The Rio Grande Valley
Taco consciousness in The Rio Grande Valley is nearly equal to San Antonio’s. So rife with taco fans is the region that one hopeful soul tried to market his spit-roasted gyros as Gyro’s Greek Tacos (didn’t work—he’s out of business). On weekends, from roadside stands to urban Mexican spots, everyone breaks out the barbacoa—pit-cooked cow’s head—with tacos of brains and tongue to go along. So enmeshed are tacos in the fabric of Valley life that a Brownsville drive-through called Jerry’s advertises “Videos, Taquitos and Pizza” along with car washes and beer. They’re addictive taquitos too: savory, spit-cooked pork, marinated with a surprise hit of pineapple and tucked into small corn tortillas with onion, cilantro, and salsa. At 49 cents each, Jerry’s taquitos are inspired fast food (1235 Central, 542-1521).
The Valley is a bubbling crucible for change in Texas taco culture. At a franchise-looking spot such as Taquito Hut in Weslaco, you’ll see traditional stuff like the plainest, tenderest tongue alongside mondernisms like hand-rolled flour tortillas and hybrids like tacos of beef brisket bathed in Texas barbecue sauce (211 W. Highway 83, 969-3539). At Armando’s Taco Hutt in Pharr (which without the slightest justification bills itself as the “Taco Capital of the Valley”), you’ll encounter a latter-day quesadilla that bears an eerie resemblance to the grilled-cheese sandwiches of your childhood, just good old orange cheese inside a griddle-cooked flour tortilla the size of an LP (106 N. Cage, 781-1091). Weirdest of all to an outsider is the peanut-butter-and-jelly taco on a flour tortilla sold at El Pato Mexican Food to Go, the Valley’s homegrown mini-chain with locations in six towns. El Pato reminds me of San Antonio’s Taco Cabana: it’s an institution that occupies a similar role in local life (if El Pato stopped making its potato-and-egg breakfast tacos, the whole Valley would probably grind to a halt), and like Taco Cabana’s, its food is adequate without speaking the mysterious, gratifying language of home cooking. After grazing among the flour-tortilla “ patos” at the Harlingen and McAllen