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For a slideshow oftrompo y más behind the scenes at Tacos del Julio, check out this week's slideshow.
The tacos de trompo at Tacos del Julio come scattered on a plate heavy with meat, the sanguine slices of trompo resting on small, thick corn tortillas that are screamingly hot. A scattering of chopped cilantro and raw white onions across the top — perhaps a squeeze of lime — is all that's needed before picking up that first hot taco and digging in. Although this plate may only cost $6.49, it's a priceless meal for those who crave authentic, Monterrey-style Mexican food in Houston.
Tacos del Julio cooks and slices their own meat on site, on a trompo — or vertical spit — kept in the back. Many Houstonians are more familiar with this style of cooking when it's called al pastor, but it's virtually the same thing. After I asked the waitress about the source of the meat one day, she excitedly explained in Spanish as she pantomimed the process of piling the meat onto the pear-shaped trompo — which looks for all the world like a giant version of its namesake, a wooden toy, covered with bands of meat — cooking it, and peeling it off with a sharp knife in large slices before grilling it. That process gives the pork a textured feel and taste that's altogether entirely pleasing in the mouth: a bit of crunch, a bit of softness, a bit of fat, a bit of meat in each bite.
8203 Long Point
Houston, TX 77055
Region: Outer Loop - NW
Caldo Tlalpeño: $3.79
Flautas especiales: $7.49
Enchiladas del Julio: $7.49
Tacos de trompo: $6.49
Taco pirata: $2.39
Tacos del Julio
8203 Long Point, 832-358-1500
The meat itself here is pork, of course, liberally seasoned with crushed red chiles and a bit of garlic. Those chiles give it its signature garnet hue. This trompo is just one of the reasons Monterrey expats flock here at all hours of the day and night.
I've been eating at Tacos del Julio for going on three years now. I was introduced to the restaurant — and to Monterrey-style food — by my old coworkers at CEMEX, the Mexican-owned cement company, headquartered in Monterrey. These imports to Houston from Monterrey head to Tacos del Julio when they're craving food from home, or just a fond glance at Monterrey's dual stadiums, as depicted on a large, colorful mural by the front door.
My old office mate used to wolf down plates of tacos del trompo, ordering one plate for lunch and another to go. I often teased him about entering the weekly eating contest that Tacos del Julio hosts on Wednesday nights, when the tacos are all-you-can-eat for $9.95 and eating more than 34 (the current record) in an hour means all of your tacos are gratis._____________________
The trompo meat is served in other applications here, many of which are just as popular as the little tacos served on their corn tortillas. The gringa, for example, is the same dish but served with gooey white cheese on a griddled flour tortilla that's hot and slightly crusty on the outside. You can also get the meat on a torta, my personal favorite, for one of the best Mexican sandwiches in town.
The trompo really shines in those tortas. Fresh, oh-so-slightly crusty bread that has a soft give to it without being too tough — you don't want the torta's fillings squirting helplessly out one side, as can often happen — encases tangy crema, fatty avocado slices, bright red tomatoes, crisp lettuce and beans that still taste of the pork fat they were cooked in. Even if you don't get trompo meat, the torta at Tacos del Julio almost can't be beat.
But although the trompo meat at Tacos del Julio is great — and although the restaurant should be admired for its use of a trompo on site — it's not the best you'll find in the Houston area. That honor belongs to Karancho's, an assessment that my friend Jay Rascoe backed up on one visit. Rascoe, the man behind the food blog Guns and Tacos, is something of a trompo connoisseur. He regarded the little tacos with weary admiration, but advised that Karancho's simply can't be touched when it comes to pork cooked on a spit.
"I mean, these are good and all," he said, before trailing off. At Karancho's, you can watch as the meat is sliced right off the trompo in front of you, the pork extra juicy and sweet from pineapple juice that drips onto it as it cooks.
Then again, Karancho's is all the way in Channelview. You can probably find a Tacos del Julio a lot closer to your home, as there are five of the Houston-only restaurants scattered around the city._____________________
Where the restaurant also wows me is in its steadfast refusal to become just another Tex-Mex restaurant. The food has remained staunchly Nuevoleonese since the little chain was founded and has grown into something of a superstar within the Mexican community.
When you take a seat in the bright confines of the Long Point location, you'll instantly be greeted with a bowl of slow-cooked charro beans in lieu of chips and salsa — something you'd never find in Monterrey anyway. In separate molcajetes alongside the beans are cut limes and chopped cilantro y cebollo. I am always tempted to use it all in doctoring up my bowl of beans, already liberally seasoned with pork fat, and have to remind myself to save some for my tacos still to come.
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you dared eating outside of the beloved comfort areas montrose and the heights? tacos de julio sucks beaner cock & you know it. ban me all u want, i will still champion the cause to have you scribe the truth not advertisements for subpar establishments
A pirata is a taco on a grilled flour tortilla that has fajita-style beef inside along with white cheese and avocado slices. Good stuff, especially with the green sauce.
This has been by far the worst Mexican cusine I have eaten in Houston. The tacos are on the level of Taco Bell, my cat Mr. Whiskers can make better mexican food with a bandana tied around his eyes and mittens on his paws. This is a disgrace to food critics around the world, and the critic who published this article should have his food licenses revoked and put on a five year prohobation from giving resturant recondmendations.
I figure a person who has been going there for three years would know a hell of a lot more than some snob who doesn't even know the difference between "Add new comment" in BIG PRINT and "reply" which is much smaller.
Houston DOES deserve better, but not from the likes of you.
Thanks for the article, Katharine. I need to try and visit this interesting place.
As far as I know, Tacos del Julio has never served "black eyed peas" in its complimentary charro beans before a meal, nor does the interior resemble a Chuck E. Cheese. That said, I'm sorry you didn't find the food to your liking. (Although I suspect this comment is more baiting than anything else.)
I meant to have my comment stand on its own. It was a mistake to have it as a reply to you.
I logged onto the Houston Press and saw this article that highly recommended a Mexican restaurant. I actually went to this restaurant and was highly disappointed. I followed a recommendation by the Houston Press for a Mediterranen restaurant which was also very bad (although not as bad as Tacos el Julio).
When I walked in the place was like chucke cheese. They served some sort of complementary soup for appetizer that had black eyed peas. Although high in salt, it raised my expectations after the dismal decor.
The meat was paper thin and oily. It might have actually had some flavor - but the cut was so thin it was not possible to taste it. The corn tortiallas were also very oily.
After getting home from the dining experience; rereading this article was laughable having experienced what this place is really like.
I will look to other places for food critics and let people know the quality of the Houston Press culinary outlook - very poor.
Your comment is a disgrace for giving legitimacy to this amateur food writer.
Just becuase there are no new restaurants to write about, doesn't mean you pick a crappy restaurant and say its 'priceless' - just don't write an article until you find something worth writing about.
Houston deserves better.