Taco Truck Tailgating

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A few photos from the weekend, of which most of Saturday was spent tailgating with the Houston Chowhounds in various taco truck parking lots across the city.

Cabeza y Orejas

My favorite tacos of the day, cabeza and orejas from El Ultimo Taqueria on Long Point at Antoine. The cabeza was decadently juicy and bordering on almost too greasy, but the thick homemade flour tortillas solved that problem quite handily. The orejas were pleasantly chewy. This is exactly what the other Chowhounds disliked about them, though. The chorizo and the tripas were also crowd favorites here. The tripas in particular was like a thick slab of crispy bacon — completely the opposite of what you expect when ordering tripe. It was brilliant.

El Ultimo

The woman to the right takes your order at El Ultimo and hands it up to the taco guys inside the truck. It’s an incredibly efficient system, especially given the fact that you’re decamped in the tiny parking lot of a car wash while you await your order. It’s not the kind of place you generally want to hang out…

Rum!

…unless you bring folding chairs and coolers, like we did. Above you can see Peg creating what is sure to be the new popular beverage across the city: horchata with rum and lime. No, seriously; that shit was delicious.

Taqueria Tacamabaro

Tacambaro, behind the produce stalls at Canino’s on Airline, was actually our first stop. They were packed that afternoon and had quickly run out of the more popular items. Luckily, they weren’t out of mollejas, which was the entire reason for going there. As promised, the crispy mollejas were divine. I could eat about five of those in one go.

Nopalitos y Barbacoa

Next to Tacambaro was Taqueria Gloria. It wasn’t as popular and with good reason. Although the homemade corn tortillas and salsas were excellent, the nopalitos and barbacoa were only mediocre. Oh, well.

Estilo Monterrey

Later, we moved on to Taqueria El Norteno on Long Point near Wirt. Although I enjoyed the mural on the bright blue school bus, the food didn’t quite live up to the expectations. The tacos al carbon were good, but a bit too smoky. The chicken and ribs — specialities here — were dry and, again, too smoky.

Chamoyada

Across the parking lot, however, was another little gem: Refresqueria Rio Verde. Aside from raspas (snowcones), they also served elotes and tacos. The elotes were the popular item there, families grabbing an ear apiece of the hot corn and slathering it with mayonnaise and generous sprinklings of seasoned salt. I ordered a couple of brightly-colored raspas for the group: mango and chamoyada (pictured above).

Chamoyada, as it turns out, is not something that most white people are familiar with. The popular children’s treat is made of brined, pickled fruit (plums or apricots can be used) that’s made into a paste and spiced up with dried chiles. It’s an acquired taste to say the least. The general consensus was that it needed celery and vodka, whereby it would make a passable Mexican Bloody Mary. Only one person liked it in its native state, bless him.

Relaxing at El Norteno

All in all, a pleasant way to spend a Saturday with good friends. I could do this every weekend. Anyone else?

Big Expectations; Little Results

Little Big's, Now Open

I finally made it to Little Big’s this past Friday night after an evening spent at West Alabama Ice House with some friends. After having our fill of Shiners and bikers, nothing sounded better on a cool night than to relax on the patio with some hot sliders.

As expected, the place was a madhouse when we arrived at about 8:30.  Parking wasn’t an issue — surprisingly — but the barely-contained chaos inside was.  It was difficult to tell who was in line, who was waiting for their food, who was just milling about drunkenly…but we managed to get our orders in without too much difficulty (although with a lot of yelling; it’s extremely noisy inside the small space).  My three sliders — one beef, one chicken and one mushroom — and butterscotch milkshake came to $10.25.  A bit much for three twee burgers and a shake, but these are supposed to be top-shelf sliders after all.

We took our seats on the patio and began the wait.  The patio itself is every bit as relaxing as anticipated, the smell of freshly-cut wood under the sprawling oak trees, the breeze rustling through the leaves, the hypnotic sights of red-lighted traffic and wild pedestrians wandering up and down Montrose — I could have sat there all night.  Good thing, too, because that’s about how long it will take to get your order out.

Forty-five minutes later, the first name was called.  By this time, we’d run through a sickly sweet frozen sangria and a bland frozen White Russian.  Both were deemed barely drinkable by the group, but we continued to suck on them for lack of anything else to eat or drink.  My butterscotch milkshake was still nowhere to be seen.  When I finally heard my name called, I anxiously ran in to grab my sliders — only to see someone else pick them up from the unattended counter and abscond quickly with them.  Bastard!

The counter attendant came back and I said, “I think someone just ran off with my sliders.”  He looked at me like I was an escaped mental patient — they’re just sliders, lady, take your meds and get the fuck out of my face, read his expression — and went back to handing out the baskets of sliders that came up.  I stood there awkwardly, unsure of what to do next.

“You called my name…” I trailed off.

“What’s your name?”  Gruff and irritated.

“Katie.”

“No, we didn’t.”

I looked back at my friends for confirmation that I wasn’t crazy.  “Yeah, you called her name,” one of them piped up.

“Nope.”

I continued to stand there nonplussed as he called out the names of all my friends who’d ordered after me, and handed out their baskets of sliders.

“No, seriously.  You called my name.  Can I just get the next basket that comes up?”  He ignores me completely.  In the back, the crew is working feverishly to get sliders off the grill and into the baskets.  I start to feel like an asshole, watching them work so hard as I complain.  But it’s been forty-five minutes.  And I’m really hungry.

The next basket comes up on the counter.  It has one of each slider: my exact order.  The attendant has his back turned to me.  So I do what any red-blooded American would do.  I took it and left.  Screw you, counter attendant.  You aren’t doing your job and you’re acting like a prick.  AND I’M REALLY HUNGRY.

Steeled by my freshly-acquired sliders, I go to the register to try and resolve my missing shake issue, only to have my head want to explode when the girl behind the counter snottily tells me: “We called your name for, like, ten minutes.”  I looked back at my friends in disbelief; they’re equally as adamant as I am: “NO, YOU DIDN’T.”  Which is it, Little Big’s?  Calling names and not having food ready?  Or not calling names and having food ready?  Choose a crappy customer service style and stick with it.

The girl throws the shake together quickly and thrusts it over the counter to me.  We are equally irritated with each other by this point.  But at least I have my food.

Outside, the chowdown begins.  Group assessment is that the chicken slider is surprisingly good, maybe even the best of the bunch.  The chicken is tender and juicy, lightly battered and perfectly offset by the sweet yeast roll and sour bite of pickle.  The beef slider is underwhelming.  The beef seems to be overcooked and chewy, with only a few wispy onions as an accompaniment.  The spicy remoulade sauce that I picked up from the condiment bar helps, but I end up not finishing it.  The mushroom slider is good, but the molten cheese inside is undersalted and bland.  Fortunately, the French fries and yeast rolls are out of this world.

The butterscotch shake, on the other hand, is abominable.  It tastes as if someone melted down a batch of Werther’s Originals into a tub of Blue Bunny vanilla ice cream (for those of you who don’t know, Blue Bunny is just about the nastiest ice cream on the market).  It is vile and appalling.  My friends all agree.  It’s undrinkable, as well as the third drink of the night to be deemed horrible.  Clearly, Little Big’s strength does not lie in their drink-making abilities.

I’m reluctant to go back on another Friday night (or Saturday night, for that matter).  I think I’ll go again on a weeknight, when it’s a bit calmer, and give the sliders another shot.  Those cooks were stretched to their limits on Friday, and I think the sliders suffered as a result.  Hopefully it will net a better experience this time around, as I seem to be the only person so far who isn’t blown away by their efforts.  Wish me luck!