You'll find tacos of every shape and size in Houston, from the queso fresco-topped oreja tacos filled with strips of chewy pig ears at El Ultimo to deliciously greasy barbacoa tacos made from beef cheeks at Gerardo's, but you'll only find buffalo and elk tacos at one place: Sammy's Wild Game Grill.
Sammy's Wild Game Grill
3715 Washington Avenue
Sammy's is known for its other wild game offerings, from rabbit burgers and antelope sliders to venison hot dogs and salads topped with nearly any kind of exotic meat that's legally available: llama, ostrich, and kangaroo are just a few of your choices. A few months ago, owner Samuel Ballarin added tacos to the menu on a tentative basis.
When I tried his first run at elk-filled street-style tacos on two corn tortillas, sprinkled with cilantro and onions, topped with fat slices of avocado, I was hooked. The elk was sweet and light—a marked difference from the heavier, fattier meats I normally favor in tacos, but a welcome change. I hoped the tacos would get thrown into the rotation on a consistent basis, and on a recent visit I was pleased to see they were.
Ballarin told me the tacos were selling so well, he almost didn't have a choice. "People have been coming back in and requesting them," he said. But as with his other offerings, the meat inside the tacos themselves changes on a seasonal basis according to what Ballarin can get in.
Yesterday, it was buffalo, and I was surprised to see that the clean, grassy-tasting meat was as welcome a filling as the elk had been. I'm normally not a fan of buffalo burgers, where the meat is too lean and often too grassy for my liking, but buffalo rendered taco-style with squirts of lime, heavy pours of salsa verde, and ample shots of Sammy's house-made ghost pepper sauce ends up working exceptionally well.
That fruit-forward, heat-backed ghost pepper sauce is the other reason I visit Sammy's on a consistent basis: we go through a bottle of the stuff in my house every month. "If you let it sit for a while, it gets even spicier," advised Ballarin, who sells his sauce for $10 a bottle at the register. "It doesn't last that long around us," I laughed in response.
When Sammy's first opened, I heard a lot of comparisons between the cute, compact Washington Avenue spot with a drive-thru and the deliberately grungy, icehouse-style Moon Tower Inn in the Second Ward. It was a comparison I could never understand; the only similarity was in the wild game hot dogs that both places served.
These days, between the tacos, the hot sauce and other unique dishes—an apple, cabbage, carrot, and jicama coleslaw dressed with pineapple juice and Sriracha, or the Guinness beer-based cupcakes iced with Bailey's Irish Cream frosting that Ballarin bakes himself—that comparison is even less warranted. Sammy's stands alone as a unique restaurant with equally unique creations, and this stretch of Washington is better for it.