Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Day Enchiladas

So I got my Christmas tamales - from Gerardo's this year - and they're very good.

But today I had a taste for enchiladas - Christmas Eve Day enchiladas? A new tradition?

Enchiladas Espinacas with panela cheese, mushrooms and cilantro at La Guadalupana Bakery and Cafe on Dunlavy. Excellent.

Merry Christmas to all.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Taqueria Tacoocho

'Tacos de la Ciudad'
South Post Oak at Beltway 8

This post has been edited to add some explanation of 'rose meat' and another picture.

Boy did I think I had a real find when I first got a good look at this one. I've seen it many times, even tried to stop once but the driveway of the filling station was so crowded there was no place to park. It's a very well maintained unit that I've observed doing a lot of business on numerous occasions.

As I've mentioned I like to look for the less common offerings and the menu here was very promising. On the breakfast menu are tacos de machacado, lengua en chipotle and tacos revolcados. The regular menu includes mollejas (sweetbreads) and machitos de chivo (goat tripe); mollejas are somewhat rare and I've never seen machitos anywhere so I was very encouraged.

On my first visit, however, I wasn't feeling very adventurous and I went for the alambre - beef (sirloin I think), bacon, grilled onions and poblanos and cheese. This was a larger taco on a beautiful, thick, hand-made tortilla and it was excellent with a very generous amount of filling. Although I only sampled it after finishing the taco the salsa verde was very good, too.

I made another stop a couple of days later and was disappointed to learn that both the mollejas and machitos are no longer served so I tried the suadero and chorizo. These were the smaller Mexico City style tacos for only $1 apiece. I haven't had suadero more than a couple of times but this was the best I've had, tender and juicy pieces of both the fatty and lean portions of brisket I think. The chorizo was very mild but excellent. Both salsas were very good with the green one much hotter.

I tried to ascertain what the revolcados on the breakfast menu are but neither of the crew members nor another customer were able to explain it; I didn't ask if the machacado and lengua are even available and since I seldom go out for breakfast it will be sometime before I get there for breakfast but I will stop at this truck again.

Edit 2/7/10: I came across this explanation of suadero or rose meat... "is a cut of beef... or couple related cuts of beef (depends on the butcher you talk to)... that involves the areas adjacent to brisket & belly... its a tough cut of meat that is usually brined or pickled before a long, slow cooking then finished up on the griddle." The authority goes on to compare it to corned beef and said that since it is pink, like pork, this may be where the name rose meat comes from.

Recently I went back to Tacoocho to try it again.

This time the suadero was not nearly as tender but the cabeza was awesome.

While there, I spotted another truck across Post Oak and went over to check it out. Taqueria Salmanca has mollejas and machitos on the menu also and they were able to serve the mollejas. What I got was not as good as Tacambero behind Canino's but was good nonetheless.

Tacos Pacos

Beechnut @ La Roche, Club Creek just south of Beechnut, and Harwin @ Allday

I noted the first two of these on my survey of Beechnut mobil vendors. I passed the list on to Ziggy Smogdust and he hit the unit at La Roche and was really pleased with what he got. I've since been to the La Roche and Club Creek locations.

I had noted the menu of the La Roche location included cesina and chivo but what Ziggy discovered on the menu also was buche which is new to both of us. Buche is either pig's esophagus or pig's small intestine, considered a type of carnitas because of the preparation method. Ziggy had a beautiful picture posted on the other blog showing the carmelization of the exterior.

I got a ton of cilantro on my tacos and although I didn't get as good a picture as Ziggy I enjoyed the buche just as much. This was the most delicately flavored carnitas I've ever had and I was an instant fan. The chivo also was excellent, not at all gamey although the salsa was on the cusp of gaminess. I couldn't wait to try both of these types of tacos again.

On my second visit I tried the Club Creek location. This unit sits next to a bottled water kiosk and is not quite as down at the heels as the other location.

The menu here lists birria instead of chivo and adds camaron to the list but I didn't notice the birria before I ordered and I got buche and tripas. As the picture reveals there was virtually no carmelization of the buche and it wasn't nearly as spectacular; the tripas was medium crispy with a little charring on some pieces. The salsa, in a dispenser on the counter along the side of the wagon, looked good and fresh and there were also pickled vegetables to help yourself to.

Since learning what buche is and experiencing it I've noticed it on other taco truck menus too and will have to be trying it elsewhere. It is not on the menu of the Harwin location of Tacos Pacos.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Taqueria Chilangos

4330 W. Fuqua @ Monrad, 1 block east of Hiram Clarke

I've been spending some time on the south side again recently, noting taco trucks of course. I've been to El Ultimo on Long Point for tripas recently, Tacos Pacos for buche and tripas and El Barrio Alto for tripitas; I just couldn't face any more tacos today, especially any involving parts of the digestive systems of other animals, so when I saw a torta I'd never heard of before - Chavo del 8 - I had to try it.

It takes its name from a popular Spanish language sitcom about an orphan who lives on the street and likes ham sandwiches. Okay, sounds like a strange idea for a sitcom but I've never seen it. Anyway, the sandwich involves slices of deli ham, 2 melting cheeses (amarillo y blanco), lettuce, tomato, avocado, and mayonnaise but no refritos, all served up on a very thin and huge telera that was nicely toasted on the griddle. In fact the whole sandwich was heated up. Pretty simple and very satisfying.

They also do gringas and have an alambre platillo for lunch.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cruising for Street Food: Harwin

This is another in my exciting ongoing series 'Cruising for Street Food on the Southwest side.' I've been making notes about these units whenever and wherever I come across them and just decided to pull them all together and put them out there in case others are interested.

This time I drove Harwin from Hillcroft out to Highway 6; four of the seven units I found were between Fondren and Gessner:

Tacos El Ranchero
@ Forney, 1 block w. of Hillcroft - this one was doing a very brisk business at 12:45pm in this neighborhood where there are numerous Indo/Pak eateries and others; I noticed lengua and tripas on the menu.

Tacos y Tortas
- a tiny wagon at 8000 Harwin, between Fondren and Gessner; no menu, no customers at about 1pm

La Fogata Mexican Kitchen
, @ Allday, in the driveway of a Fuel Depot station - small hut on wheels, this one has been there a long time.

Tacos Pacos
- @ Allday, this is another unit of the ones I noted on Beechnut and Club Creek earlier. Ziggy Smogdust checked one of those out and I've checked them out too and will post a review soon. This appears to be a real find. Like the ones mentioned on the other list, this one has buche and tripas but no goat on the menu.

Laoxaquena Tacos y Tortas
- 9895 Harwin, close to Gessner

I stopped at this one several months ago because of the name. There is no menu posted anywhere and very little English was comprehended. I inquired about any Oaxacan specialties and was directed to try their Chicken Special.

This proved to be a delicious meal except that the chicken breast meat itself was as dry and tough as leather. The rolled, stuffed chicken breasts were kept in foil on the edge of the griddle; to prepare the plate, they were unwrapped and reheated on the grill, then presented. The stuffing included carrots, potatoes, and ground beef and a portion of a bay leaf. The sauce was excellent; I presume it to be a Oaxacan mole but one I'm not familiar with and I couldn't begin to guess the ingredients, nor could I identify the green or herb in the sauce. This was one of those meals I could have plated up at home to make much more appealing and it would have been an excellent meal had not the breast meat been so dry.

Ricos Tacos Mobil
- a blue truck at Boone in a convenience store parking lot. Noted tripitas, lengua on the menu. A sign on side says - that's the Greek/burger place at @ Bellaire and Bissonnet???

Taquitos Jacala
- 66 station parking lot @ West Houston Center Blvd. I was going the wrong way, the traffic was heavy and there was no place to pull over so I didn't get a look at the menu.

Note: Some units move regularly; these lists are often out-dated within a few days of being published. It has prove to be impossible to keep them updated.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cruising for Tacos: Beechnut

Ziggy Smogdust and I have been tossing about the idea of a taco truck tour of the Southwest side. By way of reconnaissance I made a trek back and forth on Beechnut recently, from 59 to Highway 6, making note of everything available. I travel that way frequently, or at least part of it, and knew there were several but had never stopped at any nor made a list.

I found several new or very recent arrivals and passed along my list to Ziggy. I hit a couple of the units with only so-so results; Ziggy hit a couple and seems to have found a real winner.

One of the things Ziggy likes to pay attention to is whether the place does a good business or never has any customers but we've found that's not always a reliable indicator. I like to look for less common items on the menu - everybody does fajita, pollo, al pastor - but I look for things like lengua, chicharron, maybe tripas, chivo, mollejas. I like a place that does platillos, maybe enchiladas, in addition to the usual tacos, burritos, quesadillas and tortas. I also like a place that has some good naca items like the chips locos or pambazos I found recently at Taqueria Tariacuria. None of these indicators is a reliable guide to greatness, obviously; a place that does nothing but the basics that would appeal to gringos may do them very well.

The reports:

I stopped at Taqueria Barrio Alto en estilo Tierra Caliente, a truck I'd never seen before and the last one I noted, in a strip center parking lot at the corner of Beechnut and Club Creek, just inside the Beltway. I noted the menu included enchiladas but I ordered just a tripitas taco and a chorizo taco. The tripitas were chewy, with no crispiness; not bad but not as great as the tripas tacos at El Ultimo. The chorizo unfortunately was charred to a crisp, burnt and very bitter. This one didn't impress me much but I may stop again for the enchiladas.

(Tripitas on the top, chorizo on the bottom). NOTE: This unit has disappeared; there is now a Honduran bus parked there. See the post on International Mobile Vendors.

A day or so later I went to try Pollos y Tacos El Celaya, a very new, large trailer I had spotted beside a mechanic's shop at Beechnut and Kirkwood. I had never seen this one before and noted on the side they had pierna and cabeza de puerco, two very uncommon items, in addition to pollos asados and the usual taco meats. Alas, the menu in the window had cabeza de puerco crossed out and cabeza de res penciled in. It was okay but the pierna was better; I've only had this a couple of times before but this was the best I'd ever had.

Pierna on the left. This one had a table set up beside the trailer and one of the senoras brought out a folding chair for me to sit in; such amenities are seldom encountered at taco trucks.

Note: this trailer disappeared and has never been seen again.

Meanwhile Ziggy set out to try Tacos Mayra, a truck parked just about a block west of the Beltway on Beechnut that has been there a long time and is frequently very busy. I've pulled in to try this one before but found no place to park so went elsewhere. Unfortunately Ziggy found this one disappointing, the al pastor in particular being gristly and tough. This one may do a big business because it sits in front of a washateria.

Ziggy also tried Alex Mexican Grill, a large trailer on Beechnut @ Leawood, a very recent arrival on the scene. It sits in front of Alex Carniceria and there is also another Alex mobile unit in the parking lot, although not open. This one appears to be a winner. I made it over here myself a few days later and tried the al pastor and longaniza. A carhop comes to your car to take your order; a loud speaker serenades you while you dine. The menu is short but the al pastor is excellent, loaded with flavor. The longaniza (I would have called it chorizo if it hadn't been labeled) was a little dry but very flavorful and spicy. The salsa verde is excellent with a lot of heat. I really liked the accompaniments: grilled onion and nopal, radish and cucumber, plus onions and cilantro, of course. The menu includes suadero and campechano. I'll be back.

The others on my list:

Tacos Pacos - a wagon located 1 block w. of Gessner @ La Roche; it's been there a long time but is seldom busy, I noted Chivo and Cesina on the menu in the window.

Tacos Pacos - actually on Club Creek, just south of Beechnut - been there a long time, frequently busy but the last several times I've been by that way it has not been open.

I've found a third location of Tacos Pacos on Harwin @ Allday, about half way between Fondren and Gessner. A review is forthcoming soon.

Taqueria Puro Michoacan
- on Club Creek, ½ block s. of Beechnut, relatively new to this location.

Melissa’s Corn
- Beechnut @ Corporate, been there a long time

Note: Some units move regularly; these lists are often out-dated within a few days of being published. It has proved to be impossible to keep them updated.

El Mapache

Ziggy Smogdust has been telling me for some time of the great tacos at El Mapache and when he recently sent me this picture.....

I had to go.

Ziggy goes to the El Mapache III at Gulfton and Renwick but in my rovings around southwest Houston I've spotted another one at Richmond and Dunvale, so I headed over to that one - El Mapache El No. 1. Good barbacoa; worth the stop. Thanks, Ziggy.

UPDATE: The unit on Richmond has been replaced with one named El Tepache # III that I haven't tried. I've been to the one on Gulfton several times for the tacos, though, and their special torta, Torta a la Mapache - thin steak, grilled onions, mushrooms, melted cheese (jack?) and mayo. Just $5.

UPDATE: The El Mapache on Gulfton @ Renwick has moved a half block west; there is a unit labeled # 4 parked at Renwick @ Dashwood, just a block off of Bellaire..

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thankful for....Barbecue!

Recently a small group decided to have a little get together to taste and compare some barbecue offerings from various places. We decided to have it on the Saturday after Thanksgiving so that Airon, who grew up in Houston but now lives in Dallas, would be able to attend. At one time there were going to be 6 of us plus a little one but illness and other appointments left us with just 3 adults, Howard of Houston, Airon and myself, plus one little one.

We knew that we wanted to include Boogie's, a trailer on W. Bellfort that several of us are very high on, and hoped to include Pierson's, widely thought of by many as the best in town right now. The holiday weekend, however, found several of our best known and most notable barbecue joints closed, including Pierson's, Thelma's and Virgie's.

We had read good things about Galvan's Sausage House on 90A in Richmond and Pizzitola's, which has won best in the city from the Press in the past, was also open, so those were our choices. We purposely wanted to keep the group small and the number of vendors at no more than four. We wanted to sample the trinity - sliced brisket, ribs and sausage - from each.

We gathered at a public park on the Southwest side, about equidistant from Pizzitola's and Galvan's but very close to Boogie's, for our feast.

After much fretting over the details for days one important item went unmentioned and Howard was the only one who thought to show up with a pencil and some paper to take notes about our judgments so what I have to say at this point is rather general. My brain and stomach were quite busy dealing with such a protein overload and I've been having trouble remembering the details of our observations; hopefully Howard and Air will add their comments here or if they post on their own sites, I'll link to those discussions.

Boogie's Brisket

Pizzitola's Brisket

Galvan's Brisket

The clear winner was Boogie's, moist and tender with good smoke flavor (pecan and oak) and rub plus bark. Second place in my opinion went to Pizzitola's and I think the other's concurred; it was less tender and juicy but had good smoke flavor (hickory); the rub and bark were a little lacking. Galvan's suffered from having been dispensed from a steam table which had ruined the bark, making it pasty; it was the least tender of the three and had the least interesting rub and smoke profile (pecan and oak, again). All three, however, were judged better than any of the chain outlets in Houston.

Ribs, clockwise from 11 o'clock, Galvan's, Boogie's, Pizzitola's

Another angle

Despite all the shutter clicking that went on I do not have any good close-ups of the three rib entries so these wide shots will have to suffice. The picture tells the story, no? Once again Boogie's was the clear winner, although I thought the ribs were just a bit too loose on the bone; I've had better ribs from Boogie's. Both Pizzitola's and Galvan's served St. Louis style with the rib tips removed, which is much less appealing to me. The overall rankings were the same as for the brisket. Pizzitola cooks over direct heat, leaving the ribs a little dry for my taste and they weren't tender enough. Galvan's were even drier and less tender.

Boogie's pork and beef sausage, home-made

Pizzitola's sausage, V & V brand, pork and beef

Galvan's sausage, their own creation, beef

A sausage tasting plate

I am a sausage-aholic and something of an advocate for Texas sausage makers; I love the coarse grind, smoked sausages that Texas sausage makers specialize in and I love Boogie's creation, made from their own recipe. The more I've had it, the more I've become convinced it's their best offering (they also do a very good boudin which they make themselves). It may well belong in my Top Five of Texas smoked sausages, a group that also would include Louis Mueller's in Taylor, Austin's in Eagle Lake, Black's in Lockhart and City Market in Luling. That bias was only confirmed by this comparison; I've been a fan of the sausage at Pizzitola's ever since I first tasted it and it's very good, but Boogie's very clearly outshines it. This was the general consensus of our group as I recall.

Overall, Boogie's was the clear winner, followed by Pizzitola's, then Galvan's as I recall our conclusions. As stated with regard to the brisket above, however, we all would choose any of these places over any of the chains in Houston.

A note: I don't know why the pictures of Boogie's brisket and sausage above got arrayed vertically; that's not the way they appear on my computer. I'll try to correct that.

We all three are card-carrying members of the Good-Texas-Barbecue-Don't-Need-No-Sauce League but we did sample the sauces from all three places. I don't care at all for either Boogie's or Galvan's, too dark and bold, overpowering the meats in my opinion. I did find the thinner, simpler, less bold sauce from Pizzitola's more to my liking, should I ever want to add sauce to some of this cue.


After noshing and chatting for a couple of hours, then dividing up the scant left-overs (there was very little of Boogie's sausage left), Howard and I made a little trek down to Boogie's to tell them our findings and to ask a burning question that has been bugging both of us since we first learned Boogie's is going to be moving to a brick-and-mortar operation: what will the cooking arrangement be? Will the wood-fired smoker inside that little trailer be abandoned and a gas-fired cooker used????? Inquiring and worried minds wanted to know.

We met with Carlos, one of the operators of Boogie's, who is originally from the north side of Houston and has been cooking for 38 years, complimented him on his wares and advised him of our findings, then popped the question. The answer was a great relief: a pit for the new location is being custom built right now and will be exclusively wood-fired, no gas.

The city has given it's okay for the new location and the trailer will be moved in the next couple of weeks to 8035 W. Airport, # 115, in a strip center that includes a car wash. Operations will continue with limited hours and days of service out of the trailer for the time being from the new location while the building itself is fitted out.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Three Colombian Places

There are two dozen Colombian restaurants listed on and I guess I've been to about a dozen Colombian places over the past several years, several not listed there. This report includes two not listed.

Marine's Empanadas, 3227 Hillcroft @ Richmond

I guess Marine's has been around for at least 20 years but I've never been until recently. When I first heard about the place it was unfavorably compared to Marini's Original Empanada House (Argentinian), which I like a lot, and since Hillcroft has been an overcrowded street that I have endeavored to avoid for a long time, I wrote Marine's off. This was not a good judgment on my part. Marine's is very comparable to Marini's and I suspect that on individual items each has a few offerings that are better than the other's versions.

On my first visit I had an empanada just labeled beef - ground beef and fried onions - and Viva Mexico - mozzarella with chile poblano. I liked the thinner crust at Marine's vs. Marini's and unlike every other Colombian place I've been to, Marine's makes their empanadas with a wheat flour based dough rather than corn based, making them even more comparable to Marini's.

The beef empanada is similar to Marini's Gaucho, one of my favorites, but was rather bland as Colombian empanadas usually are. I had read just recently that you're supposed to get your spice kick with Colombian empanadas from the sauces and on that first visit I got two, aji, a lime jello green colored concoction with quite a bit of heat, and chimichurri, a much milder but not bland sauce. Both were great. I couldn't decide which I liked better of the two empanadas.

I went back for a second visit soon after and wasn't quite as pleased by the Demichelli and Poblana Sabrosa. On this visit I just got the chimichurri sauce. The Demichelli is another one of my favorites at Marini's and this version was not as good; I think there are a few more ingredients in the one at Marini's, yielding a little more complexity for the taste buds; this one was avocado, mushrooms (canned I think) and mozzarella.

The Poblana Sabrosa is chicken with mole sauce and spices. I think it was a jarred mole and not very interesting and the spices very muted. I wouldn't order this one again but there are 48 varieties of empanadas listed so there is more to explore.

Besides the empanadas Marine's is a bakery and small restaurant serving Platos Tipicos Colombianos, including Bandeja Paisa, Sancocho de Cola on Tuesdays, Lomo de cerdo, Bistec de Higado which is liver, etc. I've only tried one of the meringue cookies but the baked goods look very appealing.

I couldn't help but notice the large sign board advertising their holiday special dishes, Lechona, Pavo Relleno, Tamales and Pernil. These are special order items and the Pavo Relleno apparently involves a whole bird. When I inquired about the Lechona on another visit I got a negative shake of the head as a response but the tamale was available after a short wait so I was happy to try that.

This was baked rather than steamed or boiled, I think, and had developed a little carmelization of the masa which added an interesting dimension of texture and flavor; this was excellent. There was stewed chicken, white and dark meat, boiled potatoes and peas included. I have been fascinated by these sorts of tamales, common in several Central and South American countries, since first reading about them and this was definitely a winner. The only negative were some bones, which didn't make their appearance until very late, by which time I had concluded that all bones had been removed. It is common in countries other than the US of course for meats to be cooked and served bone-in, even in something like a tamale (or even a taco). The Colombian tamale I had a Las Delicias included a whole chicken drumstick, bone in. On one of my last bites of this one I discovered several small bones, probably from the thigh, as well as a larger bone in the last piece of white meat. Not really a problem - just be advised. I'd gladly have one of these again.

El Paisa BBQ, 9360 Richmond

Despite the name this place doesn't serve what Texans would call barbecue; rather there are grilled meats on the menu. It's a small, former hamburger drive-thru restaurant similar to the Rally's and Checkers chains that appeared here briefly; the drive-thrus are not used, it's strictly walk-up business now with a concrete table the only dine-on-site option.

The menu on the side of the building lists numerous street foods of Colombia including chunchurria and boje, neither of which are on the menu posted at the window and for which I have not been able to find any description. In three visits I've never encountered anyone who speaks more than a few words of English but the menu in the window includes English translations of all the entries.

On a visit a couple of years ago, when I was first becoming acquainted with Colombian food, I tried the Bandeja Paisa, the traditional combo plate, chica version. There was a very tasty if quite small piece of skirt steak, an egg, pintos instead of the more common red beans, a large portion of white rice, an awesome chorizo and chicharron that was overcooked and barely chewable. I was most impressed with the chorizo which remains to this day the spiciest and tastiest example of that Colombian sausage I've experienced.

Colombiana is a cream soda and if I recall correctly it was included in the price of the meal which I think was $6.

Recently I decided to try this place again and had the chuzos, described on the menu as 'schizcabob,' with generous sized cubes of pork sirloin, grilled with a little chimichurri sauce, a roasted new potato and lemon. Roasted or boiled potatoes are served with several other items here, I think, instead of fries.

This was a little dry but not bad, a very satisfactory street snack.

I am not a big hot dog eater and Houston is not fertile ground for hot dog afficionados but when I saw the Choriperros on the menu at El Paisa, I had to try it; it's described as a Colombian sausage on a bun and remembering the great chorizo I had had here a couple of years ago I had to give it a try. Some of the toppings here are similar to those on the Venezuelan hot dog I had recently at Sabor Venezolano, crushed potato chips, mayo, ketchup, I thought there was some shredded cabbage and carrot, but the big surprise was the very sweet substance, the yellowish liquid apparent in the little blob of toppings that had fallen off the sandwich. It obviously was pineapple, though I didn't detect any bits of pineapple. A check with Wiki reveals that pineapple juice is indeed a common topping for hot dogs in Bogota.

This by itself would take some getting used to but unfortunately the chorizo itself was the biggest disappointment, cooked completely dry and very tasteless. I can now say that the best and worst examples of Colombian chorizo I've had in Houston were both at this place.

Besides the Choriperros the menu also includes a Paisaperros, described as a Colombian hot dog, and probably using a salchicha; the menu also includes salchipappas which is salchicha, a knockwurst like, fine ground meat sausage, and potatoes, topped with a sauce that, guessing from the picture, is a combination of mayo and ketchup.

There are 4 other Colombian restaurants within a couple of blocks of El Paisa (Mi Pueblito, Dodo's, La Cazuelas, and La Gran Sorpresa), none of which I've been to, plus Blue Nile, a bakery which appears to be African, and other eateries. I've also seen a wagon labeled Los Perros on several occasions and once managed to catch it just pulling in and talked to the driver. There is a picture of a hot dog on the side and he said they serve hot dogs, hamburgers, kabobs and one other item but don't open until 5pm. There are signs prohibiting u-turns in the evening hours along the median so I'm guessing there's a pretty active night scene along here.

La Casa del Pan, 11322C Fondren (at West Bellfort)

During the sweltering summer of '09, I got to where all I went out for was to grab something close by and dash back home to eat it. I tried a number of places very close to home which I'd never tried before including this little family-run restaurant and bakery in a rather run down shopping center.

It was very plain on the inside with a small menu and very small bakery display case (I think mostly it's special order?); the proprietor was very friendly.

I got a couple of empanadas, a yuca rellena and pandebono which were ready-to-eat from a display case and not good and hot and fresh, unfortunately. All were made with yuca/casava flour, which I don't like as much as masa or wheat flour, but the empanadas and rellena did have a tasty filling of ground meat and potatoes which still had some toothsomeness which I appreciated; sometimes the filling on items like this are cooked to a paste and not as interesting. The pandebono, the ringy thingy, includes cheese in the dough. I think you're supposed to eat that with hot chocolate.

I thought that didn't look like enough to eat so got the chorizo with arepa, which they made fresh for me. The chorizo was an excellent, exceptionally juicy (read: fatty) sausage, coarse ground, reminding me of a good andouille, but very salty. As has been the case at every Colombian eatery I've asked, they claim to make their own. They threw in a little of their slaw?, a wilted cabbage salad with a thin slice of roma tomato and cucumber; it was very sour - I liked it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Saffron Kabob House

Saffron Persian Cafe on Hillcroft @ Harwin has become Saffron Kabob Houe and added an Afghan menu while retaining most if not all of the Persian menu.

The Afghan menu closely parallels that of Afghan Cuisine on Highway 6 in Sugar Land which, by the way, I recently revisited and enjoyed. There is an update of my review of that restaurant here and my old review of Saffron Persian Cafe is here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Guatemalan Mobile Vendors

While trying to get around a big traffic tie-up on Hillcroft I happened on a cluster of Guatemalan mobile units along Windswept between Hillcroft and the 59 feeder and at least one on Greenridge. There were at least five and maybe a couple of others.

I haven't tried any of them yet but plan to.

They have been added to the International Roll Call.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fritanga Nica anniversary

I got a nice comment from Confession of a Computer Tech about the one year anniversary of Fritanga Nica this Saturday. I first discovered this restaurant a year ago and enjoyed it so much I blogged about it and got it listed on b4 so I could post there, too. I haven't been back in about 9 months but I've noted comments elsewhere that they've added the thing I most wanted to try on my first visit, the nacatamale.

Nice to know they're thriving (they've even drawn some competition). I've been meaning to get back out there but I'm such a fickle foodie I'm constantly looking for something new. I'll be looking forward to checking out the new website, too.

You can read my one year old review and the comment telling about the celebration here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Couple of Venezuelan Places

Deli’s Café, 2950 S. Mason Rd @ Cinco Ranch Blvd, Katy

I’ve been interested in sampling Venezuelan cuisine lately and heard about this little place in Katy-zuela but it took me some time to identify and locate. It’s a funny name for a place; I presume the name of the owner is Deli. It's at a Shell station right up the street on Mason Rd. from Marini's Original Empanada House. The latter is Argentinian but Deli's is Venezuelan - apparently Katy is home to quite a few South Americans. You'd never know it until you see the menu but except for hamburgers (beef and chicken) and a Desayuno Americano, everything on the menu is Venezuelan.

I tried an Empanada de Cazon (shark) and a Pastelito con Queso Blanco. Unfortunately like most of the other Venezuelan places I've tried they were cooked in advance and kept warm. They were both good and warm but the empanada was really tough, having dried out too much, I guess, and tasting too much of the grease it was fried in. The shark was minced and the filling like the stuffing for deviled crab and I would have been hard pressed to identify it as shark if the menu hadn't said that's what it was. I was hoping for chunks. This is my first experience of the cazon and I've since found out it's prepared that way at Tuttopane. The pastelito was better, not as greasy tasting, a lighter dough than Marini's Argentinian empanadas.

They have a pretty full menu of typical Venezuelan food including some platos. Starting late in October and through the holiday season they will be offering hallacas, Venezuelan meat and vegetable stuffed tamales, plus Plato Navidad, which is described as tamale, pork, chicken salad and ham bread?

The place is very plainly decorated but clean; the staff was friendly and helpful and they were doing a good business when I was there in early afternoon.

Update: they now have a website.

Tuttopane, Artisan Bakery and Café, 13525 Westheimer, between Eldridge and 6.

This is one of three places listed as Venezuelan on b4 but it's a bakery with strong Continental, especially Italian, influences and a small lunch room with mostly Venezuelan items. I’ve stopped by three times.

On my first I had a cheese arepa, like a pupusa made with an arepa. About the size of the bottom half of a large hamburger bun with queso de mano, a fresh mozzarella like cheese. I wanted to try one with just the cheese but next time I'd get one of the meats as it was kind of boring; the cheese was not melted. What I did like was the arepa; all the ones I’ve had here have been nicely grilled to crisp them up which adds considerably to their appeal. I added a little Montauk's West Indian Salsa Flambeau before reading the label and seeing that it was made with scotch bonnet peppers. That livened things up considerably.

The pastries look interesting as did a boule of whole wheat bread; they had ready-made empanadas and pastelitos (the former made with corn flour, the latter with wheat - both can have savory fillings), plus a 'kolache' in a huge croissant and a Chilean empanada (baked, with ground meat). The cachapa is described as a corn pancake and can have various toppings for $6.50. The arepa was $3.95. They have sodas, including several South American sodas, and coffees. The sell several Venezuelan cheeses and other items. A very pleasant fellow welcomed all of my questions.

I stopped off a second time when I was out that way and tried a pastelito and an empanada.. The pastelito dough that is very much like a light, fried pie, round, about the size of the lid of a quart mayo jar but not quite as thick, a thin disk in appearance. The chicken breast was minced. I liked the dough actually a little better than the filling which didn't wow me but the whole thing tasted a little of stale cooking oil, leaving a little bitter taste in my mouth.

The empanada was much better, a corn meal dough, much like what is used on corn dogs, and larger than those from Sabor Venezolano (and less greasy). It was not fresh out of the fryer but was still very good and warm. He had only 2 varieties, one with beef, one with cheese. The beef was their version of Carne Mechada and I liked it better than Sabor Venezolano, also. The aroma which burst forth when I first bit into it was part of the reason. I remember being surprised after trying one of these at the truck to read that they were made with stewed, shredded skirt steak as I thought what I had was probably brisket flat. This was more likely skirt steak and had a beefier flavor and I liked the tougher, even slightly stringy texture better.

I also tried the Almond Tejas, which means shingle or tile. Very good.

On a third visit I tried the Pabellon Criollo, one of only two platos on their menu. This is supposed to be the Venezuelan national dish - Carne Mechado (shredded beef), caroatas negras (black beans), arroz, plantanos maduros, This is the first time I’ve tried this dish and I was a little disappointed; I didn’t think the carne mechada was as good this time as the time I had it in the empanada and the guasacaca - Venezuelan guacamole sauce - was not as rich and creamy as at the Sabor Venelozano truck.

I have yet to try any of their other pastries or large selection of cookies (Italian inspired) but they look very good. You can check them out for yourself in the gallery section of the website. They have Italian bread and baguettes ready to go every day as I understand it, other breads are special order, although they do have some out for display.

Every time I’ve been there they’ve had a steady stream of customers but all for take-out, I’ve been the only one to dine-in.


In addition to these two, I’ve had Venezuelan fare at Sabor Venezolano, the mobile vendor at Westheimer at Crossview, and at Arepas y Empanadas Dona Maria, a trailer in downtown Humble (both of these reported on in the International Roll Call of our mobile food vendors) and at the short-lived Pana’s Café on Scarsdale. I have yet to go to Miguelito’s. The best empanadas I’ve had were at Pana’s and Dona Maria’s, although the filling at the latter was not very impressive. They were the only ones who made the empanadas fresh to order instead of having them ready in advance.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Boogie's BBQ Now Open in New Location

UPDATE AS OF APRIL 15, 2010. The move has taken place and they are now open at the new location, 8035 W. Airport, # 115, but for the time being they are still cooking on the trailer. That means there's been no change in the quality of the Q, but hours have greatly expanded. The sign on the door says they're open from 10 - 8p Tuesday thru Thursday, until 10pm on Friday and Saturday, and from 12 to 5pm on Sunday. However, on their profile on they says they're closed Sunday and Monday. Call before driving over. There's also an expanded menu including hamburgers and more. There is no dining on premises but I did get a great burger with hand-formed patty there.

A few weeks back I had noticed a sign in a strip center on W. Airport that Boogie's BBQ would be coming soon. I stopped off today at the trailer on W. Bellfort and got the scoop. I was told the move will be 'as soon as the City okays the permits.'

The new Boogie's will be a sit-down restaurant and will be open more days per week - that's good news. It'll be in the 8500 block of W. Airport which is about midway between S. Gessner and S. Fondren; that's only about a half mile off the South Belt at the Gessner exit. It's a little bit farther away from me but still very convenient. I'll look forward to the opening and I hope none of the good things about their Q gets lost as they transition from that little wagon to a fixed pit location. There are folks who think their ribs are the best in the city and I think their home made pork and beef sausage is among the best 2 or 3 in the city; they're the best Q I know of on the SW side.

The man at the pit today told me he is from the North side of Houston and has been cooking for 38 years; the owner is from Chicago and has been cooking for 20 years. The guy hopes to be able to convince the owner to add a few more sides and desserts when they get settled in the new location.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chapinlandia Bakery (Variedades)

6711 Rampart, just north of Bellaire

This is a new place - a small convenience store and bakery with a steam table breakfast and lunch in a mostly unoccupied, very new strip center. Chapina is a nickname for the people of Guatemala. The business card says Pan Calientito y Pasteles Frescos todos los dias.

On my first visit everything on the steam table except the refritos negros looked pretty good - Pepian de Pollo, Guisado de Puerco and fajitas. I went for the first, a large, split chicken breast in the Mayan/Mexican mole Pepian, made with pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

This was a take-out meal I wish I'd gone to the trouble to plate for a more appealing presentation, to do it more justice. It was a very enjoyable meal; the mole was a bit thin and the chicken not as tender as I would have liked, but the vegetables in the mole, carrots, potatoes and green beans, were very good. I could have eaten a vegetarian version of this with just the vegetables, I think. The vegetables in the rice repeated those in the mole, diced carrots and green beans, and, again, the second side, which was a real surprise when I got home and opened the container - more carrots and green beans, stewed but not overcooked, served chilled in crema. This was not on the steam table and actually the hit of the plate, partially because I was relieved not to have gotten any of the refritos.

I also got their version of a chuchita, a snack tamale. In 4 of the 6 Guatemalan restaurants I've eaten at in Houston, it's usually larger than a Tex-Mex tamale, as large as the Mexico City type tamales at Dona Tere, but this was the size of a roma tomato. It seemed baked rather than steamed and was dry enough to pick up barehanded and eat, more like an empanada than a tamale. The tamale as finger food - a new one on me. The filling was tender stewed chicken breast and potato in a mild red salsa.

The salsa in the separate container was a dark brick red color and rather bitter, with a heat that faded very quickly. I couldn't identify the taste but perhaps it was the chiltepe or chiltepin which is said to be the most commonly used chile pepper in Guatemala. I'm not sure what it was supposed to be used on, perhaps the chuchita, although it was in the bag with the combo plate and I didn't get any the next time I got chuchitas.

The tortillas were handmade, fresh, thicker than Mexican corn tortillas.

On a second visit nothing on the steam table looked very appealing so I went for a tamale. I asked if it was a tamale colorado or tamale negro and I thought the server said 'black,' (very little English is spoken) so imagine my surprise when I got home. I think what she must've said was blanca, meaning a tamale made from white corn meal. This had a filling of stewed chicken breast and was very good. Guatemalan tamales sometimes include vegetables, raisins and nuts in addition to meats; this one had one solitary raisin.

The signs and menu indicate tamales and chuchitas are available every day but there were no chuchitas left by the time I got there on this occasion. I also tried some of their cookies - meringues and a peanut butter cookie, which were good.

On a third visit I just tried more of the chuchitas (there were no full size tamales); they were not as good as the first time and a little messier to try to pick up as finger food.

The business card also says Desayunos y Platillos Differentes Todos los Dias and that's the problem - with the varying steam table menu you don't know what's going to be available any given day. I'd certainly have the Pepian de Pollo again and I'd like to try the Guisado de Puerco but other dishes have not looked that good. There are some small tables for dining in and apparently real dinner ware is used. Desayunos are $3.49, platillos $4.99, chuchitas $1.50, tamales $3. There is apparently a $.50 charge for take-out.

Communication has not really been a problem and the staff has been very friendly.

The Pepian de Pollo inspired me to revisit Restaurante Guatemala which I had been to only once, just before Ike. I liked the mole itself better at that restaurant but the sides were better at Chapinlandia. I've updated the Guatemala review with a picture on the side bar.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pupusa Buffet - ?

5920-G Bellaire, esquina con Renwick

There are now several locations of this restaurant.

'Un Nuevo Concepto en Pupuseria' the business card says. I saw this and had to try it to find out what was up. A smallish place, very cramped inside, in a very new strip center amidst all that development along Bellaire. The sign on the building also says Cocina Latina so perhaps there was another restaurant in that space previously.

I wondered how the concept of pupusas off a buffet would jibe with Salvadoran pride in the fact their national treat is made fresh by hand? You pay up front, get a plate and go through a short line; it's not really a buffet, pupusas are dished out from covered bins by a server, then you help yourself to curtido and salsa (picante and no picante). There may have been refritos available, too, from the server but I didn't notice them. I expected them to be in the self-serve containers. Drinks are extra; tamales and I think tostones are also available for extra too.

You can see the pupuseras in the kitchen, as many as three at a time when I was there, patting out the pupusas which are held until needed, then cooked and passed to the front, so the time from raw dough to finished product to ready-to-eat product on your plate is not long, at least when the place is busy (it's been packed both times I've been there; in fact the first time I just peeked in and left as there were no seats available).

The curtido was crisp, well chilled, very vinegary, a little spicy, very good. I used so little of the salsa picante I didn't get enough of a taste.

I pointed to a pork and cheese bin; the server, who spoke no English (the cashier spoke good English) motioned to the pork/cheese/bean ones instead and I went with that, plus ayote y queso (squash). I don't know if there's a limit on how many you can order or if you can go back for seconds - that was all I wanted.

The pupusas weren't bad - there wasn't much pork in the first one but it was flavorful enough; the cheese and squash one was my favorite, plenty of cheese - I don't think I've ever had a vegetable pupusa before.

Unfortunately both were too soggy, both from the steaming effect of being in the covered bin a few minutes and from the juice of the curtido. It was impossible to pick them up and eat them out of hand as pupusas are supposed to be consumed, but that's a problem at many pupuserias anyway. Plastic ware is available although I had to search for the dispensers.

This is an interesting concept, useful perhaps if you're in a hurry and don't want to have to wait for table service at one of the numerous pupuserias in the immediate vicinity (4 that I know of). I was surprised to see it so busy both times given the proximity of other choices but convenience counts I guess. Both pupusas were certainly more flavorful than the frozen ones you can get at the supermarket.

Maybe they need to consider removing the covers from the bins on the steam table so the pupusas don't get steamed while waiting to be served?

The 'buffet' was $4.99, a tamarindo agua fresca was $1 extra.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Slavic Heritage Festival

Our Lady of Czestochowa Catholic Church, 1731 Blalock

I didn't make it to the first annual Polish Harvest Festival on September 12 but did get to the 46th Annual Slavic Heritage Festival the next day at the same location. Poland was the host country for the Heritage Festival this year and so far as I know the food was the same both days.

It was a rather small festival but a good crowd had gathered as I was leaving, just before noon. The lady next to the car in the foreground is wearing some traditional garb as is the child behind her. The colorful, large handmade flowers adorning the brow of one of the hay bales were also all over the festival grounds attached to poles like those visible here. The building to the right is the brand new, unfinished Pope John Paul II Parish Hall, the cornerstone for which was being dedicated as I was leaving.

The booths on the right included the Polish American Congress plus Croat, Ukraininian, Czech and Polish booths, then there were some handicrafts booths on both sides of the walkway. The food stands - the most important part - were directly ahead.

The line at the Polish food booth was long and there was only one lady working it; when I found out the Golabki had not yet arrived, I decided to go for the Ukrainian plate instead. The Polish booth was serving sausage and meat ball sandwiches on what was probably the lepinja from the Balkan grocery store, plus pierogi, which I never got a look at. They also had some plates of festive cookies, wrapped and tied with a ribbon that looked good but I didn't want to stand in line for just that.

The Ukrainian booth had three ladies putting the plates together plus one taking the money and moved much more quickly. For $8 you got 4 pirohy (mashed potato and cheese filling) with a very mild sour cream topping, onions, a cabbage roll (rice and beef), a portion of sausage and some sauerkraut, underneath the roll (which I'd guess was store bought). The menu said the Polish pierogi would be topped with fried onions but these were not fried; the sausage was very good, mostly fine ground beef and a little pork, I think, natural casing, very juicy. I didn't think it was the kielbasa I've had at Polonia nor bought at the Polish grocery store just down the street so I asked the lady and she said it was Eddy's, from Sam's Club! She said they all like it. Eddy's is based in Yoakum which is near Praha, the first Polish settlement in Texas, and all the famous painted churches, so perhaps there is some Slavic heritage in Eddy's background (the website doesn't mention it). The sauerkraut was very mild, with minced carrots and caramelized onions; I've bought a product called Sauerkraut Salad at the Polish grocery store that was like this although the onions were not at all caramelized in that product. It was a modest amount of food but good. The sauerkraut and sausage were the hits of the plate; the Polish place was supposed to offer 3 different pierogi including a mushroom and sauerkraut and a sausage one so I was a little disappointed but I assume there's something like that on the restaurant menu and I've been meaning to go there again, soon.

The barbecue booth was also doing a good business, though not as long a line as the Polish booth. They were dispensing Pilsner Urquell on draft and had some other bottled beers, I think. You could also get that traditional Slavic accompaniment to go with a good cold one, nacho chips.

I went back to the Ukrainian booth to get some pastries to go, a Poppy Seed Torte and a slice of a log called Karpaty. The lady said everything (except the sausage, obviously) at the Ukraininan booth was homemade. The poppy seed torte was very good, with a lemony icing with a hint of some fruit. The Karpaty - the name for the Carpathian Mountains in Slovak, Czech, Polish and Ukrainian- had cherries and cream cheese as the main ingredients.

There was also another table with lots of pastries and kolaches advertised, though I didn't see any of the latter. I wanted to get some of the Cernik, the Polish version of cheesecake made from a type of fresh cheese but I thought it didn't look like anything special so I passed.

I had wanted to get a plate of Bigos to go but the line at the Polish booth was longer than ever and there appeared to still be only one person trying to do it all (and getting lots of questions).

Admission was $3 which included the program which included some informative articles on Czechs, Poles, Croats and Ukrainians in Texas and Houston.

This was the west end of the church in the festival courtyard with the stage on the right, food tents and booths off to the left. I didn't remember to get a picture of the entrance to the church.

This was one of the crafts booths.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Taqueria Tariacuri

A taco truck located on Fondren, just north of Harwin
This unit has disappeared, replaced by another taco truck I haven't tried.

I spotted this one on my way up to Sabor Venezolano, the Venezuelan truck on Westheimer at Crossview, and had to circle around for a second look. I thought I saw something about Puerto Rico on the side of the truck and I would love to find some Puerto Rican street food in Houston. I don't know what I thought I saw out of the corner of my eye but it's a Mexican taco truck all the way; Tariacuri is a small town in Michoacan.

A look at the menu did reveal some interesting offerings however and I went back a couple of days later to try a Pambazo.

Pambazos are a type of dipped Mexican sandwich and there aren't many places that I know of in Houston that offer them. I saw a roll, not a baguette, dipped in a tub of guajillo pepper sauce but saw no more of the preparation. When it was presented, the roll was dry and manageable as a sandwich and I thought perhaps it had been baked. The filling was simple, diced, grilled chicken, lettuce and tomato, avocado, a little queso and crema or mayo, I think, but no refritos or some of the other ingredients usually included on a torta. I've only had a Pambazo at one other place here, Mexico's Deli on Dairy Ashford. Usually I have nothing but praise for their sandwiches but the pambazo there was humongous, enough for three servings, soggy and unmanageable as a sandwich, and the main ingredient, Milanesa, was tough and needed a knife to cut. I like this simple Pambazo at Tariacuri much better.

I also tried a Toquere, a thick corn tortilla (a tlacoyo like used for gorditas and huaraches), spread with refritos and topped with queso and crema and a salsa verde then toasted on a grill until the queso melted. Mine didn't look anywhere near as good as the one pictured on the truck and was just okay.

Another item on the menu that looked interesting was Chips Locos under the Antojitos section, a bag of Fritos that appeared to have onions and salsa added. I saw this being prepared for another customer and it looked like pickled onions were used.

A few days later I went back to try another Pambazo and the Chips Locos. There are no prices posted but there is a note in the window that the Pambazo con Chorizo y Papas is on special for just $3. This is a classic Pambazo, Choripapas for short. This time I saw the roll being held over an open flame after coming out of the guajillo sauce; flames leapt up around the roll and when they died down, it was placed on the grill to toast on both sides. The sandwich was another simple one, just diced potatoes, a very bland chorizo, lettuce, tomato, etc. I had guessed before that they use slightly stale rolls for this since presumably they would absorb less of the sauce and toast up better and that was very apparent on this visit as the roll was very stale. The predominant taste was the potatoes and I was disappointed in the stale bread and bland chorizo but again I found this simple sandwich satisfying.

The girl working the truck by herself that day apparently had no idea what Chips Locos was and I left without it but returned a few days later just to try it as a snack. It turned out what I thought were pickled onions being added to the Fritos for the Chips Locos were actually pickled pig skins - cueritos. Along with some lime, that appears to be all there is to the dish; there are three salsas available in squeeze bottles at the truck but for this you are handed a bottle of Valentina Hot Sauce to add to your heart's content. I have since learned this dish seems to be more commonly made with Doritos rather than Fritos and is considered a Naca treat, as are Pambazos and especially the Pambazo Choripapas. Loosely translated, Naca means country bumpkin or 'trailer trash.'

They also offer a Tostada con cueritos.

On another visit I tried a Gordita and a taco. There is no listing of meats available but apparently all they have are 'beef, chicken and pork.' I got a beef gordita and a pork taco (the girl at the window confirmed this was al pastor).

The pork was very tender and flavorful although there was no evidence of pineapple. The meat in the gordita, however, was very gristly. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be fajita or guisado; it looked more like the latter. I've grown really fond of the looser texture of the tlacoyo as opposed to tortillas but I think I'll stick to the pork and chicken options here.

Besides the items I've tried there are burritos, platillos, quesadillas, tortas (Hawaiiana, Campechana, Cubano), tostadas de cameron and coktel de cameron, plus enchiladas con huilotes or con patitas de puerco en vinagre. It's not often you encounter quail on a Houston taco truck. Prices tend to be a little higher than most taco trucks; the al pastor taco was apparently $1.75.

The place has had customers every time I've been by, frequently several standing around waiting.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gone but not forgotten - Sandwiches

I've been feeling rather nostalgic lately.

The Patacones at the short-lived Pana's Cafe on Scarsdale. One of the tastiest sandwiches I've ever had in my life.

The Chicago Italian Beef with hot gardiniera at JC's Chicago Deli on Spencer Highway in La Porte. Regulation Vienna Beef provisions, put together right. I could also mention the Chicago Italian Beef at the short-lived Troy's Dawg House Grill on Live Oak, made with Troy's own recipe for Italian Beef but sadly I don't have a picture. Troy's was better but JC's was the second best I've ever had in Houston.

The Breaded Pork Tenderloin sandwich at the shuttered Heights Camphouse Barbecue (they called it a Pork Burger). The famous Midwestern sandwich; a portion of pork (sirloin is often used but it should be tenderloin), flattened, breaded and fried like CFS.

The Olajuwon Special at Kahn's.