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…


…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.


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?


The Weekend In Food: Holy Monkeys, It’s November

It was a busy weekend, folks.  So keeping that in mind, I’m going to try and stick to the food-related milestones of the weekend, or else we’ll be here all day.  And no one wants that.  …or do they?


7:00pm:  Pulling up to Feast with Richard for our anniversary dinner.  No, we didn’t get married on Halloween, but who wants to go out to a fancy dinner on a Monday night?

7:15pm:  Love the service at Feast.  Love it.  We have a bottle of gorgeous Spanish red — Castell del Remei Gotem Blue — and some fresh bread and silky butter and ice water and we’re going to town on ALL of it.

7:30pm:  Appetizers are out.  Richard has the curried parsnip soup and I have the stuffed pigs’ feet.  Both are amazing.

8:00pm:  Noshing on the main courses.  Richard is having the steak and kidney pudding with fresh suet, which was made expressly for us by James.  It is divine, and this is coming from someone who does not like steak and kidney puddings, pies or anything else of that nature.  I’m having the equally heavenly sweetbreads with roasted root veggies.  SO GOOD.

9:00pm:  Far too stuffed for dessert.  Sloshing a bit as we finish off the wine.  Watch the Montrose pub crawlers go by outside on Westheimer, on bicycles and on foot, all dressed in outrageous costumes.

9:30pm:  Playing “World Capital Trivia,” which Richard is winning.  Bastard.  I’m no good at geography when I’m full of wine and pancreas.

10:00pm:  Headed home.  Need to sleep off massive amounts of food…


7:00am:  Up early for no particular reason.  Would make breakfast if we had food in the house.  Must go grocery shopping.

8:00am:  Have discovered some smoked salmon in the pantry!  NOM NOM NOM.

9:00am:  Piddling around on computer, attempting to write Dynamo article for Houstonist and failing.

12:00pm:  Leave house to meet Groovehouse for lunch at BB’s Cajun Cafe.

12:30pm:  Elbow deep in an overstuffed oyster po-boy and a St. Arnold’s Lawnmower.  It is an absolutely gorgeous day outside, I’ve got a great beer and a great sandwich — what more could a girl want?

12:31pm:  CHEESE GRITS.

12:32pm:  AND CATFISH.

12:33pm:  I’ll bet Groovehouse is regretting eating lunch with me right about now.  Me = notorious food thief.

1:30pm:  Must go back to BB’s soon; too many menu items I didn’t get to this time around.

5:00pm:  Back at the house after a long afternoon of piddling around with friends.  I do an inordinate amount of piddling.  But it’s good for the soul.

5:30pm:  All dressed up and looking semi-cute.  Richard and I ready to leave the house for the McCormick & Schmick grand opening party with Jenny and Fulmer when he gets a call from Trafton: Rockets tickets, tonight.  Bye-bye, husband!

6:30pm:  At Jenny’s house, drinking a bottle of Pulque and waiting for Fulmer to show up to escort us out on the town.  I like the Pulque.  I don’t care what the world thinks of me!

7:30pm:  At the McCormick & Schmick opening.  Free champers and oysters FTW.  Except that they don’t seem to be checking invitations and there are an awful lot of randoms in shorts and flip-flops.  Boo.

9:00pm:  Getting bored.  There’s only so many trays of dropped sliders and random Police cover band songs to hold your interest for so long.

9:30pm:  At Morton’s Steakhouse, drinking coffee and eating a key lime pie that Fulmer owed me from the last Tuesday Trivia.

10:15pm:  Jenny has decided that we need to get into the Foundation Room at the House of Blues.

10:30pm:  And so we do.

11:00pm:  After a lovely tour by the GM (the whole place smells like nag champa; it’s intoxicating), we’re given some free drinks and left to our own devices.

11:30pm:  Those devices include going to Saez & Zouk.

12:00am:  Bottle service?  Hah!

1:00pm:  Can’t hold my own anymore, even though I’m only *mumblecoughmumble* years old.  Jenny and Fulmer drop me off at my car and head off into the great night beyond.  I head home and collapse into bed.


6:00am:  Up early again; extra hour of sleep helped.  Cleaning house and doing weekendy-around-the-house things.

2:00pm:  Head over to Coffee Groundz for Houston Twitter Meetup.  Hail, hail, the gang’s all here!

2:30pm:  Mmm…gigantic bold coffee.  Love.

3:00pm:  Some delicious gelato is being passed around: honey lavender.  What?  MUST HAVE.

3:01pm:  ALL GONE.  SO GOOD.

3:02pm:  Licking gelato cup.  I have no shame.

3:30pm:  Free glasses of Malbec?  Yes, please!

4:00pm:  Free glasses of Chardonnay?  Yes, please!

5:00pm:  Free glass of Merlot from the totally and all-encompassingly awesome MagsMac?  YES, PLEASE.

6:00pm:  MORE free wine from MagsMac?  Yes, but not before I get on this awesome golf cart and drive around while Fayza yells at people and we cuddle cute dogs named Bentley.

7:00pm:  All this free wine and coffee is awesome, but I’m HUNGRY.

8:00pm:  Heading over to Chuy’s with Monica, Fayza and Groovehouse.

8:05pm:  OH, CRAP.  Lost track of time!  I was supposed to be at Sacred Heart for the fundraiser this evening!!!  !&#!&*!$%@()&!*#

8:10pm:  It’s probably over by now…  Tex-Mex will have to calm my guilty soul.

8:30pm:  Steven rolls up to Chuy’s for our Tex-Mex feast.  We have a healthy five people at a four-top, cause we’re cozy like that.

9:00pm:  NOM.

9:30pm:  Taking leftovers home to Richard, who has probably not left his little Richard-shaped indentation on the couch today for fear of missing football-y goodness.

10:30pm:  Aaaaaaaand…bed.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend, folks!  And just think: you made it through yet another Monday, so only four more days to go until the next one.

Washington Avenue: A Long Day’s Journey Into Tacos

AIEEEEE!  It’s finally posted!  Go to Houstonist and check out my latest Urbanist article (with lots of photos), which took far too long to write than it should have.  Topics covered include:

  • the new Benjy’s (not to replace or be confused with the old Benjy’s)
  • El Rey Taqueria
  • The Daily Grind
  • Max’s Wine Dive
  • Pearl Bar
  • Guadalajara Bakery
  • …and more

And here’s a link for your browsing pleasure:  Urbanist: Washington Avenue.

/self-promoting off


Me, this morning, pre-coffee:

Coworker:  Mira, traje pan dulces!

Me:  Huh?

Coworker:  Traje pan dulces!

Me:  Oh, hey, someone brought pan dulces!

Coworker (annoyed now):  Si, traje pan dulces.

Me:  Who brought the pan dulces?

Coworker (walking off in a huff):  ESTÚPIDA.

Me:  Mande?

I feel that I’m somehow becoming less fluent in Spanish with each passing day that I work for a Mexican company.  How can this be?

And the pan dulces were delicious.  Especially with coffee.

Tacos Del Julio

It’s no secret: I love tacos.

I love breakfast tacos made with flour tortillas and spicy chorizo, I love lunch tacos made with hot corn tortillas and chicharron, I love tacos with queso blanco, I love tacos with cilantro and raw onions, I even love Taco Bell tacos with their cheesy, American accoutrements of tomatoes and lettuce and sour cream.

So when I hear there’s a taco place I haven’t been to yet that will (and I quote) “pull your pants down, it’s so good,” I’m there as fast as you can say jackrabbit slim.

Tacos Del Julio isn’t new to this city or to the restaurant bidness.  In fact, it’s quite famous back in its hometown of Monterrey, Mexico.  They serve authentic norteño and Monterrey-style food here at their three Houston-area locations, which makes it a popular destination for all those expats missing the food from back home.  The Tacos Del Julio closest to me is on Long Point near Campbell, while the others reside on Airline off I-45 and Spencer Highway in Pasadena — all three parts of town where you are almost guaranteed a good Mexican meal.

The interior of the restaurant has all the hallmarks of a well-run, successful mini-chain: colorful, professionally-printed posters advertising Tacos Del Julio‘s taco eating contest held each Wednesday (the current record-holder is at 36 tacos in an hour; beat that and your tacos are gratis!), a Dora The Explorer-themed playground to pen your children into while you eat, a high-tech computer system for taking orders and splitting checks and even an elevated stage for karaoke nights (Los Tigres Del Norte, here I come!).  Of course, no respectable Mexican establishment would be complete without a mural, and Tacos Del Julio‘s mural at the front entrance (and mini-murals in the back) sports bright, vibrant colors and boasts not one but two soccer stadiums — the Estadio Tecnológico and El Volcán, which (sidebar) just happens to be owned by my company.

Let me be the first to say that speaking Spanish is an asset here.  While they do have the ever-useful “point and grunt” picture menus, speaking English to your waitress will only result in confusion on both sides.  If you don’t speak Spanish, take a friend who does.  If you have nothing but gringo friends, you can always fall back on the aforementioned “point and grunt” technique.  The good news?  “Coca-Cola” knows no language barriers, so you can at least get yourself a soft drink.  Personally, I recommend their ice cold, creamy horchata.

Tacos Del Julio doesn’t bring chips and salsa to your table, as does nearly every other Mexican restaurant in town.  In a refreshing change of pace, they bring you a steaming hot bowl of the most delicious charro beans you’ve ever eaten.  The broth is velvety and almost bisque-like — nothing like any charro broth I’ve ever encountered — and the beans are perfectly seasoned.  When you’re eating it, you get the feeling that they’ve been cooking for days to get just the right texture and flavor.  If you like yours hot (like me), feel free to add a splash or two of the green sauce that’s delivered to your table in an inconspicuous mustard squeeze bottle.

For the main course, you can go one of two ways: a taco or two, which will more than fill you up, or a platter.  Be warned, however, that the platters of food are enormous.  The platters also come with a hearty side of crispy on the outside, soft on the inside papas fritas instead of rice and/or beans.  These papas fritas are more akin to our skillet potatoes, however — not the “French fries” that normally come to mind when you hear “papas fritas.”  A generous portion of the tangy, tamarind-inspired red sauce (which is strangely devoid of heat despite the numerous jalapeño seeds it contains — or maybe I just don’t taste “hot” anymore) on top and you’re good to go.

The enchiladas del Julio was my favorite of the platters, with four enchiladas made from corn tortillas wrapped around Monterrey white cheese and cooked down gently in a red sauce similar to the one on your table, sans the seeds, and topped with a entire avocado, sliced into thick, fat ribbons.  Simple yet rich and delicious, especially with your charro beans and papas fritas.

Of the tacos, there are two ways to go: flour or corn.  The pirata and the gringa are two of the flour varieties that I’d recommend.  The pirata has chopped steak and queso blanco with — again — those velvety slices of avocado inside, while the gringa has trompo — another word for “pastor,” meat grilled over a spit — and more queso blanco.  Both benefit highly from the addition of the sauteed onions that are served on the side and a generous portion of cilantro and green sauce.  The tortillas themselves are obviously made on site, with that coveted slight charring and sweet, doughy interior.

Corn tortillas at Tacos Del Julio are slightly different than what you’d get anywhere else in town.  They’re much smaller than average, and seem to have been cooked San Antonio style, a la the famous puffy tacos.  They are rapturously good and as soon as the first morsel hits your tongue, you suddenly understand how someone could easily eat 36 of these in an hour and begin to have delusions of entering the contest yourself (call me if you do; I’ll take pictures for posterity and mocking purposes).

The corn tacos which I recommend most are — once again — the tacos de trompo (which come five to an order) and the breakfast version of the tacos, called taquitos (which come six to an order).  They come with either beef, potatoes or egg.  But why don’t you mix it up and get all three?  Two taquitos of each.  You’ll thank me later.

If you’re still hungry after all this, you can purchase delicious little bags of caramel-filled, cinnamon-and-sugar crusted empanadas or Monterrey-style spicy peanuts at the register, where your check will be waiting for you after you’ve finished your meal.

The next time you’re in the mood for good, authentic Mexican food or just in the mood for tacos (and, let’s face it, when are you not in the mood for tacos?), head out to Tacos Del Julio.  Just do me a favor and send me an email so I can meet you there.  Oh, and bring a belt.

All I Have, I Owe to Pork Skin

I was feeling utterly miserable yesterday morning.  I had woken up with a fierce stomachache that felt like a thousand tiny knives in my gut.  I couldn’t figure out what would have caused it.  I hadn’t eaten anything strange (well, strange for me) or out-of-date or off-temp lately.  I swigged some Pepto and went about my day, trying to ignore the stabbing pains in my belly.

As the day dragged on, so did the pain.  It didn’t get any worse, just more irritating.  I kept waiting for it to go away or even just subside a bit.  The Pepto wasn’t doing anything and I didn’t have anything else at work to fall back on (ginger, for example, works miracles).  I drank bottle after bottle of water, trying to flush my system out, but without any luck.

Stomachaches — unrelenting ones, at least — are a rarity for me.  My family all has the stomachs of billy goats, cast-iron guts that can withstand food that would make a vulture sick.  True story:  I once drank the tap water in Mexico for a week straight before one of my friends caught me one day and bawled me out for being so stupid.  We weren’t in an “industrialized” area, either, all the more for her to fear that I was going to catch some deadly parasite and die from a horrific form of diarrhea.  Never happened; I was perfectly fine.

As lunchtime rolled around, our temp asked if I’d like to go grab some tacos at Guadalajara Bakery.  As miserable as I was, tacos were the last thing I wanted.  That’s when you know I’m really sick…  I politely declined and instead force-fed myself a simple salad that I hoped would clean me out.  …nope.

When he returned some time later, the temp had brought me some tacos despite my earlier protests.  Bless him.  They looked so good, with their homemade tortillas and neon green salsa verde.  “Your favorite!” he said.  “Chicharrónes!”  The soft, spongy chicharrónes stared up at me from their tortillas.  They looked like inviting little pillows.  Despite the horrible pain in my stomach, I couldn’t help myself.  I tore into them with abandon.

After quickly inhaling the tacos, I realized that within about five minutes my stomachache was completely gone.  I felt like a new person; like my stomach had been reborn.  It was a divinely-inspired, chicharrón-manifested miracle.

So here’s my new marketing strategy…  Forget about Pepto-Bismol, forget about milk of magnesia, forget about Tums, forget about ginger, even!  There’s only one guaranteed cure:

When your stomach hurts and you don’t know what’s wrong, try a bite of chicharrón!

See?  It even rhymes.  I’m going to make a fortune, people…


It was a bad weekend to be a purveyor of fine and delicious Mexican food here in Houston…

Fatal stabbing outside Restaurante El Ranchito

Attacks on Katy-area taco vendors

We do not stand for taco truck attacks here in Houston, as several astute Chronicle commenters have already pointed out:

“remember folks, this affects EVERYBODY… Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Tacos!  Well you two robbers of innocent taco vendors… watch your backs. I’ll be looking for you… AND I’M BRINGIN’ THE HOT SAUCE!!!!”

“You mess with the bean, you’ll end up getting the burrito”

“When caught they should be slapped to death by burritos..”

I’m now envisioning a future where the death penalty here in Texas involves lethal injection of chili con queso.  That wouldn’t be so bad, right?

Image courtesy of the truly awesome TACO and Save Our Taco Trucks.

Know A Salsa Lover?

Then you might want to direct them over to Wrights of Texas.  Every delicious jar is locally handcrafted and made from scratch by Texas native Peggy Wright, a Houston transplant from San Antonio.

No, this isn’t an ad.  And, no, Peggy Wright didn’t ask me to do write-up on her.  In fact, she doesn’t know me from Adam (or any other person who sampled her salsa this afternoon in Whole Foods).  But when I stumbled across her at her salsa table today while Richard and I were shopping, I was impressed with not only her salsa (which is seriously good), but also her hard work.

It takes a lot of effort to create a recipe, to market it yourself every day, to scout a commercial kitchen to cook out of, to put yourself out there and — most of all — to develop a product that’s worth selling.  I commend people like Peggy who have found something they love doing and do it well.  Her enthusiasm and joy is evident when you speak to her, and I think it comes across in her well-crafted salsas, too.

Her salsa comes in two flavors — original and habanero (my favorite; nice and hot!) — and two sizes.  She makes new batches every week, each one full of nothing but tomatoes, peppers, herbs and spices.  None of it has preservatives, so it will last about a month as long as you keep it constantly refrigerated (no keeping a jar on hand in the pantry, folks).  That’s it.  Simple, straightforward and, most importantly, fresh.

I can’t think of anything better on a hot Houston afternoon than a bottle of Corona and some chips and salsa.  Peggy Wright’s salsas taste like summer, home and fresh air — all odd descriptors, I know, but true.  So if you’re like me and always looking for good, homemade, super-fresh, locally-made salsa, I encourage you to give Wrights of Texas a try.