October 4 is National Taco Day, and—just like a slice of cheese pizza or a sandwich—what makes tacos so terrific is how simple they are, how affordable, and how difficult to mess up. In Houston, at least, the ratio of excellent tacos I've had far outweighs the bad. And while it's tough to pick 10 favorites in a city with such an embarrassment of taco riches, the 10 below are at least a starting point if you're looking to celebrate National Taco Day in style.
Carne asada tacos at Refresquería Rio Verde
While most people hit up this Long Point taco truck for its elotes and raspas, I also like to get a couple of its carne asada tacos for a full meal. The gently stewed chunks of beef virtually fall apart as you bite into them, so beware—this is a gloriously messy meal best eaten standing up outside, as taco truck culture would indicate.
8315 Long Point
Lengua tacos at Tacos Tierra Caliente
Everyone loves talking about Tacos Tierra Caliente, and with good reason. It's one of the few old-school taco trucks inside the Loop, and one of the best ways to have a cheap and cheerful night out in Montrose: grab a few lengua tacos and a few longnecks of Lone Star from West Alabama Ice House next door, post up at a picnic table, swat away some mosquitoes, and bask in the pure Houston-ness of it all.
2003 West Alabama, 713-584-9359
Mollejas tacos at Taqueria Tacambaro
These classics have been cooked up by Taqueria Tacambaro owner Maria Rojas for nearly two decades, as Robb Walsh recently pointed out in a post about the little taco truck behind the Canino farmer's market on Airline. Don't tell your friends mollejas are sweetbreads, if your friends know what sweetbreads are and you want them to try these soft, sweet tacos. Just tell them they're the best part of the animal's meat and go from there—you're not lying to them, after all.
2520 Airline Dr.
Oxtail tacos at Pistolero's
Pistolero's on Westheimer offers an array of excellent "chef-driven" tacos, from a well-rendered barbacoa to tender pork in a dusky red mole. But it's the gently fatty oxtails from chef Brandon Schillings I like best, thanks to the smoky tomato jam that brightens up the meat with an acidic pop of flavor.
1517 Westheimer, 281-974-3860
Short rib vindaloo tacos at Fusion Taco
As with Pistolero's, this downtown taco joint specializes in chef-driven tacos that are all so good, choosing just one favorite is tough. Unlike Pistolero's, it doesn't stick to Tex-Mex classics, but brings in influences from around the world such as a Thai chicken satay-inspired taco and a Japanese taco filled with agedashi tofu. The Indian-inflected short rib vindaloo is reminiscent of Mexican mole with its deep, dusky spices, and the tender beef is rendered like silk.
801 Congress, 713-422-2882
Chicharrón tacos at Brothers Taco House
Whether you're hitting Brothers for breakfast or lunch, the chicharrón tacos are your best bet. Wrapped up in big, fluffy, freshly-made flour tortillas, the pork skin stewed in salsa verde is an eye-opener at any time of day.
1604 Dowling, 713-223-0091
Trompo tacos at Taqueria La Macro
One of the few places in town to rock a true-blue trompo, or a vertical rotating spit topped with pork and pineapple, but Taqueria La Macro does—and thank goodness for it. The authentic Mexican trompo results in some of the juiciest, most flavorful pork you'll find in Houston. And in even better news, Taqueria La Macro recently expanded its dining area and now features even more room and a full bar.
1822 N. Main, 713-226-8226
Al pastor tacos at Karanchos
As with the tacos de trompo at La Macro, these are the real deal. And since Karanchos is an entirely outdoor affair, it's a good thing National Taco Day is in the fall—because you're sitting outside. It's really all the better to bask in the smoky aroma eminating from the trompos as they rotate, and you won't be able to tell if you're sweating because of the weather or the spicy salsas on the al pastor tacos.
620 Sheldon Rd., Channelview, 281-862-9968
Chorizo tacos at La Mexicana
Breakfast tacos are an important category not to be ignored. The delicious huevos y chorizo breakfast tacos at family-run La Mexicana are best enjoyed on a lazy weekend when you won't mind the orange grease or green salsa dripping onto your shirt, and when you can grab a spot on La Mex's patio to kick back and relax with some cafe and additional fresh tortillas to snack on.
1018 Fairview, 713-521-0963
Cabeza tacos at El Ultimo
If I had to choose just one taco, this would be it. The ultimate taco. Cabeza is just another way of saying barbacoa, which means all the lovely, fatty, juicy head meat from a cow is scraped off the skull and into a taco. At El Ultimo, they further gild the lily by adding sauteed onions, crumbled queso fresco, and slices of avocado, and oh what a glorious sight it is to behold—and, most importantly, to eat.
Long Point at Johanna