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Tall-Tale Tacos

Is Doneraki famous for its authentic Mexican food or for giving away chile con queso?

The Mexicans took the vertical roaster, which was carried to Mexico by immigrants from the Middle East, and switched the meat from the traditional, Arab, seasoned ground meat to marinated pork strips layered on the roaster in the shape of a child's toy top, or trompo, with a piece of pineapple on top. The meat is typically bright red, salty and spicy, with a wonderful fruit flavor from the pineapple. Since the thin strips are shaved from the edge with a sharp knife, the pork comes in very fine pieces.

What they call tacos al pastor at Doneraki looks like three corn tortillas topped with thick brown hunks of chopped pork with little or no seasonings. Well, at least there's plenty of pineapple, I thought, pushing around a bunch of yellow things with my fork before I picked up the taco. But what I thought were pineapple chunks turned out to be gristly pork fat.

I have nothing against pork fat. I could eat hot, crispy chicharrones by the pound. But these were chunks of inedible gristle that just got more disgusting as I tried to chew them. When the waiter returned and asked if everything was all right, I got out a menu and pointed to the description of tacos al pastor. It said, "marinated pork from our famous 'trompo' (similar to a large spinning top)." I asked him to take me to the kitchen and show me el trompo. That earned me an audience with the manager. When I told him I wanted to see their famous trompo, he admitted there wasn't one. "The machine is broken," he said.

Some of the best in the city: Doneraki's cazuela tapado tacos.
Troy Fields
Some of the best in the city: Doneraki's cazuela tapado tacos.

Location Info

Map

Doneraki Authentic Mexican Restaurant

300 Gulfgate Mall
Houston, TX 77087

Category: Music Venues

Region: Outer Loop - SE

Doneraki Authentic Mexican Restaurant

2836 Fulton
Houston, TX 77009

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Heights

Details

Hours: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 9 a.m. to midnight Sundays.

Tacos cazuela tapado: $9.95
Fajitas for one: $11.95
Mexican combination plate: $11.95
Enchiladas rojas: $8.95
Chile con queso: $4.50

300 Gulfgate Center, 713-645-6400.

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The waiter returned, and I told him I couldn't eat the tacos for all the gristle. He told me I didn't owe anything for the meal. Then he did something I will always remember. He told me about a nearby taqueria that served tacos al pastor that really were cut from el trompo, and he drew me a map explaining how to get there. I gave him a nice tip.

What a wonderful moment. We have come full circle. Now that Doneraki has grown into a huge, successful Tex-Mex operation, new little taquerias with flavors straight from Mexico are springing up in the barrio to take its place.


If the Don Erakio tale on the restaurant's Web site was fiction, I wondered where the odd name Doneraki actually came from. So I Googled the term. And I found a chain of restaurants in Mexico called Don Eraki Tacos Arabes. Tacos arabes are Mexican gyro sandwiches. Seasoned ground meat is sliced from a vertical roaster and wrapped in oversize thick flour tortillas called pan arabe, which looks a lot like pita bread.

According to the Mexican Don Eraki's Web site (www.tacosarabes.com.mx), tacos arabes, which are now known as doneraki tacos, were introduced in Puebla in the '30s when an Iraqi immigrant named Jorge Tabe opened an eatery that advertised both "tacos arabes" and "tacos estilo Doneraky." Doneris the Arab word for "gyro meat," and aki means little in Greek, so doneraki means "little gyro."

To create a moniker that sounded like a person's name, the Mexican restaurant chain separated the "don" from the "eraki." Don Eraki Tacos Arabes is a now a franchise operation with locations throughout Mexico.

I love great Tex-Mex, and I love Doneraki's Gulfgate location. I don't know or care if the Rodriguez brothers stole their name from the Don Eraki chain in Mexico. I don't expect them to admit that the name "doneraki" was coined by an Iraqi, either.

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