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Best Tacos: Houston

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Photographs by Wynn Myers

TopTacoCachete, Gerardo’s Drive-in
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 5
Price: $2
One of the more curious culinary pageants in Houston happens every Thursday morning, when giant bins of cleaned cow heads are rolled out of delivery trucks into the back of this convenience store/taco stand/barbacoa joint just north of downtown. The kitchen’s staging area then takes on the surreal quality of a Dalí painting as the slick pink heads—mouths agape, tongues lolling, eyeballs askew—wait to be trimmed, seasoned, and steamed in stainless-steel vats. The end result is barbacoa, which Jose Luis Lopez has been making here every weekend (“Vie–Sab–Dom!”—“Fri–Sat–Sun!”) since 1977 with his wife, Maria de Jesus, and son, Luis. Stop in early Saturday with some friends and order a pound of cachete—silken, mild cheek. Grab a seat at a booth, scoop the glossy meat into a tortilla, pile on cilantro and onions, and finish with a spicy-cool drizzle of the house green sauce. 609 Patton, 713-699-0820. Daily 6–5.


Tacos-Al-Pastor-Tierra-Caliente-HoustonAl Pastor, Tierra Caliente
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.25
Price: $2 flour, $1.50 corn
This taco truck has been a Montrose neighborhood institution for years and claims a devoted following among the yuppies, hipsters, and leather-clad bikers who pack the West Alabama Ice House across the street. Try the al pastor (the barbacoa’s great too) and don’t forget a shot of the tangy red or creamy green sauce. 1919 W. Alabama, 713-584-9359. Mon–Fri 8:30–11, Sat 8:30–11:30, Sun 8:30–10.


Spicy Chicken, Laredo Taqueria #4
Type: Breakfast
Rating: 4.75
Price: $2
The outposts of this Laredo chain are synonymous with breakfast tacos, and the Patton location is arguably the best. Known for its barbacoa and nopalitos (cactus) options, it also does a killer spicy chicken taco. Ask for the house-made flour tortilla with a smear of refried beans; it’ll keep the savory stew of chicken, bell peppers, onions, and jalapeños from soaking through. An even better tip: eat fast. 311 Patton, 713-695-0504 (multiple locations). Mon–Sat 6–6.


Tinga, 100% Taquito
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.5
Price: $3.99/plate
This convincing replica of a Mexico City taco stand (located in a shopping center near Greenway Plaza) is known for superior house-made corn tortillas, exceptionally fresh red and green salsas, and tinga tacos. Although typically made with chicken, this tinga uses finely shredded brisket stewed in an aromatic chile sauce. 3245 Southwest Fwy (U.S. 59), 713-665-2900. Sun–Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–11.


Lengua, Taconazo Veracruz
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.75
Price: $2
Veteran Houston taco hunters know that the best place to find taco stands is in or behind vulcanizadoras, the “flat-fix” tire shops that dot the longtime Hispanic neighborhoods north and east of downtown. Whatever symbiotic relationship there is between tires and tacos has produced many great outlets, including the Taconazo trailer next to the Latino Tire Center on Fulton Street. There’s nothing fancy about the menu—just fajita, barbacoa, lengua, and trompo—but the tacos are excellent. The lengua in particular makes this a destination; not too gamy, it will turn even the most conservative eater into a cow’s tongue connoisseur. Takeout and cash only; expect the service to be gruff. 4003 Fulton, no phone. Daily 9–midnight.


Borrego, El Hidalguense
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.75
Price: $1.99
Stepping into this dining room in a nondescript strip center on a Sunday is like wandering into a block party in the Mexican state of Hidalgo. Families sit packed together at long communal tables that are so close the waiters have to tiptoe sideways to avoid spilling their trays of fragrant, steaming cabrito, and a huapango huasteco band plays raucous music on a small stage while dancing couples spill out onto the sidewalk. Along one wall, whole spitted goats cook in open brick pits as women turn mounds of masa into fresh tortillas. Though known for cabrito, El Hidalguense also offers superb barbacoa de borrego (lamb) wrapped in maguey leaves. Tip: you can order by the pound for your next fiesta. 6917 Long Point Rd, 713-680-1071. Mon–Thur 8–9, Fri–Sun 7–10.


Tacos-Chilorio-Picos-HoustonChilorio, Picos
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 5
Price: $10
Chef Arnaldo Richards recently moved his popular self-styled “Mex-Mex” restaurant from the southwest side to a more central location on Kirby Drive and gave it a new slogan: “Seven Regions of Mexican Cuisine.” One of those regions is Sinaloa,
a coastal state in northwestern Mexico where the dish known as chilorio originates. Pork shoulder is slow-simmered until tender, pulled apart into TopTacochunks, and then lightly fried. An earthy blend of guajillo and ancho chiles, cumin, and garlic is mixed with a splash of orange juice for sweetness and acidity and poured over the pork, which is further simmered to combine the flavors. The fragrant, dusky stew is served in a small cast-iron pan with terrific fresh corn or flour tortillas, pico de gallo, and slices of avocado. 3601 Kirby Dr, 832-831-9940. Mon–Thur 11–10, Fri 11–11, Sat 9–11, Sun 9–10.


Deshebrada, Taco Keto
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.75
Price: $2
In the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods east of downtown—variously called the East End, Eastwood, or the more trendy “EaDo”—blue-collar businesses now sit side by side with art galleries and coffee shops. It is here that you’ll find a blood-red trailer known as Taco Keto, in the parking lot for Julio’s Auto Shop (“mecánica en general” ). Taco Keto is a play on the Spanish word “coqueto,” as in “coquettish,” and true to its name, the menu gives you a come-on of rare tacos like guilota (quail) and deshebrada (shredded beef). Even more unusual are the corn tortillas, which are slathered in a red chile sauce before being warmed on the flat top—a tradition from northern Mexico that recalls the area’s flat enchiladas, with stacked tortillas, red chile sauce, and cheese. 1401 Cullen Blvd, 713-224-1898. Tue–Wed 5 p.m.–11, Thur–Sat 11–midnight.


Tacos-Hugo's-HoustonDorados de Papas, Hugo’s
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.5
Price: $9/plate
Hugo’s is known for its voluptuous Sunday brunch, but the scene is far more relaxed at lunch on a weekday. Order a margarita and these unusual tacos: the shells are made of corn masa and mashed potatoes, rolled thin and fried, then filled with napa cabbage and pickled onions. Avocado-tomatillo salsa adds sass. 1600 Westheimer Rd, 713-524-7744. Mon­–Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–11, Sun 10–9.


Gringa, Taconmadre
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.75
Price: $3
In a city not known for its 24-hour food culture, Houston’s three Taconmadre locations are a welcome sight in the wee hours, when famished clubgoers and hipsters flock to the mini-chain’s garish green school buses in the hopes of forestalling hangovers. Nothing is subtle here—not the neon-colored handwritten menus and certainly not the fat tacos definitively seasoned with cumin, chile, and salt. Your best bet is the gringa, a lightly crisped flour tortilla with a molten layer of Monterey Jack, chile-and-achiote-spiced pork, and avocado slices (the taco is said to have originated in the seventies at a taqueria in Mexico City called El Fogoncito, where two American women asked for cheese to be added to their tacos al pastor). Splash on a bit of cilantro-infused green sauce—perfection. 610 Crown, 713-675-8442 (multiple locations). Mon–Fri 6–3 a.m., Sat & Sun 6–5 a.m.


Tacos-Pollo-Guisado-Tacos-A-Go-Go-HoustonPollo Guisado, Tacos a Go Go
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.5
Price: $2.79
The tacos here are often underrated even though every ingredient is made in-house daily. The red and green salsas are chunky and hot and may be the best in the city. Try the pollo guisado—chicken stewed in a garlic, tomato, and serrano pepper sauce—with flour tortillas. 3704 Main, 713-807-8226. Mon–Thur 7–10, Fri 7–2 a.m., Sat 8–2 a.m., Sun 8–9.


Frijoles, El Semáforo de Monterrey
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.5
Price: $1
Tacos al vapor, a northern Mexican specialty, feature steamed corn tortillas with a slick, al dente texture. This truck serves three assertively seasoned types—refried beans, boiled potatoes, and shredded beef—with a curtido-esque side of cabbage (the beans are best, or order a combo). Drizzle on some tomatillo and you may never go back to regular tacos. 9000 Airline Dr, no phone. Sun–Thur 9–5, Fri  & Sat 9–8.


Mollejas, Taqueria Tacambaro
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.5
Price: $2
Canino Produce Market, in the greater Heights area, is home to one of Houston’s largest distribution centers for fresh fruits and vegetables, and on any given day, several taco trailers serve the many workers hauling and delivering avocados, mangos, pineapples, grapefruits, and more. On weekends, it’s packed with shoppers from all over, and a stop at Tacambaro, behind the market, is part of the fun. The specialty is mollejas, or sweetbreads, a rich, fatty organ from the neck of a calf. Dubious? Don’t be. The flavor is milder than liver. First poached, then chopped up and crisped on a griddle, the mollejas are served on corn tortillas with onion, cilantro, and a smoky, chunky ancho sauce. 2520 Airline Dr, 713-862-4027. Daily 7–3.


Tacos-Chicharrón-and-egg-Villa-Arcos-HoustonChicharrón and Egg, Villa Arcos
Type: Breakfast
Rating: 4.75
Price: $2.75
Even though it’s near Tex-Mex emporiums like the Original Ninfa’s and El Tiempo’s flagship location, this little joint holds its own. Fans come for the chicharrón taco, featuring crunchy, salty chunks of fried pork skin embedded in a mound of scrambled eggs and wrapped in a handmade flour tortilla. The cumin-laced chorizo and egg taco is also great. 3009 Navigation Blvd, 713-227-1743. Tue–Sat 6–2, Sun 7–1.


Tacos-Lobster-tacos-Jonathan's-the-Rub-HoustonLobster, Jonathan’s the Rub
Type: Specialty
Rating: 4.5
Price: $18/plate
This redoubt of comfort food in tony Hedwig Village dishes out what it calls “new Houston cuisine.” Its tacos fit that ambitious billing. Big chunks of steamed lobster, wrapped in corn tortillas, are jazzed with a spicy, citrusy mayonnaise; pieces of celery add a nice crunch. 9061 Gaylord Dr, 713-465-8200. Mon–Fri 11–2 & 5:30–9:30, Sat 5:30–9:30.


Ground Beef, Noemi’s Tacos
Type: Tex-Mex
Rating: 4.5
Price: $1.90
This tiny, unprepossessing taco joint is easy to zip past if you’ve just exited Interstate 45 on your way to Hobby Airport. But it’s worth a stop for its Tex-Mex plates and one of the best bowls of menudo in the city. Noemi’s throwback tacos are created with handmade flour tortillas, boldly seasoned meat, and lettuce, tomato, and yellow cheese. 8010 Park Place Blvd, 713-645-7907. Mon–Sat 8–6.


Tacos-Ostiones-Caracol-HoustonOstiones, Caracol
Type: Modern American
Rating: 4.5
Price: $16/plate
At his classy, rollicking contemporary seafood venue, Mexico-born chef Hugo Ortega offers tacos de ostiones encamisados: oysters in a spicy breading fried until crispy and served with pico de gallo, guacamole, and a chipotle mayonnaise on freshly made corn tortillas. 2200 Post Oak Blvd, Ste. 160, 713-622-9996. Mon–Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–11, Sun 11–9.


Al Pastor, Los 4 Brothers #1
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.75
Price: $2
Ground zero for Mexican street food culture in Houston is the bustling and chaotic series of flea markets on Airline. Sunny Flea Market is a colossal agglomeration of barnlike structures featuring stalls that sell everything from used electronics to car parts to jewelry. Here the brothers of the Rodriguez family serve tacos al pastor from a traditional trompo, the slabs of adobo-seasoned pork skewered on a vertical spit and topped with a pineapple; the taquero slices off chunks, then quick-fries them until slightly crispy and caramelized. To place your order (three tacos is the norm), look for the younger brother holding the notepad, then sit at a booth to watch as it’s made. 8705 Airline Dr, 832-691-3524. (From I-45, drive north on Airline for four miles; just after Mitchell Road, you’ll see a “Sunny Flea Market Parking” sign on your left. Park and walk north on Airline. Just past the bus stop is an entry to the market. Los 4 Brothers is the first stand.) Sat & Sun 8–7.

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  • Jorge Jaramillo

    As a commercial truck driver I am familiar with dozens of taqueries around Houston have been to most of the places mentioned above and can say they are excellent. Except for those so called speciality tacos, I do not and would not consider traditional.