Victual Files: La Taqueria Mexicana

If you like to visit different towns to take in and experience the local culture, there’s not a better way to do it than to test out the local food. A community is defined by what they eat and how they eat together. Especially in small towns, the available food is a large part of the definition of that community itself. Anytime we travel, we try to find out where the locals eat. You’ll usually get the best food, the best value, and the heart of what makes the community so much different than others.

The food culture in Texas follows no general rules, as each local town could best identify with BBQ or homestyle cuisine or even Mexican food. In the Old Town area of Graham is home to a non-so-hidden but probably mostly unknown treasure:  La Taqueria Mexicana.

Right on 4th street, residents have probably driven by it hundreds of times without much thought at all. Those who haven’t ventured in have really done themselves a disservice, though, because in the unassuming and relatively small taco shack you’ll find a delectable meal with “authentico” written all over it.

First of all, any Mexican food place that serves menudo on Sundays is as authentic as it gets. For those who aren’t familiar with menudo, it’s a stew that’s noted for its ability to help calm the aching head and rumbling gut of a late-night Saturday spent on the bottom side of a beer bottle. It’s not for the faint of heart, though. Menudo is a spicy broth made with chilis, tons of herbs and spices, and glistens with fat that’s rendered from its main ingredient: tripas, or tripe. Specifically, menudo is made with the honeycomb reticulum tripas from a beef’s second stomach. That’s right…one of the best hangover cures in Texas and all points south is a spicy beef stomach stew. Sounds disgusting, right? It’s definitely an acquired taste, but if you appreciate real Mexican cuisine and don’t pale at the sight of offal on your plate, then give menudo a try.

I’m not here today for the menudo at Taqueria Mexicana, though. It’s the tacos. If you like tacos (and every non-insane human loves tacos), then this is the place you need to head.

When you walk in the front door, you see the kitchen behind a front counter, and off to the right you have a small dining area.

Taqueria Mexicana has a solid reputation around town as a great place for breakfast burritos (which are more like the size of what we consider to be a taco). There’s nothing wrong at all with coming here for those, because they really are outstanding. Your choices for breakfast burritos include:

Pick either egg with meat or potato with meat. You can’t go wrong with these, although I’m a big fan of the potato with chorizo and egg. A closer look at the full menu:

This is the first page but you can see that you’ve got a pretty good choice of how you want your dish. I’m here for the taquitos, or little tacos. They are served on corn tortillas, which are made fresh back in the back. If you order the burrito, you get a flour tortilla, which is also made in the back. I love either one, and depending on my mood I’ll order either or both. Specifically, I’m here for the tacos al pastor.

Tacos al pastor are made with pork over a rotisserie. The meat is cooked similarly to the way that gyro meat in greek cuisine is made. The meat is cut into small bite-sized bits with just a perfect amount of chewiness and toothiness to make you want to take as many chews as possible to extract the most flavor.

Fresh onion and cilantro highlight the spicy flavors on the tacos al pastor.

While I was there, I went ahead and picked up a handful of the brisket tacos, too. It’s a different flavor profile completely, but it’s a formidable back up to the tacos al pastor on the menu

A close-up of the tacos al pastor:

Roll this over so you have a tight cigar, and you have a compact blast of nuclear Mexican flavor. The soft chewiness of the meat, the crunchy fresh onion, and the perfume of the fresh cilantro is unbeatable.

This is the part that I love…the mouth-coating grease from the pork falls right out the back. The seasonings, a mixture of chili, cumin, and oregano, make for a finger-licking cleanup.

Those brisket tacos I was talking about? They make a great mild compliment to the spicy pork.

Laying these out, you can see the perfect amount of meat, laid perfectly into the center of the taco.  No cheese, no sour cream, no ancillary or superfluous filling to take away or confuse the flavor.

Other menu items of note:

-The gorditas are incredible. They take the same meat as the tacos and put them in a purse of masa (like the texture of a tamale, but not steamed and round like a large ravioli).

-If you think you can handle it, try the chicharrones on your taco. Those are “pig rinds”, or pork skin cut into strips. The texture is like stiff gelatin.  Unless you’ve had them before and know you like them, go ahead and hold off on those until your third or fourth trip to TM.

-The salsa (labeled as “big container of hot sauce” on the menu) is superb. They serve a single serving with each taco/burrito, but you can also buy it in bulk. It’s fresh and delicious.

-You can buy the flour tortillas by the dozen. Homemade tortillas are unbeatable anyway, but the ones at Taqueria Mexicana really are tasty.

-During the week, they have lunch specials served with rice and beans.

Authentic. Homemade. Delicious. Taqueria Mexicana in Graham, Texas.

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Trav’s Corner: Speckled Trout Tacos

One of the great things about being a food junkie is you get to find other food junkies and learn how to really cook things right.  Our S. Texas buddy, Travis, is a REAL foodie; a bona fide professional chef who left the trade for a normal job.  We’ve invited him to share some of his favorites from time to time here on AE.

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My corner of Arcadia is on the beach at South Padre Island. We’ve got a little place on the bay in Port Isabel with a dock and we keep an underwater light there that comes on at night to attract speckled sea trout. Not only are these fun to catch, but they’re also real good eating. My 7 year old son likes to catch a couple every night. We keep them for trout tacos. Here’s how I do it.

First, you’ve got to filet the fish. Start by laying the fish on the cleaning station with his back towards you.

 

Lift up the side fin and position your filet knife right next to the fin with the back of the knife at a diagonal towards the head:

 

Cut straight down to the backbone, and then turn the knife so that it cuts along the backbone.

 It’ll be tough at first as you’ll have to cut through some ribs, but after you get through that, it’ll go real easy all the way to the tail. Some people like to leave a piece at the end attached to the tail to make it easier to skin, but I prefer to cut it all the way off. Next you’ll want to remove the ribs. Place your knife right along the rib line and cut down at an angle, following the rib bones.

 

 

To get the skin off, lay the filet flat against your cutting surface, skin side down. Holding your knife flat, start at the tail end and cut through a little piece of meat to the skin.

 

Hold onto this piece with one hand and move the knife back and forth with the other. Let the knife do the work. Don’t try to push the knife along, and don’t pull the skin. This takes practice, but you can just trim off any skin you miss. Now turn the fish over and repeat.

 After you wash them off, you’ve got two nice filets. The next step is seasoning. I could put together some bad ass blend, but Tony Chachere already did:

 

 

Sprinkle this stuff on liberally, and then the filets go into a hot nonstick pan with canola oil. Cook over high heat until browned and then turn over and do the other side:

Note: searing with Tony’s can result in some pretty caustic fumes. Make sure your vent hood is on (assuming it vents to the outside) or make sure your kitchen is well ventilated. Once the filets are browned on both sides, remove from the pan and place on a paper towel or rack to drain.

While they’re draining, heat a tortilla in a dry pan until warmed through. I like Mission multigrain tortillas with this for health reasons (and cause they’re really good), but you can use corn or flour or whatever.

Once you’ve got all the tortillas warmed up (two filets makes about 6 tacos) you can start assembly. Break off a piece of filet long enough to cover the tortilla lengthwise. Next, spoon on some Greek yogurt:

 

 

This is some good stuff, and you can use it like sour cream. Next, squeeze some lime juice on there and start adding toppings. Here’s one with tomato, avocado and sprouts, but you can go with what you like here, including cabbage, peppers, onion, lettuce, cheese, cilantro, etc.

 

 

Now sprinkle on your favorite hot sauce and go to town. I usually serve with rice and beans.

Special note: you inland types can sub bass or catfish for the trout. Tilapia will do in a pinch. Just go with white fleshed fish and you should be fine.