Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Refresqueria y Taqueria South Houston

3812 South Shaver @ Edgebrook, South Houston, TX

After a recent shopping excursion to Mi Tienda I headed south on South Shaver instead of back across Spencer Highway, hoping to find a new scenic route home. It wasn't a mountain road snaking through snow capped peaks or a coastal highway overlooking a surf pounding up against a rocky shoreline that I was expecting to see, nor even a meandering drive through a lush forest. About a mile south of Spencer I did spot exactly the sort of scenery I was hoping for - a sign for a refresqueria touting trompo. The beauty of the scene was enhanced by a sign also touting home-made tortillas.

As we all learned from Robb Walsh a few years ago, authentic trompo preparation (al pastor) is prohibited in Houston by health department regulations. The meat that goes on the spit has to be already cooked and can only be kept warm on the trompo. This results in al pastor as served in Houston frequently being over-cooked and dried out.

This refresqueria y taqueria, however, sitting right next door to South Houston High School, clearly was not in Houston and hence not subject to those restrictions. Whenever I see trompo advertised at a taqueria or lonchera outside of the Houston city limits, I know there is at least the possibility they do it the way it's supposed to be done.

I've tried this gambit a number of times, sadly with disappointing results more often than not, but it's always worth a try and I made a note to hit this place the next time I trekked over to Mi Tienda.

Alas, the curses of living in Houston. I can get just about everything I ever need for Mexican cooking at the carnicerias, mercados, tortillerias and Fiesta stores near me (even a Food Town), and I seldom have a need to go all the way over to Pasadena. It was going to be months before I was over that way again and a few weeks later my expectations and cravings got the better of me and I made a special trip just to try the trompo.

I arrived about 1:15 pm and encountered a problem I had not anticipated - no parking place. The parking area was jammed with two rows of cars in a strip center lot intended for just one; a narrow alley was left between the rows making it possible to gingerly enter or leave the front row. More customers were parked on the shoulder of Shaver. This place is popular. I cruised around South Houston for a few minutes, spotting a few taco trucks of possible interest, but having come this far I was not going to be denied. After passing back and forth several times I finally spotted an opening and zipped in.

A full parking lot is not necessarily a sign of good food within, of course, but it is a hopeful sign. Just inside the door was another - the trompo itself, readily on display in the open cooking area just inside the door. However I noticed the coils were not glowing and the spit was not turning, the meat had been whittled down to resemble an apple core more than a child's top. Had I gotten there too late? Was the meat that was left going to be too dry?

I was just planning on trying the trompo but assessing the situation and surveying the menu, I went for one taco de mollejas (sweetbreads), one taco de cabeza (the menu says pig's head), and one taco de trompo, plus a Coca Cola Mexicana Grande.

The waitress delivered a basket of chips and generous sized bowl of salsa to the table along with a cup of very good frijoles charros with almost as much meat and chicharron as beans. The chips were cold, possibly store bought, but the creamy salsa verde was interesting with just enough heat. I nibbled at a few chips as I observed my order of trompo being skillfully sliced off the spit. In a corner, some balls of dough were retrieved out of a bowl covered with cloth and placed one by one in a large wooden tortilla press and my tortillas were ready for the grill.

Before long, one of the three taqueras brought out my basket of tacos and I smiled as big as I could, pleased at the appearance of these beauties and patting myself on the back for being such a genius to have discovered this place. I hadn't even tasted any of the meats but they sure looked promising. One of those 3 bowl servers like you get with a baked potato was brought to the table with one bowl of chopped onion, one of chopped cilantro and one of lime slices and I was ready to dig in.

I nibbled a few pieces of each meat plain, then folded up the tortillas and tried them that way. . The trompo was just a little dry but not bad while the other two meats were exceptionally good. I applied a little lime and tasted again, then the onions and cilantro and more lime and tasted again, then finally some salsa to finish each taco off. The thin, floppy, slightly irregular tortillas, just one per taco and slightly crispy around the edges, were exemplary. They had to be the thinnest tortillas I've ever had. These were some very good tacos, worth the time and trouble I had gone to to try them.

My tab came to $6.50 - $1.25 per taco (more for flour tortillas), $2 for the coke; apparently there is a $.75 charge for the beans though I didn't recall seeing that on the menu. Fair price, anyway. Three tacos and beans and I was stuffed.

While it lacks the ambiance of Karanchoe's in Channelview and the trompo is perhaps not quite as tasty (it's been more than a year since I've been there), this place is not without it's charm. I could wish for better chips and salsa (and a little fresher looking cilantro) but South Houston is a whole lot closer to where I live than Channelview and I have the occasional need to be in the neighborhood, anyway, so I will be back.

The menu includes tacos, platillos, hamburguesas and a few other things. The meats, besides what I had, were fajita, pollo, barbacoa, chicharron, and deshebrada, as best I can remember. I saw no sign about hours or days of operation but it is cash only. One side of the menu is s devoted to the refresqueria offerings.

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