Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Taqueria El Campesino

7710 Bellaire Blvd. # L (@ Fondren)

I first found out about this restaurant on eG when it was mentioned as perhaps the only place in Houston offering the zacahuil, the gi-normous tamale of Mexico. I’ve driven down Bellaire past this restaurant many times but never noticed it. When I went to check it out I was happy to see a sign in the window advertising their Enchiladas Potosinas and that’s what I had on my first visit.

Other than the uninspired presentation of a pan grilled chicken breast, this was a much better version of this dish that I had at La Silla to start my enchilada quest; in fact, it’s one of the best plates I’ve encountered so far. Five thick tortillas with queso inside and atop, with stewed but not mushy potatoes and carrots plus some pickled jalapenos and a nice section of a grilled chorizo which came as a surprise since I hadn’t noticed it on the menu board. There’s also sliced avocado under the chicken breast. The table salsa was served steaming hot and was very aromatic; it tasted a lot like a good Texas chili gravy that had not been thickened so I’m sure there was some ancho in there, probably some guajillo, undoubtedly cilantro and I don’t know what else. I have grown very fond of this on subsequent visits. The chips are house-made, medium thickness.

The menu board was too much to take in on one visit but I picked up a to-go menu and discovered that in addition to pechuga and cecina (thin beef steak), this is available with ‘una pata de puerco in vinagre’ which I take to mean pickled pigs foot enchiladas.

The menu also lists Enchiladas Rojas, Huastecas, Verdes and Entomadadas. I first encountered Enchiladas Huastecas some years ago at Taqueria Huetamich, on Wilcrest at 59, a few doors down from the Colombian restaurant La Fogata. I had seen the listing in the window and, intrigued, went in to check it out. Though the menu said they were served with fajita I wasn’t familiar with Mexican enchiladas and didn’t realize that was not the filling but on the side. When the dish came out I went Doh!, huasteca is just another word for steak (or fajita). WRONG! La Huasteca is a region of Mexico comprising parts of four states and Taqueria El Campesino serves several of the specialties of that region - beside the two enchilada dishes and the zacahuil, there are bocoles for appetizers and another salsa huasteca is served on the Enchiladas Huastecas, but I have not yet tried them and don’t know what that is. From other places I’ve seen Enchiladas Huastecas, cecina is the usual meat served, not fajita, as it is at El Campesino.

For a second visit I went in on a weekend to try the zacahuil. This is served only on weekends in individual portions for $5.50 but they didn’t have it the weekend I went in. I switched to the entomatadas (enchiladas dipped in a tomato sauce instead of a chili sauce) but they didn’t have that either. I settled for Chilaquiles (served with a portion of cecina) which I would only describe as okay. It’s not one of my favorite dishes and I should have taken more time to peruse the menu board before ordering. Once again, the salsa was excellent.

On a third visit on a Friday I wanted to try their regular tamale and a bocole. Tamales are served only on weekends as is Mole and Menudo. The tamale was a little dry and at first I didn’t think I was going to like it since I much prefer very moist tamales but the seasoning of the fillings was very good and permeated the masa and as I got into it I realized the texture, almost cake-like and a little crumbly, was really interesting. The zacahuil is baked as are bocoles and I’m guessing this was a baked rather than steamed tamale. I wound up liking it very much, though I found it necessary toward the end to spoon some of the table salsa over it to keep it interesting.

Bocoles are a variation on gorditas according to most explanations; they are also called biscuit-like by some. I thought a better comparison would be to a quesadilla but baked rather than grilled. The cheese inside did not melt; there was chopped, grilled chicken breast inside. I think this is also available with cecina. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting from online descriptions and this is the first time I’ve had one but I would try the gordita instead next time - this was not bad but not very interesting.

The menu also lists Cualquiera con Cecina or con Pechuga but I have not been able to determine what that term means and the waitress couldn’t offer an explanation either.

Like many small taquerias, you can order at a counter off a menu board or take a seat and a waitress will take your order if you prefer.

This is one of the more interesting taquerias I’ve discovered on the Southwest side and I will be back at some point to try the Enchiladas Huastecas and, hopefully, the zacahuil.

No comments: