For my latest Taco of the Week, I chose the El Corazón from Eddie O’s Texas Barbecue, a pop-up in Houston. What sets this taco apart is the vessel: the brisket taco comes not in a flour tortilla, but in a shell made of griddled cheese. Although pitmaster-owner Eddie Ortiz calls it a tortilla de queso, it is also known widely as a costra taco, and it’s starting to pop up on more menus across the state.
The costra (which can mean “crust”) became popular in Mexico City in the early aughts as a late-night nosh from a taqueria called Las Costras, which was next to the Bandasha nightclub. “When I was still in college in Texas—probably like 2002, 2003, 2004—I went to go see my family, and they took me out to Bandasha,” remembers Markus Pineyro, founder and owner of Urban Taco in Dallas. “Las Costras was right there, outside the nightclub, and it was the perfect food after drinking and dancing. It’s like the best experience in the world.” Las Costras is now a chain, and the taco style is available across Mexico City and the region.
In Texas, the costra’s story goes back about fourteen years along the border. The first mention I could find of a costra taco in the state comes from a 2005 McAllen Monitor article on the now shuttered La Parrilla Grill, in Mission, which served a cheese shell rolled around poblano chiles and a boneless pork chop, and put it on top of a flour tortilla. In 2015, Pineyro’s costra variation, the taco al pastor a la Tuma, made our list of 120 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die. Since then, I’ve found more costras at taquerias across Texas, including La Vibra Tacos in Houston and Chilangos Tacos in Dallas.
Both serve stellar costras. My favorite at La Vibra is served with rajas tucked into a slick Oaxaca-Gouda roll on a flour tortilla. The tartness of the tamarind salsa adds a beautiful balance to the richness of the cheese and rajas. At Chilangos—where the white tile and red accents give the restaurant an uncanny resemblance to a Mexico City market taqueria—it’s best to opt for the al pastor, prepared on a trompo. It’s an off-menu item but one that is requested often enough to make it a signature item.
“Considering the strategy is to keep it off the menu, we do sell quite a lot,” says owner Jonatan Garay, who opened Chilangos this spring. “If you know, you know. You get one costra and two or three tacos, and that’s a hell of a meal.” Adds Chilangos’ executive taquero, Joel Mendoza: “Even though it’s so simple … the process and the final product change the taco game. That’s how people really know us. The costra was the key to opening the door to this market.”