Breakfast Tacos at Tierra Caliente

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Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Nature's cure for apathy
Familiarity breeds contempt, and proximity to tacos breeds apathy. Or so goes my reasoning for why we don't frequent Tacos Tierra Caliente more, well, frequently. "It's right around the corner; we can go there anytime we want," I would reason. Truth be told, the fact that I rarely carry cash has a lot to do with it.

When we do get around to it, we both wonder why it's been so long. My wife, in particular, makes New Year's Resolution-esque declarations with every fajita con todo, only to see the resolution abandoned every time we drive by cashless. "We really should get tacos more often," we always say.

Since my schedule changed, I've found myself home during the day an awful lot, which means lunch for my wife and me. We've tried to make a habit of going somewhere once a week when I'm off, but instead have trended toward a habit of crawling back into bed after dropping the kids off at school. A three hour mid-day nap is a luxurious mistake, frequently resulting in missed lunches and (arguably) wasted days off.


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100 Favorite Dishes 2013: No. 74, Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto (Just Look for the Red Truck)

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Everything in this box cost $1.50. For a whole meal. A whole, wonderful meal.
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape. It's a list to drool over.

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Market Square's Fusion Taco Is Our New Spot for Pre-Theater Dining

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We think a trio of tacos is the perfect way to get the night started.
Houston has a fantastic theater district, but somehow it seems the options for pre-show dining are few and far between. Sometimes, you simply don't have the time for a long, fancy meal. That's where Fusion Taco, the fast-casual concept from David Grossman and Julie Sharaby, comes in.

Before a recent show, we visited the taco truck's new Market Square storefront, and they had us at taco.

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More Than Just Raspas at Refresqueria Rio Verde

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
To assume that Refresqueria Rio Verde is simply a refresqueria would be incorrect.

Although the sides of its white-and-red truck are painted with the colors and flavors of the various raspas it sells, you may miss the comparatively less emphatic "tacos" and "tortas" that look like afterthoughts. You'll need to get up close and personal to find that menu: smaller, partially hidden behind the plastic trays full of condiments for truck's elotes and freshly sliced fruit -- both snacks waiting to be sprinkled with rust-colored chile en polvo for a spicy kick.

On that small menu, you'll find that aside from just snacks, Refresqueria Rio Verde also serves a full menu of tacos. I sort of hate that I'm telling anyone this, but they're one of the best-kept secrets in town.


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Gustavo Arellano on Houston's Inherent Insecurity and Insultingly Racist Food Trucks

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Read the first part of our interview with Gustavo Arellano in case you missed it.
Gustavo Arellano -- a.k.a. "Ask a Mexican!" himself -- doesn't shy away from having strong opinions or expressing them. It's what has made Arellano into a popular columnist, author and public speaker over the years and what's bringing him to Houston on November 15 to kick off the University of Houston's lecture series, Food for Thought.

The free talk starts at 5 p.m. and will explore everything from how salsa overtook ketchup as the country's favorite condiment in the 1990s to why Taco Bell matters from a historical and cultural perspective. Afterwards, Arellano plans to consume large quantities of Tex-Mex food -- the subject of his most recent book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America -- at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe.

And perhaps while he's there, Arellano will get a small taste of the reason Houstonians were so incensed to have been left off his recent list of the 5 American cities most influential in the development and spread of Tex-Mex food. Although Arellano made it up to us in a follow-up post, he remains a bit mystified as to the hysterical (or "impassioned," depending on your perspective) responses he received from Houstonians after the list was published at our sister paper, the OC Weekly.

In a recent talk at the University of Texas San Antonio, Arellano related the story of discovering Houston's penchant for extreme agitation and anxiety when we are left off any national lists of any kind.


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Gustavo Arellano: Has the Tide Turned Against Tex-Mex Food?

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Popular author Gustavo Arellano is coming to the University of Houston on November 15 for a free lecture.
Gustavo Arellano isn't just any Mexican. Over the years, the writer has turned himself into almost the "official" Mexican of America thanks in large part to his syndicated column, "Ask a Mexican!" and books like Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.

This is his most recent book and one in which Arellano tackles the question of how the food of a country that many Americans despise -- thanks to issues such as drug cartel violence along the border and concerns over illegal immigration -- has become one of the most popular cuisines in the United States. Arellano, also the editor at OC Weekly (one of our sister papers) is headed to Houston on November 15 to discuss this very topic at the University of Houston.

The free talk -- which launches this year's Food for Thought Lecture Series at the university -- starts at 5 p.m. and will explore everything from how salsa overtook ketchup as the country's favorite condiment in the 1990s to what's considered "authentic" Mexican food (and why does authenticity even matter?).

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What Is a Dhaba? Find Out at Tandoori Nite

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Goat korma, chana masala and saag paneer at Tandoori Nite
Not all food trucks are taco trucks, nor are they gourmet food trucks serving lobster and foie gras in Montrose. There are plenty of mobile food units that occupy a space in between, and Tandoori Nite -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- is one of them.

Although it's technically a food truck, Tandoori Nite bills itself as a dhaba -- and it's the closest thing you'll find to a traditional dhaba in Houston, especially by virtue of its location in the parking lot of a Phillips 66 gas station along Highway 6. But what is a dhaba?

In India, it's the local version of a greasy spoon diner or a truck stop cafe. They're generally located next to or inside of gas stations and serve a variety of Indian and/or Pakistani fare to hungry, weary travelers. Because dhabas are located throughout India, you'll find them in every shape and size -- from basic, dirt-floored structures (indeed, the first dhabas were little more than mud huts) to sleek, modern dhabas that look like American convenience stores.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 97, Caprichos Mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
This year leading up to our annual Best of HoustonĀ® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.

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They Don't Have Tacos In the Suck, Part 4

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
The ultimate taco.
This is the last installment of a four-part series: They Don't Have Tacos In the Suck, which chronicles an afternoon taco truck crawl with my best friend from college, an Air Force EOD sergeant whom I hadn't seen in 10 years. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

Ryan and I had been driving for a while, for many blocks since our "palate cleanser" of elotes at Refresqueria Rio Verde. I knew he was wondering why I passed other taco trucks and failed to pull up to them, but I had a plan.

In my mind, I knew this stop would be our last taco truck of the day. I had to pick my cousin up from the airport soon, and Ryan had to get back on the road.

I pulled into our final destination: El Ultimo, a brightly decorated taco truck near Long Point and Wirt. Its parking lot was already busy, a line had already formed outside that was composed entirely of blue collar workers off for lunch, equal parts white, black and Hispanic. I've made no secret of the fact that El Ultimo is my favorite taco truck in town, and have followed it over the years as it moves a few blocks up and down Long Point.

"On the weekends," I told an impressed Ryan, "it has a waitress who takes you order, since the line gets so long."

"So this is your favorite, huh?" he said, eying the simple menu and wondering what exactly made this spot so special.

"Yes. You'll see."

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They Don't Have Tacos In the Suck, Part 3

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
"I have corn on a stick!"
This is Part 3 of a four-part series: They Don't Have Tacos In the Suck, which chronicles an afternoon taco truck crawl with my best friend from college, an Air Force EOD sergeant whom I hadn't seen in 10 years. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

"Let's get a palate cleanser," I told Ryan as we pulled into the parking lot of the New Flea Market on Long Point at Pech. On the weekends, you can't find a space to park in the asphalt lot. But today, on an overcast Thursday afternoon, it was empty except for a few trucks parked haphazardly around Refresqueria Rio Verde.

"What are we getting here?" asked Ryan as we climbed out. "Do they have tacos?"

"Sure, they have tacos," I said. "But I thought we'd get something different in between. Do you like elotes?"

Elote, as I explained to Ryan, is basically corn on the cob. But instead of serving it with butter and salt, as us white folks tend to do, elote is served with crema, chile powder, lime juice and a host of other condiments that only seem foreign until you taste them all mixed together. Elote in a cup, the shaved kernels topped with a thick dollop of cream and a rough shake of chile powder, is mystifyingly comforting even if you've never had it before.

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