliff—and you will—resist the urge to order tortillas de maiz hechas a mano. Go for the thin, nearly translucent handmade flour tortillas characteristic of Sinaloa.
Taco de Barbacoa de Cabeza at Gerardo’s Drive-In
The table-hushing barbacoa at Gerardo’s on Houston’s east side is among the best I’ve had in Texas yet. It’s silky and full, though delicate, and pulled directly from the cows’ head. My visit to Gerardo’s included a kitchen tour from Owner José Luis Lopez—Gerardo is his son—who obviously has pride in his work. He propped the cow heads for photos taken by the crew I was running around Houston with that morning, amigos in food J.C. Reid and Michael Fulmer, cofounders of the Houston Barbecue Festival, and photographer Robert Strickland.
Taco al Pastor at Taco Flats
Austin isn’t a taco al pastor town. It’s strength resides in breakfast tacos and Tex-Mex. So this killer version of the undisputed king of tacos on a housemade tortilla from Taco Flats, a new Burnet Road bar with taco-focused pub grub came as a surprise. Sit at the far end of the bar for a view of the trompo. Continue reading
Filed under Austin, Best of, Dallas, DFW, Fort Worth, Houston, one of the freaking best, Reviews, San Antonio, Tex-Mex, Uptown
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
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
Credit: Stuart Mullenberg
Authors note: I wrote the backpage “Quench” essay for Imbibe Magazine’s Texas issue, the first issue dedicated to the drink culture of a single state. My contribution explores taco and beer pairings. To read more from the issue click here.
After my wife and son, I have two great loves—tacos and beer. For my food blog, Taco Trail, I’ve eaten at hundreds of taquerías and Mexican restaurants in my adopted hometown of Dallas and across the United States. Meanwhile, I’ve logged countless hours at beer bars and craft breweries.
Texas is the land of the San Antonio puffy taco, the breakfast taco, and the fried-to-order crispy taco, known as the taco dorado south of the border. In the Lone Star State, tacos stuffed with lengua, suadero, barbacoa, carnitas and other fillings are sold in gas stations, from walk-up windows, from kiosks, in check-cashing shops, everywhere. And if you insult another Texan’s favorite taco spot, by saying something like, “Fuel City tacos are trash,” you’re spoiling for a fight. Texans are sensitive about their tacos. Yet somehow—in Texas, at least—craft beer isn’t typically found in the best taco joints. While the craft beer movement has been steadily gaining traction in Texas, the last few years have seen a major growth in markets like Dallas. Last December, in a public ceremony complete with bridesmaids and groomsmen, a local cheesemonger even married a beer (Peticolas’ imperial red ale, Velvet Hammer, which is admittedly a great catch). Continue reading
Breakfast in Texas means tacos, and breakfast has been on my mind a lot lately. So, I’d thought I’d offer my current top 10 places for the proper way to begin a day—anywhere, not just in the Lone Star State.
Taqueria La Salsa Verde
Although its appearance shows otherwise, the taquera working this Richardson gas-station counter claims the taco de cabeza (above) is prepared al vapor. Whatever its preparation, the taco is still excellent. Which is really all that matters to me first thing in the morning. The choriqueso is the cabeza’s equal. 14225 Coit Road, 972-330-0403
The chorizo and cheese at this South Congress shack offers buckshot heat in a large tortilla, giving any road trip a fiery start. 4406 S. Congress Ave., Austin, 512-443-9308 Continue reading
Filed under Austin, Best of, breakfast tacos, DFW, East Dallas, North Texas, Oak Cliff, Plano, Richardson, San Antonio, Tex-Mex, Texas
San Antonio offers a few culinary amenities in the vicinity of the Stone Oak neighborhood. There’s Hacienda de los Barrios, a gastronomic playground for classic Tex-Mex, for example. Or, in the case of those jonesing for specialty breakfast tacos, there’s Guero’s Taco Diner, a small, corner store in one of the myriad, practically identical adobe-colored shopping centers.
On the way out of town, my friend and driver, Matt, and I stopped into this sleepy restaurant to fill up before the long drive to Dallas.
What we discovered was an operation that could compete with the best of the upmarket breakfast taco joints, including Tacodeli, Good 2 Go Taco and Taco Garage. (I should’ve known something was up when the owner greeted us in front of the restaurant with an honorable, trustworthy handshake.) Continue reading
San Antonio and Tex-Mex are as inseparable as Philadelphia and cheesesteaks. The Alamo City’s influence on our homegrown cuisine is greater than any other Texas municipality. It thrust Tex-Mex into the national spotlight with chili queens, later with the puffy taco and the prized breakfast taco. The latter has been gaining traction in American cities such as New York but remains the wake-up meal of San Antone, where its burst free of the egg-and-one-protein (maybe some cheese) restrictions.
On a recent visit to San Antonio, that variety kept a friend, and I sated during a duo of breakfast stops.
The first, Taco Garage, can be best described as a Tex-Mex joint with a rock-n-roll sensibility slapped with grease lightning housed in a former auto mechanic’s shop. Jones, my amigo and driver, went for the huevos divorciados, a segmented platter of eggs, beans, bacon and green and red salsas he had lauded on the ride from Dallas. I went for a trio of substantial morning munchers.
Last weekend, I traveled to San Antonio for some taco research, predominately of the puffy kind. While I was in the Alamo City, I had the opportunity to meet Diana Barrios-Treviño of Los Barrios Mexican Restaurant & La Hacienda de Los Barrios, San Antonio institutions. She was kind enough to show me how puffy tacos are fried at La Hacienda, which I recorded. The video makes for the perfect introduction to a new series on The Taco Trail: Tacolab. Each Tacolab installment will go inside home and restaurant kitchens for demonstrations, hijinks, disasters, etc. There might or might not be lab coats from time to time.
So, without further ado: Continue reading