As far as taco capitals north of the border, it’s hard to beat Los Angeles. Often called the largest Mexican city outside of Mexico, the city is home to an intimidating array of tacos styles served in fast-casual spots, full-service restaurants, makeshift corner setups and food trucks.
Faced with compiling a survey of those options for a two-and-a-half day LA taco trip the first week of February proved difficult but fun. The list was revised from 25 stops to 40 and then down to approximately 20. It could have been 70! Four businesses that were on the itinerary from the start were Leo’s Taco Truck, Tacos La Guera, Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla and Mariscos Jalisco. Continue reading
El Bolero’s tacos al pastor.
John Tesar is a no slouch. He is owner and executive chef at Knife. He has a cookbook in the works with Jordan Mackay, co-author with Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto. He is developing an Italian restaurant concept. And he is partner-operator at Apheleia Restaurant Group’s Oak. There he has tweaked and streamlined the kitchen and menu and business is improving. Now comes news that he is doing the same at El Bolero, Apheleia’s upscale Mexican spot, after ownership and El Bolero’s opening executive chef parted ways last month.
My only dining experience at El Bolero was the restaurant’s first night of service, when the menu was limited and the service extremely attentive. I had ample time to speak with co-owner John Paul Valverde (whose Coeval Studio also designed the gorgeous space) that night. We talked about the need for a variety of salsa options. I lobbied for a plethora of choices like those available in Mexico City: whole beans, French fries, salsas of every color and Scoville heat unit. I spoke with a manager about agave spirits, and he customized a mezcal flight for me. All of this from the best seat in the house—at the bar in front of the trompo, where I got to watch the taquero work his knife against the spinning top of marinated pork. The tacos al pastor on fresh corn tortillas were good but the execution needed flare. Part of eating these Mexico City favorites is the show taqueros put on for customers, flicking knives this way and that, attempting to catch pineapple slices behind their backs.
I don’t know if the spectacle has been upped since El Bolero opened, but I do know that the trompo isn’t going anywhere. As Valverde told me via Facebook, “[The] trompo is always going to be there.” While that is a relief, like many with deep love and respect for tacos and Mexican regional cuisines, I was leery of how an Anglo chef—no matter how talented and respectful—would treat the food. Anglo-driven “Modern Mexican” has show more disregard than understanding when it comes to the tradition and history of Mexican food.
During a phone conversation, Tesar went a long way to assure me of his seriousness.
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
Taco Flats’ modern and sleek exterior.
Taco Flats was the taqueria I most anticipated in 2014. Named, with permission, after a legendary Austin bar and rock club, the business from owner Simon Madera, a Rio Grande Valley native and restaurant industry veteran, opened in November. It has become something of a craft beer bar-modern taqueria along a stretch of Burnet Road that is becoming a taco hub. The taqueria is in the same strip center as the brick-and-mortar home of fancy lonchera Peached Tortilla and a short walk from Fork and Taco, which has an Uchi alumnus in its kitchen. Fork and Taco is an admirable restaurant that understands the importance of the handmade tortilla, but this is a review of Taco Flats, not Fork and Taco. That post is forthcoming.
As I mentioned, the wait for Taco Flats’ opening was worth it. From the moment you open the door, you know you’re in for something different. Continue reading
After seven days of North Texas Beer Week, you’re gonna need some tacos. Your amigos at Four Corners Brewing Co. and the Taco Trail got you covered during everyone’s favorite night of the week, TACO NIGHT, Thursday, Nov. 6.
Dallas’ best taquerias will serve el verdadero sabor (the true taste) of Mexico with tacos de trompo. In their Dallas debut, Dos Primos Tacos will present their northern Mexico style of trompo; featuring pork seasoned with a paprika-based marinade. Mexico, DF-style tacos will be well represented with three top Dallas taquerias including El Tizoncito, El Come Taco and Urban Taco. We’re excited to bring them all together.
You need tacos and tacos need beer! Four Corners will have a plenty of variety on hand. Seasonals, special TACO NIGHT release and year-round offerings as well.
General admission, $25, gets you a taco from each vendor, sides and garnish and four 12-ounce pours to wash it all down. Tacos-only passes cost $15. Hot dog truck Eat Jo Dawgs will sell franks for the kiddies. Nos vemos pronto!
When: Thursday, Nov. 6, 6 p.m.
Where: Four Corners Brewing Co., 423 Singleton Blvd., in Trinity Groves
Tickets: $25, $15, available at Prekindle.
Photo: Markus Pineyro
Tacos al pastor stand in Mexico City. Photo: Markus Pineyro.
If Mexico City, and by extension Mexico, were to have an iconic taco, it would be the taco al pastor. This bantam assembly of marinated pork shaved from a trompo (a vertical rotisserie) on a corn tortilla with pineapple, cilantro, onions and salsa is the object of lust for many taco enthusiasts. Spikes of heat, patches of char, citrus pep here and there: What’s not to like? It’s also considered the most authentic of tacos but it is not the first taco and was not adapted from some ancient Aztec recipe. Rather, the taco al pastor appeared in the capital in the mid-20th century, a product of native and immigrant culinary mash-up. It’s also not the only style of taco with meat from a vertical spit. It’s not even the first such dish in Mexico—several of which, including tacos al pastor, are outlined below.
Four hundred years after the Spanish came ashore on the Mexican mainland, initiating the birth of what would become Mexican food with pork, lard, beef and other comestibles, another group of non-indigenous peoples transformed Mexican food. This mass of people, immigrants from the Middle East, specifically Lebanon and Iran, into the city and state of Puebla, brought with them shawarma, lamb cooked on a vertical rotisserie, and their own flatbread, pita. The Mexican adaptation of shawarma popped up in the 1930s at Tacos Árabes Bagdad and Antigua Taqueria La Oriental, but took the form of pork (itself a Spanish import) served on a small pita-like tortilla called pan árabe. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Filed under Florida, Reviews
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).
Chicago: Taco capital. Home to Rick Bayless, the chef who helped changed Americans’ minds about Mexican cuisine and turned south of the border foodways into a fine-dining force, and a sizable, diverse Mexican immigrant population, offers aficionados of Mexican food, plenty of options. Chicago is also home to Titus Ruscitti, author of the Chicago Taco Tour blog, the tacologist behind the @tweetsoftacos Twitter account, and contributor to Serious Eats, LTHforum.com, Thrillist and Travel Wisconsin. We at the Taco Trail are honored that Titus, or Taco T, as he’ll be known here, is also Taco Trail’s newest contributor.
Without further ado:
Today we head to a part of Chicago rarely seen to those not from here. Actually, the same goes for many who do reside in the city. The East Side of Chicago sits in it’s own little part of the cities landscape. Most people see it driving over 106th Street while taking the Chicago skyway in or out of the city. What you also see when taking that route is the last of the industrial areas which goes by “Da Region” amongst locals. You can check out a taco report I did on the old-school Mexican-American restaurants of northwest Indiana. But today we’re going to stay on the Chicago side and check out the trail along 106th Street, which is basically the last line between the city and the state of Indiana. Continue reading