They Don't Have Tacos In the Suck, Part 2

Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
This is Part 2 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 the first part here.

Tacos Arcelia has two things going for it: The first thing is the 99-cent tacos that it advertises in bold black letters on the side of its second thing, a school bus that's been painted bright red and silver. There was already a line forming around noon on Thursday, so Ryan and I figured it was a sure bet.

We ordered a taco each -- lengua for me, chicharrones for him -- and stepped back to await our orders. Even working in the larger-than-average confines of a school bus, the crew was moving at a slow clip.

"You know that part in Black Hawk Down where an RPG gets lodged in a guy's chest but it doesn't go off?" asked Ryan idly while we waited.

"Uh, yeah. Although I hadn't thought of that movie -- or that scene in years." I didn't ask why he asked me, wary of the answer. He told me anyway.

"That really happens."

I thought back to the time when Ryan and I were making dinner at his apartment one night, both 18 years old, and I'd stupidly thrown a handful of frozen okra into a deep pan of hot grease to fry not knowing any better. I started a minor grease fire which we quickly put out, but my face and hands were pockmarked with grease burns that took a few years to fade. The burns hurt terribly and I avoided frying anything at all for at least another five years, scared to death by such a minor injury.

More »

They Don't Have Tacos in the Suck, Part 1

Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
"Can I have the hot dog, please?" I asked the woman inside the bright green Tacos D.F. truck on Long Point at Witte.

"You're ordering a hot dog?" teased my friend Ryan with a chuckle. He'd already placed his order for a pastor taco and a can of Coke at the window. "I thought we were doing a taco truck crawl."

"I'm getting a taco, too!" I grinned sheepishly, before placing an additional order for a taco de cabeza.

"Is that what I think it is?" asked Ryan as he eyed the cabeza. Shreds of fine beef from a cow's head a la barbacoa filled the double corn tortilla that the woman handed through the window, topped with a handful of raw white onions and cilantro leaves. Despite his initial misgivings over its provenance, he ate his half of the taco with relish -- pronouncing it "great" when he was finished -- and I remembered why I'd missed him so much.

Ryan was my best friend in college, where we fancied ourselves a couple of misfits at a highly conservative university that made both of us itchy and desperate with discomfort. We met on the first day of school our freshman year, both of us shunted into an off-campus apartment complex because the dorms were overflowing in the late '90s and, somehow, releasing 17-year-olds into the wild seemed like a good idea at the time.

Ryan couldn't cook. I had roommates that I hated. We bonded over shared meals in his apartment and nights spent commiserating with each other about the limited kinds of politics and religious dogma that teenagers understand while the other kids rushed sororities or went to Bible study. Until last week, I hadn't seen him in ten years.

More »

Operation "No Tacos" - ¡Si Se Pudo!

photos by Marco Torres
Hello, gorgeous!
They said it couldn't be done. But "they" were wrong. I made it. And now, ten pounds lighter, I'm back and hungry as ever.

Thinking back, the premise was so simple. Can a Houstonian go 30 days without Mexican food? The simple answer is "yes, of course!" But the reality was anything but simple, especially for me. You know that thing when your subconscious picks up on an object or idea, then all of a sudden you see that object or idea in everything, everywhere? For the month of November, tacos ruled everything around me. It was my forbidden fruit in this urban Garden of Eden called Houston.

My #30DaysNoTacos challenge was never intended to be an exercise in discovering new restaurants or cuisines. Nor was it intended to prove the unhealthiness of Mexican food. It was simply an interesting gastronomical experiment. The reactions that I received from my friends, family, and strangers ranged from support ("you can do it, Marco! Just a few more days!") to outrage ("how dare you turn your back on the most holy and noble taco!"). All of the comments and support made this craziness worth the suffering.

More »

Operation "No Tacos" Progress Report: Taco Torture

Photos by Marco Torres
Mexico City Tacos 2009, a.k.a. The Photo That Haunts My Dreams
It's been 15 days since I started this challenge.

Fifteen. Long. Days.

But I'm hanging in there! People still think I'm crazy, and I partly agree, but the truth is... my mind was made up to take on this challenge even before I pitched the story to Eating Our Words. I've written roughly 30 blog posts for The Houston Press, but the "Operation: No Tacos" post has received more comments than any of my other posts combined. You guys sure do love your tacos.

Most people start their day with a healthy breakfast. I normally don't eat breakfast during the week, although I do serve myself a bowl of cereal on occasion. That changes on the weekend though. On Saturday and Sunday, I'm ready for barbacoa tacos or a nice, big, spicy bowl of menudo. These last two weekends have certainly been tests of my self-restraint.

To beat the hungry crowds, I usually take an early lunch at 11 a.m. I don't cook very much at home anymore, so there are no leftovers for me to pack. Yet avoiding Mexican food at lunch has been relatively easy, especially after finding the gem called Medley's Cafe. I've eaten lunch there at least three times this month. The burgers, kabobs, and gyros are excellent. Great food at a low price.

More »

$10 for 10 Tacos at Tacos a Go-Go, Today Only

Photo by Jason McElweenie
What are the odds that Tacos a Go-Go would announce a one-day-only sale on its tacos the day after our own Marco Torres announced that he's going taco-less (and Mexican food-less) for the next 30 days? Sorry, Marco. Better luck next time...

For the rest of us, this is a helluva deal.

Tacos a Go-Go rarely participates in group dining deals, but they're our featured VOICE Daily Deal today -- and today only. The deal gets you 10 tacos for $10, and you can buy pretty much any taco on the menu, up to a $25 value; the only taco that's excluded from the deal is the lamb barbacoa.

That means you can get 10 $1.79 breakfast tacos for $10, 10 $1.99 pastor tacos for $10 or even 10 $2.49 fajita tacos... for just $10. I think I know who's going to be the most popular guy at the office soon: you, and that big bag of breakfast tacos you just brought in.

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

Operation "No Tacos" - A 30 Day Challenge

Portrait of a Taco Enthusiast as A Young Man
​That's me up there with my dad, eating a plate full of tacos, the happiest 4-year-old ever. It was there in that one-bedroom duplex in the East End where my love of tacos and all things Mexican originated. Menudo for breakfast? Yes, please. Tamales for lunch? Of course! What about dinner? Yep, you guessed it... tacos!

Even now, 27 years later, in this great city with a million and one restaurants serving a wide spectrum of international and American cuisine, I still find myself eating Mexican food at least five times a week. You know you live in Houston when three of your top five places to eat are taco trucks.

Well, there must have been something in the salsa as I ate dinner at Tacos Tierra Caliente last week, because it was there that I pondered the following:

As a Houstonian, how difficult would it be to survive a full month without eating Mexican food? What if that Houstonian was also of Mexican descent, like me?

More »

100 Favorite Dishes: No. 39, Tacos at Karanchos

Karanchos 002.jpg
​This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston 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.

More »

Do the Food Truck Crawl

IMG - Zilla food truck.jpg
Photo by John Suh
Food Truck Friday at the Boneyard
It sounds like the name of a new dance craze. And while you can certainly show off your skills to the music spinning from the live DJ booth, the Food Truck Crawl is much more than that.

Hillary Hayden founded the event after watching a show on the Cooking Channel about restaurant crawls in New York City and deciding to do something similar here in Houston. While Houston is not a pedestrian-friendly town, she thought, "Why not utilize food trucks instead, allowing for more location flexibility?" If you can't bring the people to the food, bring the food to the people.

More »

Abu Omar: Houston's Only Halal Taco Truck

Abu Omar 011crop.jpg
I scanned the short menu on the side of Abu Omar, a silver-sided taco truck on Hillcroft at Pagewood. It wasn't very forthcoming about the kinds of meats it served, just listing items like tacos and tortas.

"Do you have chicharron?" I asked the smiling young man, Roberto, inside. "No," he replied. "We'" He trailed off as the word seemed on the tip of his tongue. Finally: "Halal! We're halal. Only beef and chicken."

Abu Omar is, as far as I know, the only halal taco truck in Houston. And even more interestingly, it switches from Mexican specialties during the day to Middle Eastern cuisine at night: After 6 p.m., the truck offers shawarma, falafel, foul, Turkish coffee and much more. When you think about it, shawarma isn't all that different from al pastor-style meat (except with regard to the meat itself) -- so an Arab taco truck isn't that much of an aberration.

Nevertheless, it's an exciting and wondrously new thing here in Houston. So when my friend John, who works with refugees in the area, emailed me to tell me about the little truck -- which just opened two weeks ago -- I was incredibly excited to check it out.

Arriving on a sunny afternoon last week, John and I took in the hand-painted, bright yellow sign next to the truck, displaying its name in both English and Arabic. As I snapped a couple of pictures after ordering, a handsome young man got out of a car parked near the truck and walked over to me and John, curious about our intentions.

More »

Elote - Hold the Cup and the Cream - at No Borders

No Borders Taco Truck 014crop.jpg
Mesquite-smoked corn on the cob at No Borders.
I have two favorite places in town for elote, that Mexican snack you can feel at least partly good about eating because -- hey! -- it's corn and corn is a vegetable (barely) and therefore good for you! Never mind the fact that you usually slather those sugary niblets with thick cream and plenty of salt before eating...

Those two places are 100% Taquito (3245 Southwest Freeway) and Refresqueria Rio Verde (parked in front of the New Flea Market at Long Point and Pech). At both places, I get my elote in a little Styrofoam cup -- although you can get it straight on the cob at Refresqueria Rio Verde for $1 less -- and doctor it up with plenty of crema, salt and chili powder. This elote en vaso, as it's called, is an irresistible treat. At 100% Taquito, you can also get yours with lime and hot pepper on top instead of the traditional cream topping. (And, if you'll believe it, both of its versions are actually cheaper than the elote you'll get at Refresqueria Rio Verde.)

So when I headed over to try the No Borders taco truck run by Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen not long ago, I was excited to get there and find that it served elote. But this wasn't the elote I was craving, not by a long shot.

More »