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
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
Mark Miller is to New Mexico’s cuisine what Stephan Pyles is to Texas foodways. Each is a big shot in the Southwestern cuisine movement that swept the country in the 1980s and ’90s. Pyles opened his latest restaurant, Stampede 66, in early November. This summer, UrbanRio Cantina & Grill, part of part of an entertainment and culinary complex in the Old Downtown Plano Ice House, seated its first guests within sight of the DART Downtown Plano station.
In the run up to Urban Rio’s opening, Miller was brought in as the consulting chef by owners Nathan and Bonnie Shea, who also own the Urban Crust pizzeria in Downtown Plano. His involvement in what was being billed as “Next Mex” had me excited. Recipes in Miller’s cookbook Tacos, are some of my family’s favorite and are in regular rotation at Casa Ralat. His The Great Chile Book is a concise, reference book. Then there was the fact that I could take light rail to its doorstep. Man, I was down right jazzed for a seat in its contemporary Rio Grande Valley-inspired interior.
So off I went from Dallas to Plano to meet a friend and hit up a couple of hole-in-the-wall taquerías before capping our day exploring a suburban taco scene at a well-received newcomer nurtured by a renowned chef.
I always forget to take a shot of the plated dish. This photo was taken minutes ago.
Living with persnickety eaters—admittedly, one is getting better—it’s rare that I, the primary cook at Casa Ralat, have the opportunity to prepare family meals I want. (Hola, cheese pastelillos.) Today is one of those glorious days. I’m preparing slow-cooked pork tenderloin with tomatoes and green chiles, what I call Green Chile Pork. And it’s full of home-cooking cheats. The whole dish is a cheat. My recipe, which originally appeared on the Slashfood website, is below. Continue reading