The hot shell of griddled Monterey Jack cheese used in place of a tortilla cradles a slice of fatty brisket and is releasing enough oil to keep from cracking as it cools. The El Corazón, a specialty at Eddie O’s Texas Barbecue pop-up, is worth getting smitten over (and worth the calories). “My inspiration for it was a combination of the food/taco scene in Mexico and Los Angeles,” says Eddie O’s owner-pitmaster, Eddie Ortiz, who serves the taco every Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. at D & T Drive Inn. But it wasn’t until he saw Houston’s La Esquina truck using a similar tortilla-like cheese shell that Ortiz had his epiphany. “They said they call it the ‘Primo’ taco because their cousin in Los Angeles sent them a photo of birria tacos with tortillas made out of queso. It was like a lightbulb went off. … I was like, you know what? We need to do this.”
His opportunity came with September’s Houston BBQ Throwdown competition, a qualifier event for the HOU-ATX BBQ Throwdown, happening this Sunday at Saint Arnold Brewing Company. “I thought this was a creative yet very simple way to put a twist on a brisket taco,” Ortiz says. “I named it El Corazón for a number of reasons. One, because it was something that is truly a product of my passion for barbecue. It was from the heart. But also, quite frankly, because if you eat five of these things in a day, you probably will die.”
The cheese shell, which Ortiz calls a tortilla de queso, has its roots in Mexico City, where it is called a costra (Spanish for “scab” or, more pleasantly, “crust”) and is a popular post-nightclub nosh. It’s been gaining popularity in Texas for the past fifteen years, and two variations of the costra were mentioned in Texas Monthly’s 120 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die in 2015: the costra de Chela from Chela’s Tacos and the taco al pastor a la Tuma from Urban Taco.
Either as a tortilla replacement or rolled in a flour tortilla, the costra is striking. With the El Corazón, the salty formation works well with the intense smoky flavor of the brisket, topped with a chunky slice of pickled carrot and a squirt of crimson salsa. Eddie O’s also offers barbecue tacos on tortillas made by Ortiz’s grandmother. For Ortiz, tortillas, whether made of Monterey Jack, corn, or flour, “are a nod to our culture as Hispanics, as Tejanos, that showcase how we do barbecue traditionally. “We use tortillas, and we don’t really make a lot of potato salad. We make rice and beans.” (And the Magic Beans at Eddie O’s—a variation of charro beans brimming with beef sausage and golden, crunchy curls of chicharrones—are an outstanding point of pride for Ortiz’s operation.) Ortiz initially offered flattop-griddled buttered bread—pan de mantequilla—and occasionally goes back to it. “We’ve tried to say, ‘Hey, let’s take a break. Let’s not make the tortillas. Let’s try to use bread,’ and then customers ask us what happened to the tortillas.”