Mexican & Margaritas

The 10 Essential Taco Trucks

The fancy-food-truck fad may be fading, but good, old-fashioned taco trucks are here to stay. Here are a few worth seeking out.

By Robb Walsh June 30, 2014 Published in the July 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine

El Norteño serves it up late.

Image: Marco Torres

El Norteño (on the corner of Long Point Road and Gessner) is a blue school bus with a cartoon chicken painted on the side—at dinnertime, just look for the clouds of smoke billowing from it. The bus serves as the commissary kitchen for the many bright blue El Norteño grilled chicken trailers that fan out all over Spring Branch. (Norteño refers to northern Mexico, where this style of mesquite-grilled chicken originates.) The golden-skinned fowl is exceptionally moist, with the flavor of mesquite smoke permeating every bite. A whole one, which will easily feed four, comes with a buttery, soft, roasted onion, charred jalapeños, fresh-made salsa, and a stack of fresh corn tortillas.

After more than 20 years in the same spot, El Taconazo (Fulton St. and Irene St.) has become the truck for fajita tacos. Each comes with two corn tortillas, lots of tender marinated beef with a chewy char, freshly cut garnishes, and two varieties of salsa, plus a lime wedge for good measure. Don’t miss the delicious charro beans—a $1 side dish. Located behind the blue building that houses the Latino Tire Center, Taco Nazo is only one block from the new light rail station at the entrance to Moody Park, where diners will find lots of picnic tables under the shade trees. 

Leo Chavez of Taco Keto

Image: Marco Torres

El Ultimo (Long Point Rd. and Jacquelyn Dr., 713-859-6706) has long been known for breakfast tacos, but it’s also a favorite lunch spot. Thick flour tortillas set it apart, along with the unique toppings that come with tacos de chicharron y barbacoa: in addition to the standard cilantro and salsa verde, you’ll get a generous portion of grilled onions, crumbled queso fresco, and plush avocado slices with every order. Don’t miss the crunchy-chewy orejas (pig’s ear tacos) when El Ultimo has them on the menu.

Acclaimed by both Houstonians and the national press alike, the Jarro Cafe truck (14520 Memorial Dr.) has long been famous for its chicken tinga tacos, thinly shaved Angus steak tacos, and its assortment of complex, sometimes incendiary, salsas. No longer parked in front of the restaurant which once bore its name (Jarro Cafe on Gessner Rd. is now closed), these days the truck caters to the Energy Corridor on weekdays at lunchtime. Pay the upcharge for flour tortillas and get the onion-oregano relish when available.

The Taqueria Las Glorias taco truck (parked at the carwash at Long Point Rd. and Antoine Dr.), makes uniquely delicious breakfast tacos with your choice of meats and lightly flipped fried eggs.

Taqueria Mora (Irvington Blvd. and Collinsworth St.) sports modern graphics and a Moorish-style logo of a skyline with minarets. The dainty tacos here come on tiny, delicate, freshly made corn tortillas—if you usually eat two tacos, better count on three or four here. Mora’s specialty is fajitas, with the well-marinated beef nicely complemented by grilled onions and a roasted serrano chile.  

Taqueria Tacambaro (2520 Airline Dr.) is a favorite of Houstonians who fancy “nose-to-tail” tacos. The eatery, behind Canino’s market, cooks its mollejas (sweetbreads) well-done, with a brown, crispy crust and moist, gooey interior that will change your mind about offal. Other don’t-miss offerings include the spicy pork al pastor, crisped up in a frying pan and served with raw onion and cilantro, and the awesome gordita, stuffed with homemade refried beans and crumbled white Mexican cheese. Another must-try: the chocolate-colored dried guajillo chile salsa.  

On the East Side, a few blocks north of the Cullen entrance of the University of Houston, you’ll find Taco Keto (1401 Cullen Blvd., 713-224-1898)—look for the sign with the hungry pig in a bow tie. The tacos here come on tortillas dipped in guajillo chile sauce, making them a little floppy, a little sloppy, and extra tasty. The young taquero from Monterrey recommends the house specialty, koketadas, the same guajillo-dipped tortillas but stuffed with meat and melted cheese. In addition to the usual chopped onions and cilantro, Taco Keto supplies sautéed onions, a roasted jalapeño, and an authoritative green salsa with every order. 

To change the menu at Tacos Mayra (10510 Beechnut St. just west of Beltway 8, 832-875-3904), the owners had to repaint the whole truck. The Bugs Bunny mascot survived, but the Frito pie and Dorilocos (Doritos pie) are gone. Oh, well; the fresh-off-the-griddle fajita, lengua, and barbacoa tacos are still fantástico (avoid the pastor, which has a little too much gristle). Get these tacos on lightly fried corn tortillas, and your bacon-and-egg breakfast tacos on flour. And be sure to ask for grilled onions, cilantro, and fresh green salsa. The lemonade and other fruit drinks (aguas frescas) are refreshing thirst-quenchers on a hot day.

Top-rated Tacos Tierra Caliente (West Alabama St. at McDuffie St., 713-584-9359) serves terrific barbacoa tacos with onions and cilantro as well as excellent lengua ones. We suspect that this truck’s extremely convenient location next door to the West Alabama Ice House has had some influence on its exalted reputation—after a couple of ice-cold beers, it’s difficult to be truly objective about the flavor of a hot-off-the-griddle taco dripping with hot sauce. The outdoor beer joint doesn’t serve food, so imbibers are welcome to eat their tacos at its picnic tables, which of course makes them taste better still.

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