Friday, January 30, 2009

Quick Bites II - South Side

I’ve been spending some time on the south side recently. There are some newer housing developments, including some gated apartment complexes, but much like 5th Ward and 3rd Ward, the area has been mercifully ignored by all but the most ubiquitous fast food chains. This leaves room for a good number of locally owned establishments, most of which are unknown outside of the area and unlisted on Along South Post Oak, for instance, there’s a line-up of Mexican restaurants and taquerias, Cajun places, U-Buy-We-Fry, plus panaderias, taquerias and pupuserias. There are also taco trucks, pupusa and pollo asado wagons and bbq trailers.

Tacos Don Beto DF, S. Post Oak @ Grapevine
, in front of a defunct drive-in restaurant.

This one caught my eye with the word cesina on the side; I wheeled in to try it. It’s a somewhat-the-worse-for-wear small, former school bus parked in front of a tire repair shop (with a spiffy set of tires). The menu looks like it’s been hand-painted and altered several times and there were many items on the menu I didn’t recognize: under tortas, Hilangas and Jamacas. There were also picaditas, dobladas, tacos orientales, quemeves.

I tried a longaniza taco and one with the cesina. These are small, Mexico City style tacos (4" tortillas) and just a dollar each. The longaniza was excellent, a very generous amount with onions and cilantro. The cesina was a surprise - I thought this was a dried beef but the meat was moist, very thinly sliced. It was okay but not as good as the longaniza. Apparently cesina means something else in Mexico than Spain.

I tried to find the meaning of some of the unfamiliar terms online with only limited results. Apparently picaditas are like snack-sized chalupas; dobladas are tortillas folded over a filling, but how they differ from gringas (also on the menu) and piratas, which I’ve had elsewhere, I don’t know.

I inquired about the Hilangas torta on a second visit. The girl at the window speaks only a few words of English but the cook is pretty fluent; trouble is, he stays in the back of the bus and it’s hard to hear what he says. In response to my query I’m sure I heard the word iguana; in fact, I heard it twice, once in the sentence ‘do you want iguana?’ I thought immediately of an Anthony Bourdain episode on FoodTV where he was served an iguana stew in Mexico in which the animal was chopped up and added to the pot, scales and all. He pronounced it one of the worst dishes he’d ever tried to eat. I passed on the iguana.

But does a little truck like this actually have iguana? The cook clearly likes to joke with his customers and finishes off his creations with a flair, a la Emeril. Maybe he was just putting me on. I still have no idea what jamacas is - another word for ham?

I settled for a Cubana torta but it was not very good, with a very soft bun and only pork and a frankfurter for meats, no ham. I also ordered a taco orientale. This is supposed to have vegetables like calabacita on it, I think, but what I got apparently was a fajita taco. This was probably a problem with the non-English speaking girl at the window.

The place does a good business.

Taqueria El Taco Regio, West Airport at Chimney Rock, just north of South Main Street

UPDATE: I spotted a taqueria - brick and mortar variety - right next to Tornado Burger in Stafford by the same name but whether it's related to the wagon I don't know.

Update II: The taqueria in Stafford has a much larger but very similar menu. I had the Hamburguesa Regia which I believe was estilo Monterrey, i.e., not a pure beef patty.

I pulled in to this one when I saw the word pierna on the side which should be leg meat either of lamb or pork, I think, but they didn’t have it. The place was staffed with 4 people - I don’t think I’ve ever seen a taco trailer with that many hands - and was spic and span. There are windows on both sides and I liked the fact that the food is prepared right in front of you, in full view.

I got a barbacoa taco, opting for flour tortilla. I nodded when asked ‘everything on it.’ At this place, this means lettuce, tomato, onion and only a small amount of cilantro. The barbacoa was excellent, among the best I’ve ever had, and a very generous amount for only $1.50 ($1.25 with corn tortillas). The salsas were also excellent but I really wished it had a lot more cilantro on it and I could do without the lettuce and tomato.

On a second visit they also couldn’t serve pierna so I’m concluding they don’t have it anymore. I tried a lengua taco, again with flour, and just onions and cilantro. The pieces of lengua were large, much larger than I’ve seen before on a taco, and as good as any I’ve ever had at Tacambero behind Canino’s, very moist, some pieces with a little pink in the center, and very flavorful. Most places I’ve had lengua, it’s chopped up in 1/2" dice or smaller.

This is really a good taco wagon albeit with a rather limited menu. It has the neighborhood all to itself; not only are there no other taco trucks anywhere around, the neighborhood is pretty much devoid of any brick and mortar restaurants.

Two Brothers Smokin’ Oak Kitchen - Hiram Clarke, ½ mile south of S. Main, by a 66 station

This trailer has relocated to Willowbend @ Craighead, just west of Stella Link.
I first came across Cyd and Charles Wilson’s bbq wagon some years ago when they had a spot on Ennis at Cleburne, just off the TSU campus. I was headed to Henderson’s but it was closed that day and I wheeled in when I smelled the smoke. I had a very good sliced brisket sandwich, very tender, smoky meat and a thin, slightly peppery sauce. On another visit, I wanted to try the ribs but they had neither that nor brisket ready so I settled for a chili pie. While I was eating that on the hood of the car, one of the brothers brought out a sample of their home-made sausage, an East Texas style made with finely ground beef, red pepper, salt and just the smoke - that style of sausage usually doesn’t impress me compared to the great sausages of Texas but it was unquestionably the best of that style I had ever had and I liked it.

Then the trailer disappeared. I kept hoping I would find them somewhere else in 3rd Ward or maybe down in Sunnyside, but never came across them. But on one of my treks through the neighborhoods off South Main, I spotted them. Serendipity. I had one of their links, about 10 oz. by weight, and very good. It was all they had ready.

On a second visit I was able to get a brisket and rib plate, my first chance to sample their ribs, and this was very good; oak is my favorite wood for smoking and this had lots of good smoke flavor, was tender, had a good smoke ring, etc. It was served sauce-on but I don’t think they’d have any problem withholding the sauce if you prefer. The ribs tips were split off but included in the plate and awesome eating. They do sell a tip plate; my plate was $12.99 including a coke (package price).

The potato salad was probably institutional but not bad. The red beans and rice were probably home made and kind of bland, but a nice alternative to plain old pintos and just needed a little added hot sauce.

This is some awfully good Q for a wagon.

They’re open Tuesday thru Saturday from about 11am to about 7pm, sometimes later if they have Q left to sell. There does seem to be a problem of not having things ready until early afternoon. Besides the chili pie they have boudin, home-made cake and a few other items

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