5821 Bellaire @ Renwick
Con Sabor a Tampico!
I finally got around to going to this little taqueria I first noticed last fall. Jaibo means crab and jaibos/as is slang for the residents of Tampico. They used to have a truck sitting in the parking lot that also served up tacos and tortas; then the truck was shut down and just had a sign pointing to the small place in the strip center. Now the truck is gone completely.
They serve the unique torta of Tampico, the Torta de la Barda or Sandwich of the Wall, created for the dockworkers. I had one of these last fall at a taco truck; this version is much better, in part because it’s not so gigantic, better suited for someone like me who slaves away at a computer desk or in the kitchen rather than loading ships on a wharf all day.
It seems to be standard that this is served with a slice of deli ham across the top; I peeled that back so the inner workings are exposed. Besides deli ham there’s shredded beef, a very good chorizo, two kinds of cheese, chicharron, head cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, maybe a little mayo, refritos. The bolillo was soft but nicely toasted, even charred a little. They split the rolls like hot dog buns here which helps to keep the ingredients manageable. This was just $4.50.
The most prominent ingredient is that chorizo, not visible in the bottom of the pocket, adding a lot of spiciness to the sandwich. I think the first time I tried this it was lacking the slice of head cheese.
There are three condiments on the tables, a dark green salsa fresca with medium heat and a very mild, creamy salsa verde and fiery orange colored salsa that is kind of gritty and that leaves my mouth happily smoldering for 10 or 15 minutes. All three were excellent on the torta. Besides that there are molcajetes of a typical salsa fresca, what we Texans usually call pico de gallo, on the counter.
Besides the Torta de la Barda another specialty is Caldo de Jaiba ($5.60) every day and Menudo and Barbacoa on weekends. They serve breakfasts including a Desayuno Tampiqueno. Otherwise the menu is pretty small, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, and enchiladas (on the breakfast menu).
I’ve also tried the torta de pierna which involved a grilled ham steak, some queso and the other usual ingredients of a torta including a little too much mayo for my taste. The time I tried this the bolillo was hardly toasted at all. The surprise ingredients were peas and julienne of radish This was not a bad sandwich but it’s not as inspired a creation as the Torta de la Barda.
I had noticed a sign on the wall that they now serve tacos de mollejas and Elote en Vasos and on one visit I picked some up plus a taco de cecina. The cecina was dry and rather hard, diced; it was a little like eating a jerky taco but the application of some of the orange salsa really helped. Then again, that stuff could make shoe leather seem tasty. The mollejas taco was a mystery; the tortillas had been dipped in chile sauce, apparently, but the ingredients so finely minced I was hard pressed to know if I was eating sweetbreads. The corn came dressed with a sprinkling of cheese (perhaps parmesan), mayo and a squirt of the hot sauce. Sour cream was also offered but I declined thinking it had enough fixin’s on it. I hope that would really be crema anyway and I would probably prefer the crema over the mayo.
I probably would not order the taco de cecina or mollejas again but any of the other items I’ve had I would be willing to indulge in again. The pictures on the menu show their quesadillas are folded over instead of stacked tortillas; another dish I might like to try are the enchiladas stuffed with the meat of your choice on the breakfast menu. The version of the Torta de la Barda here is one of the best tortas I’ve had in Houston and is reason enough to visit.
See the review of Taqueria Tampico Hermosa for the other Torta de la Barda and links to some websites explaining it.