Wednesday, December 31, 2008

La Roca

Tamaleria, Pupuseria, Panaderia and Taqueria
6407 Bissonnet, right across from Bayland Park

There are more than 2 dozen Salvadoran restaurants listed on b4-u-eat and I’ve been to a third of them and this is my favorite. You can choose table service or some items are readily served from a steam table next to the cashier for quick in-and-out. I’ve done both.

The menu is pretty extensive. I’ve had the riquas which has been basically a thin, elongated corn fritter most times I’ve had it but on the most recent visit was drier, more like a corn pancake. I think this is produced by wrapping the dough or batter in a banana leaf and grilling it rather than steaming it. It’s served with a generous slab of a firm, slightly salty feta-like cheese, like the Mexican cotija but probably Queso Duro, or a dollop of crema Salvadorena. The first time I inquired about it the waitress brought over a plate to examine that had both the cheese and the crema and when she tried to take it away I insisted she leave it so I got both. You can get both for $1 extra but be advised it's a pretty good sized chunk of queso. It’s on the appetizer menu but I saved it for desert as it was quite sweet and so good.

Pupusas come with a variety of fillings, arroz (estilo olocuilta), queso, chicharron, loroco, frijoles, fajita, and, of course, revueltas (mixed) and are the best I’ve had. They’re served so hot you can’t pick them up like you’re supposed to. When they split and the oils from the cheese and meats spill out, it is like they were sauteed in butter.

The curtido is made of more coarsely shredded cabbage than others I’ve had and has sliced carrots instead of shredded and is very vinegary and a bright yellow color. You get an individual fresh serving of it rather than dipping out of a communal crock like at some pupuserias, which I appreciate, and it is the best I’ve had. Every time I’ve had it the vegetables have still been good and crisp.

Tamales are a specialty and are available in either pollo or puerco, both with potato. Some Salvadoran tamales have a gelatinous texture but La Roca’s are positively creamy and delicious - and very, very moist. They are among the best tamales I’ve ever had anywhere and quite addictive. These are served on the plantain leaf they’re steamed in with curtido and are also available piping hot on the steam table, individually wrapped in plantain leaf and foil and usually double-bagged by the cashier because they’re so moist. I stop by to pick one or two up sometimes for a snack and head for a table in the park across the street. You’ll need napkins for your hands just getting them open and a utensil to eat with - they can’t be picked up.

Another option is the tamal de elote. This is pure masa, served with a dollop of Crema Salvadorena. This didn’t seem all that interesting to me until on one visit I saw a tableful of young Salvadoran men having nothing else, 2 or 3 each, and wolfing them down with gusto, and I had to try them. These are served in the corn husk they’re steamed in; they’re very good but I find them a little less interesting and would like them better if steamed in the banana/plantain leaf, but I suppose that would be culinarily incorrect.

The aroma of fresh baked pastries coming from the Panaderia in back is a real plus and I seldom leave without picking up some baked goods. You can serve yourself from a large display of Salvadoran pastries and breads, unfortunately not labeled. You take a tray and a pair of tongs and take your selections to the cashier.

There’s also a small grocery section with a selection of Salvadoran products including coffees. They do not serve tea at La Roca, only coffee (one of El Salvador’s main exports) but I was surprised there are no coffee beans and mostly instant coffees for sale. In the cooler section you can find gallon jars and pillow packs of Crema Salvadorena or Hondurena, several Salvadoran and Honduran cheeses, tropical sodas and other products.

My waitresses have all been friendly and helpful though none of them were really fluent in English. The cashier usually speaks English.

The biggest drawback I’ve encountered is the limited parking. The place can be very busy and double-parking is common in the tiny lot. Signs indicate you might get towed if you park in the strip center next door, even though there are several vacancies among the shops, so be forewarned (La Roca used to be located a few doors west).

La Roca apparently supplies other eateries in town with both baked goods and tamales. I’ve seen their labeled baked goods at several places, taquerias and even other panaderias, and their tamales at carnicerias including Nortenito, on Bissonnet at Wilcrest and Carniceria La Michoacana # 27 further out Bissonnet and I presume you may find them at other locations of this extensive chain. These have been Mexican tamales, much spicier than those served at La Roca itself.

Ever since discovering the tamales here about a year and a half ago, they’ve been my favorite tamales in town, despite the blandness of Salvadoran foods. The creamy texture is like eating corn flavored whipped cream. However, having tasted the Colombian tamale at Las Delicias that has supplanted La Roca’s tamales as my favorite.

A blurb on the menu at El Pupusodromo down the street explains the importance of corn in Salvadoran cuisine: Pre-Colombian cultures believed that corn was a gift from their gods. Therefore, it was accepted as a holy meal. The preparation of the ground, the planting of the seed and harvesting the grain were considered a religious act.

La Roca does well by those ancient beliefs with it’s offerings.

Photo added 8/16/11 - Rigua, Empanada de Platano, Tamal Frita, Tamal de Pollo.

See comments on other tamales.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Froberg Farm


I took a little trip down to Froberg Farm near Alvin before Christmas. Actually, I stopped off on the way home from a day trip to Galveston. I’ve heard about Froberg’s for years and have received gifts from there, but never been before. Partly this is because I’ve been warned it was hard to find; more on that below.

I’ve got an aunt who’s been going since the Frobergs were selling produce off of tables under the trees and pies out of their kitchen. The place has grown quite a bit, with a small warehouse-like store, shopping carts, and more. There’s a plaque on the wall dedicating the building to several Frobergs who’ve gone before.

There was a big display of gift baskets, shelves of home-baked pies, and tables of nuts, mostly probably not grown around here. The Snack Bar, fried pie central, offered an enticing array of home-made fried pies in paper pockets with hand-written labels, kept warm under heat lamps. There are also shelves of home-made pickles and jams and jellies and some other products produced elsewhere including salsas.

The produce bins are clearly marked with those items grown on the farm and I mostly stuck to those. I got a 5# bag of satsumas for $3.50. I have a satsuma tree but had not a single bud this past year so I was glad to get these. There were also ‘home-grown’ lemons which I suspected, and the cashier confirmed, were Meyer lemons. My Meyer tree likewise had no fruit this year, although it has numerous buds now. I also picked up some kumquats (my shrub produced only a handful) and some Honey Crisp apples (not from around here) for $1.39 a lb., a lot less that you usually see them in the grocery stores. I also got a few of their home-grown tangelos but passed on the grapefruit (all from the Valley I think); all they had were Rio Star and I prefer Ruby Red. I also passed on some beautiful, large bananas at $.60/lb.

Before leaving I picked up a couple of the fried pies. They had about a dozen varieties including some sugar-free and at least one breakfast fried pie (eggs, potatoes, bacon as I recall), but who wants breakfast when you can have dessert? I got a Sweet Potato and an Apricot Cream fried pie.

The sweet potato fried pie did not survive the trip home and could not make it to the photo session! It was great. I’ve never been a big fan of sweet potatoes and haven’t figured out why some people think it’s better than pumpkin in a pie, but this was excellent. The Frobergs make a very excellent, flaky pie crust. The apricot cream fried pie (not sure what the ‘cream’ denotes) was also good even at room temperature with large chunks of fruit preserves inside. The fried pies are $1.75 apiece and worth it.

The Honey Crisps were not as good as I’ve had before but the satsumas were so good I decided to get some more to share with family, friends and neighbors so I made another trip. I also picked up a Buttermilk Pecan pie and a jar of their dill pickles and a jar of their homemade fig preserves. The dill pickles are excellent; the label only lists ‘vinegar’ as one of the ingredients but I’d sure like to know what they're using; I don’t think it’s regular store bought white vinegar or rice wine vinegar, which is mostly what I’ve used in making pickles. The pie was good but not exceptional. I had to resist the temptation to buy some more fried pies, too.

I’ll be a regular at this place for the fried pies and pickles if nothing else but I’m sure on any visit it’ll be possible to find some locally grown, excellent produce. In fact, it wasn’t until after my second trip that I remembered the tangelos I had bought the first time and tried one and discovered they’re even better than the satsumas.

On leaving after the second visit I stopped in at the Greak’s Smoke House, a little shack on the end of the warehouse, and got a sliced beef sandwich and a regular sausage link.

The meats are pecan smoked and I found the brisket, a very generous amount of thick slices of beef with a deep pink smoke ring, was too acrid, I guess from the pecan smoke. I literally couldn’t eat it; it became more palatable when cooled off but ultimately I had to trim some of the exterior bark. The sausage, however, was excellent and they have several varieties. The price was kind of steep, $13 for a sandwich and less than a pound of link. There is no price list or menu posted anywhere so I was quite surprised. I doubt if I’ll get anything there again.

There are several picnic tables on the premises so you can chow down on your haul right away.

UPDATE - AS NOTED ABOVE, THERE IS NOW AN ENTRANCE DIRECTLY OFF OF HIGHWAY 6, WELL MARKED TOO, SO THE FOLLOWING INSTRUCTIONS ARE UNNECESSARY.  Now - about finding the place. It’s really quite simple contrary to what I’ve been warned. If you know where Alvin and Manvel are on Highway 6 you won’t even need a map. County Road 190 runs parallel to Highway 6 only about a city block south, on the other side of a rail line. About half way between Alvin and Manvel on 6 you should see the sign for County Road 146 and a temporary sign (plastic sheeting on a frame) for Froberg’s. There is a traffic signal at this intersection. Go south off Highway 6 for one block and just over the railroad, turn left for about 1 mile. Another way to get there is on the western outskirts of Alvin, look for County Road 149; go south over the tracks and turn right and go about 3 miles. They’re open 7 days a week except for holidays (Closed December 26th, too).

Froberg Farm

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Las Delicias Panaderia Colombiana

7643 Dashwood @ Fondren

ANOTHER update below!

Mas ricos tamale. Looks messy, tastes great (not less filling). Update on the Las Delicias tamale below.

This place caught my eye as I was pulling away from a fried chicken emporium on the corner. I drove into the parking lot and made a note of the address and some of the specialties listed on the sign: Lechona, Tamales, Buneulos, Natilla, Empanadas, Pavo Relleno, Pollo Relleno and so on.

Some of these were easy to figure out and when I looked the others up I knew I had to give this place a try. I've never seen some of these offerings on the menus of the other Colombian restaurants I've visited.

Lechona is a Colombian version of roasted, stuffed pig, with yellow peas, green onion, yellow rice and spices, traditionally cooked in a brick oven. Natilla is a custard like pudding made with corn starch instead of eggs.

On my first visit I was sorry to learn that the lechona is available only sporadically; they do expect to do it for Christmas so I'm making plans to visit on the 24th of this month. I do understand it will be available by the platillo or as a whole platter. Yum-yum.

The place has a small pastry display case but mostly it's a lunch counter type set up (and more attractive inside than what you might expect from that trashy center); a counter with stools lines the wall around two sides of the space and there are stools at a main counter, too, but no tables.

I dealt with three different servers; one, the manager I presume, spoke good English apparently, but she was on the phone the whole time I was there. With my limited Spanish and the even more limited English of the others, I managed to find out a lot more about the offerings while watching the plate lunch specials of the day, listed on a blackboard, come out of the kitchen. The place was very busy at 2 in the afternoon. One of the offerings was the traditional dish Bandeja Paisa but the most popular offering of the day was a pork dish, I think, cubed pork in a green sauce; I saw a chuleta plate on the blackboard but can't remember the whole name; there is no other printed menu.

I picked up two empanadas and two pieces of Pandebono, plus a half dozen Colombian tamales. The empanadas, made with arepa dough, were the best Colombian empanadas I've had, fresh and hot out of the fryer. The filling of shredded beef and mashed potatoes was very good, although the first one I bit into had so little actual beef in it it reminded me of deviled ham. The accompanying green sauce, salsa or chimichurri?, was hotter than anything I've ever had at a Colombian restaurant, a surprise since Colombian cuisine is not spicy. Other Colombian empanadas I've had have used ground beef.

Pandebono is a much more interesting Colombian bread than arepas. Made with corn flour, cassava starch, cheese and eggs, the rolls have a hole on the bottom and are hollowed out; they somewhat resemble a cheese flavored bagel, although not as chewy. It is traditionally consumed hot out of the oven with hot chocolate but these were out of the display case and probably several hours old. Nevertheless they were good. I haven't gotten around to heating up the tamales yet (they were refrigerated and require veinte minutos en agua caliente to be ready to eat).

I'm looking forward not only to the tamales but a return to Las Delicias to try other items. I'm particularly intrigued by the Pavo Relleno but I'll be happy to have more of the empanadas and Pandebono.

Despite the language difficulties the servers were all friendly.

Update on the tamale: Okay, so I misunderstood; I bought one tamale, not a half dozen! I fixed it for breakfast this morning. Unwrapping it from the foil packet and banana leaf revealed a beautiful sight, though a bit messy. A common sign in the window of Latin restaurants will describe mas ricos tamales or mas ricos pupusas or mas ricos caldos - this was mas, mas ricos - very, very rich. Besides a drumstick and part of a rib (both bone-in), I detected peas, carrots, onions, and, I think, red and green peppers in the tamale and was on a possibly lard-induced high after just half of it. I have to try one of these in the restaurant. I'm wondering if any salsa is served with it? Not that it needed any - it was awesome as is. I have a better idea now of what the nacatamale of Nicaragua must be like and this just may be the best tamale I've had anywhere.

I've been reading up on Colombian tamales and discovering there are many interesting variations. I'll be looking for them on menus from now on. Here's a fascinating article on a particular type of Colombian tamale (I don't think mine had any egg). Apparently the green sauce is called pique.

NOTE: I believe the tamale I had here is called a tolimenses.

Another update: I went in on the 24th but was unable to get any Lechona; the waitress indicated I needed to call ahead. I wasn't surprised. After reading up on this more it's a very special dish. I went ahead an got an order of Bandeja Paisa to go (the place was packed at 11:15am with people waiting for a stool).

This came with a very good section of skirt steak, lots of rice, a very savory chorizo with lots of green onion in it I think. The portion of plantano maduro was very small, the chicharron was mostly fat and the beans could have been served in a Cajun restaurant over rice and nobody would have noticed. It was a pretty good version of this dish.

I also got a potato ball - a rice and ground beef mixture rolled in cooked potatoes and deep fried. In Puerto Rico this is called Papas Rellenas but the girl, who spoke good English, just called it a potato stuffed with either beef or chicken here so I'm not sure what the Colombian term would be. It was from under a heat lamp so not really hot nor crispy but still pretty good.

The lunch menu hadn't changed that I could tell so I guess it's the same dishes each day. The pork dish on the menu was Chuleta Empanizada; from the explanations online that does not sound like the dish I saw on the first visit so maybe what I saw was not pork after all.

They did not have any tamales. I was planning on buying a couple and trying freezing one.

This is a neat little place and with so many dishes that I have not seen on other Colombian restaurant menus I'm tempted to believe it's the most authentic of the ones I've been to.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Antonini's Subs and Steaks

17314 Highway 3 @ Medical Center Blvd., Webster

I've had to make some trips to the Clear Lake area lately and had heard of this fabulous sub shop and finally had a chance to check it out. It's hidden behind a Valero but easy to find despite the poor signage since it's right at the intersection.

The owners are from Delaware judging by the posters and license plates on the wall. I've read before in a national forum that the Delmarva Peninsula is a mecca for sub lovers and this is my first chance to find out for myself.

The place is small and very plain; the menu is quite small. On my first visit I got a Special to go. The sandwich was huge with 2 meats, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and a very good hot pepper relish. I had noticed a big gallon jar of the relish sitting next to the cash register and now I knew why - they undoubtedly get lots of requests for it and they sell it ($21 a gallon). The bread is chewy rather than crusty and quite sturdy, which it needs to be to hold up to the sandwich's fixings since a lot of their business is take-away. It was a very good deal for just under $5.

On a second visit I tried their Cheesesteak which is a little more expensive, but only by a few cents. I thought it was a little odd it wasn't labeled a Philly Cheesesteak but once sampling it I can see it's a little different than what I think of as a classic Philly. There was a lot of thinly sliced beef, probably sirloin, plus provolone and grilled onions and more of the relish, plus mayo and ketchup. I had read about that ketchup online and so knew to ask that it be left off and only a smear of mayo be added. I think I did the right thing. The relish adds a nice twist to the sandwich which I think would only be muted by the ketchup (I'm not a big fan of ketchup for anything, anyway).

I definitely preferred the Special of the two sandwiches but when I ordered one of those again the owner steered me toward the Italian (pictured above) which he said is his best sandwich. It too was just a few cents more than the Special and has 4 meats instead of 2 (ham, peppered ham, salami, Lebanon bologna?) and was one of the best subs I've ever had. Right away, the Italian becomes one of my favorite sandwiches alongside the Chicago Italian Beef (seems to be a trend developing here) and much better than any Philly I've ever had. Too bad this place is an 80 mile round trip from where I live.

They have a selection of Zapp's and Lay's chips and some sodas and Tastykakes, the packaged snack cakes from Philadelphia that are very good, although the ones I've tried had been on the shelf a little too long.

Besides the gallon jugs, they sell the Bay Valley Foods Chopped Hot Pepper Relish in quart jars for $9. I'm going to have to pick some up. It'll go nicely on the condiments shelf alongside the harissa and sriracha, etc.

There's supposed to be a menu online but I haven't been able to get the website to come up. They do have a meatball sub that I haven't tried but I can't remember all the other sandwiches on the menu.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Coquitos - Comida Hondurena

6121 - V Hillcroft, between Gulfton and Westward

I went to Coquitos the first time almost a year ago to try the Sopa de Caracol, the conch soup that is a Honduran specialty and is advertised in the window. The waitress said they didn’t have it the day I was there and when I asked for a recommendation suggested Sopa de Gallina, the hen soup, and that proved to be a satisfying and fortuitous choice. Steaming hot with large, bone-in pieces of white and dark meat with large chunks of carrot, yuca, plantain, potato and cabbage in a rich broth with a side of white rice and 2 thick, hand-made corn tortillas, it was very good. The vegetable pieces were so large it was almost necessary to use a knife and fork to eat the soup. I was feeling a little under the weather that day and though I hadn’t expected it the Sopa de Gallina proved to be just what the Doctor ordered. Plus with all the starch, it was very filling and a good bargain.

On a subsequent visit I tried the pastelitos for an appetizer - Honduran style empanadas made with corn meal (arepas) like those of Venezuela and Columbia. They were stuffed with a ground meat and rice mixture and almost full size but were lacking in seasoning. They were accompanied by a generous portion of a shredded cabbage salad with marinated red bell pepper, a warm tomato dressing and shredded queso. It was very good and at only $3.75, was very filling, almost enough for a whole meal. I had also ordered Casiamento con Coco, a rice and beans dish cooked in coconut milk, the Honduran version of Jamaican rice ‘n peas with the addition of onion and bell pepper and a more generous use of coconut milk. It was accompanied by some avocado and queso and corn tortillas. I was so full from the appetizer I wound up taking most of this home and discovered it’s much better reheated the next day.

Meanwhile I had seen the Pollo Frito being served and it looked very good and I planned to return to try that. I also noticed Mondongo on the menu, the Central American term for Menudo, and some other dishes that looked interesting.

I only got around to going back for the Pollo Frito recently. The restaurant has been spiffed up a bit with table cloths on some of the tables and additional seating. I was there around 2pm and the place was very busy, in part because there was only one server and one cook and they were running way behind.

The menu has also changed, or at least been reprinted and organized a little better. There are now Baleadas on the menu which I don’t recall from before. There are three to choose from with the basic one called Baleadas Regulares. I ordered just the basic Baleada as an appetizer but wished I had tried one of the ones with some add-ins; the ones I saw being served looked spectacular. I think the daily lunch specials portion of the menu is gone, too, and there are more Mariscos.

The Pollo Frito consisted of 2 small pieces, a leg and thigh. Like this dish at the other Honduran restaurants I have tried, it was overcooked, though not as badly. It was a very dark brown color; the skin and flesh of the thigh had been scored but whether that was to facilitate even cooking or easier eating I don’t know. It wasn’t quite as dried out as what I’ve had elsewhere but so well done on the exterior that it was kind of like eating a cross between chicharron and chicken. This too comes with a big pile of the cabbage salad with a simple warm tomato dressing; some online sources say is it is common in Honduran cooking that this is nothing more than canned tomato sauce. This is all served over a bed of banana chips that have been lightly sauteed to crisp them up only slightly. I’ll have to give this Pollo Frito another try before deciding where it belongs in my Chicken Fried Odyssey rankings.

Honduran food is not spicy but my main complaint here is blandness. Everything is underseasoned. As I’ve been trying to lose weight for a year and half now I’ve weaned myself off an over-dependence on salt. One of the benefits of eating lots of ethic foods is the seasonings and spices make it interesting and flavorful without the use of salt and pepper and there are many small ethnic eateries where S&P are not on the tables at all. But at Coquitos, I need to reach for the salt; just a little helps a lot. I guess if you’re actually on a salt-restricted diet, that’s good. There is Tabasco on the tables but I’ve never used it and also soy sauce - the menu for instance lists Shap Suey con Pollo o con Cameron. The food I’ve had here so far is not quite as good as at another local group of Honduran restaurants but on the other hand, you don’t have to deal with a deafening juke box at Coquitos.

One nice touch is the coffee. It’s always been prepared fresh when I’ve ordered it and may be a special Honduran variety; it’s presented with a small pitcher of warm milk.

The restaurant is clean but not fancy; not every waitress speaks English but the menu has full English translations. Parking in front is very tight. The menu and business cards and sign on the exterior read Coquitos but one sign in the window and the b4 listing is for El Coquito.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Fritanga Nica

8611 Synott, just north of Bissonnet

Ever since reading about the nacatamale, a tamale with meat and vegetables and olives described as throw pillow-sized, I have wanted to try Nicaraguan cuisine, La Comida Nica; so far as I know this is our first and only Nicaraguan restaurant. It occupies the space once occupied by the small Brazilian home-style buffet, Cariocas.

The owner is very friendly and speaks very good English. So does one of his sons who helps out with just about everything on the weekend, anyway. The menu is quite small, only a page and a half, and there are no translations. They have been open a month and unfortunately they do not do the nacatamale.

On my first visit the owner steered me toward the Vaho, pronounced baho, a weekend special consisting of beef, plantain and yuca steamed in a banana leaf and served with rice. It was good; it is basically a stew sans broth. Fritanga comes from the word for to fry but there is at least one other steamed dish on the menu, the appetizer Vigoron, which includes yuca and chicharron, steamed in a banana leaf I think (I haven't had this).

I also had an Enchilada Nicaraguense, a corn tortilla topped with shredded beef and rice, folded over and fried to make essentially an empanada. Both dishes were topped with the typical Nicaraguan salad of cabbage and carrot with tomato and purple onion; it isn’t on the menu separately but I think they call this Ensalada de Repollo.

For a beverage I had Cacao, the Nicaraguan version of chocolate milk which includes grated, roasted cacao beans and was very good.

The owner offered to do a half order of the Vaho when I inquired about portion sizes; it proved to be enough food to leave me very full.

Other appetizers include Vigoron, Chancho Adobado, and Tacos Nicas, which are like Mexican flautas, with chicken or beef. Platillos Tipicos include Salpicon, Carne Desmenusada (deshebrada), Pechuga or Bistec Encebollado, Carne Tapade, Arroz a la Valenciana (the Nicaraguan version of paella) and Carne Asada, which the owner said was basically fajitas.

Sides include Tajadas verdes (plantain), Queso frito, Maduro Frito, Gallo Pinto, and Guacamole. All plates come with the salad and some have frijoles fritos or tajadas verdes or frito or rice.

On my second visit I tried the Chilla (cheeya I think) which is like a tamarind agua fresca and was the best I’ve ever had, rich with bits of fruit. Other refrescos include Chicha and Cebada which I got a free sample of; I understand it includes guava and barley; it was good but not as good as the Cacao or Chilla. They also have typical American sodas.

For a main on my second visit I had the Sopa de Cola, a weekend special, a rich, satisfying oxtail stew pictured above with corn, plantain and yuca, tomatoes and carrot, parsley and cilantro, plus cabbage, rice and fideo, with a side of more rice. It was awesome on a chilly Sunday and I enjoyed it very much. A Nicaraguan family arriving for a meal oohed and aahed over my bowl.

Other weekend specials include Indio Viejo and Sopa de Albondiga on Sunday. Postres include Arros con leche, Atolillo and Bunuelos.

The menu is undergoing changes. I got an old menu to take home and a couple of dishes had been changed. Even more had been crossed off the new menu on my second visit. The most expensive thing on the menu is $9.

The restaurant is closed on Tuesday, open other days 11a to 7p. I’m sure Cariocas succumbed to too little business; they were not helped by their very limited hours and the food went downhill after a couple of months. I hope these people make it; I had the place to myself for a while on my first visit but the second time the place was bustling.

I will definitely be going back to try the Arroz a la Valenciana.

Vaho or Baho. In the glass is Cacao, a very satisfying version of chocolate milk. This is a half-order of the Vaho.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Taqueria D.F., 100% Chilanga - CLOSED

6905 Bissonnet, just west of Beechnut


I've noticed this taqueria for a long time and I wondered if they had Mexico City style tamales like those at Tamales Dona Tere. I finally decided to give it a try and when I pulled up to the door I saw a hand lettered sign that they now serve tamales. I guess I put my visit off just long enough.

The place is small; there was only one waitress and she was also watching over her small daughter but she was very friendly and helpful, apologizing that the menu is only in Spanish. I assured her I thought we would be able to manage; she spoke pretty good English and I speak a little Spanish.

I ordered a pork tamale and asked about the suadero taco - I was not familiar with that term. She said it was a pork meat taco; they also have pastor, chorizo, campechano, bisteck, cabeza and chuleta tacos. Besides tacos and tamales they have Quesadillas, Gringas, Sincronizadas, Tortas, Desayunos and some guisados.

The taco proved to be very small. It's been a long time since I had a Mexico City style taco and had forgotten that sometimes that means the tortillas are only about 4" in diameter. It wasn't very tasty; I thought if it was pork it was perhaps roasted sirloin and dry. I looked this up online and according to what I found, suadero is supposed to indicate a section of beef brisket.

The tamale proved to be much better. It was no where near as big as those at Dona Tere, a little dry for my taste (I like very moist tamales) and very spicy. Usually when you think of the term 'hot tamales' you're referring to the fact they're served steaming hot but these had a lot of spice heat, too. It was so good I ordered one of the chicken tamales which was not quite as spicy and not quite as good but still very enjoyable. Surprisingly the green salsa that was offered was quite bland and quite limey.

While waiting for my food I had picked up a copy of the menu to go and was perusing it and a torta that wasn't on the printed menu caught my eye, Torta Huerfana, which apparently translates as Orphan Torta. I asked the waitress about it and she explained it was a huge torta and reeled off a list of ingredients that I couldn't possibly remember (there were not only no translations but also no descriptions of the dishes on the menus). She said only one person had ever finished it, most wind up taking half home. It was $9, kind of pricy for a torta, but it sounded very interesting so I decided I had to come back to try it and a couple of days later I did.

It was a different waitress on my second visit and she spoke little English but she was also looking after a small child, a nino of about 6 whom she called over several times to help translate as I plowed ahead asking questions.

The Torta Huerfano proved an awesome sandwich. As best I can figure it out it includes ham, refritos, milanesa, avocado, tomato, yellow and white cheese (per the first waitress; I think they were American and Jack), chorizo, huevos and salchicha which I thought was a generic term for sausage but has always meant a wiener when I found it on a menu in Houston, all served on a nicely toasted and crusty telera. Both the red and green salsas that were served with the sandwich were very good.

There's no way I would have tried to finish that so I took about half home.

I haven't been able to find out much about the sandwich online and an effort to find out if they created it in-house didn't communicate well. A sign on the wall invites customers to try their 'nuevo creacion torta huerfana en Taqueria DF' but I don't know if it's a local creation of has Mexico City roots.

Whether it's a Houston original or not it's very tasty and I'll be back though obviously not often for that sandwich.

There's another location of the Taqueria at 8685 Hammerly and I've also seen taco trucks labeled Taqueria DF on Long Point and Telephone but I don't know if they're connected to the restaurants or serve the Huerfana.

ADDED: Dissecting the leftovers (and tossing the soggy bread) I discovered there's chicken breast in there too. I'm sure the waitress on my first visit listed chorizo but it was hard to identify any by taste or inspection.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Texas Oyster Industry devasted by Ike

I've been looking for some report and today this appeared in the Chronicle.

Briefly, 60% of the crop is lost, oyster beds are covered with silt and debris and probably won't recover without very costly intervention.

Not good news for oyster lovers or for the ecology of the bay in general.

The eye of the storm passed right over Galveston Bay but it was storm surge, not wind, that caused the damage.

Robb Walsh of the Press had written a great article on the Galveston Bay oyster industry 4 years back saying it was the most prolific oyster fishery in the nation with just one company there out-harvesting all of Chesapeake Bay.