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100 Favorite Dishes 2013: No. 74, Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto (Just Look for the Red Truck)

Everything in this box cost $1.50. For a whole meal. A whole, wonderful meal.
Everything in this box cost $1.50. For a whole meal. A whole, wonderful meal.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape. It's a list to drool over.

I wasn't looking for Taco Keto when I found it. I was lost in East Downtown, perhaps looking for one of my favorite haunts, Voodoo Queen, before I memorized exactly how to get there. I drove past the little red truck covered in handwritten signs on neon poster board, and found myself drawn to it.

I grew up eating tacos and fruit cups from small stands or trucks in weedy, overgrown lots in my hometown of Corpus Christi, and I learned from those experiences that taco trucks usually meant one of two things: food poisoning or the best tacos of your life.

I parked in the tiny amount of space allotted to visitors next to the truck and walked up to the window, unsure of what I was getting into. A man appeared and proceeded to ask me in Spanish what I wanted.

 

The colorful exterior of Taco Keto is hard to miss.
The colorful exterior of Taco Keto is hard to miss.

"What's the best?" I asked hopefully, in English.

He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders as if to mime, "I don't know what you're saying." Then he looked at me and said, "Tacos?"

"Tacos!" I exclaimed, excited to have broken the language barrier. We were getting somewhere. I glanced at the list of meats on the side of the truck: fajitas, pastor, pollo, chicarron, desebrada, tripitas, barbacoa and milanesa. Al pastor seemed like a safe bet.

I held up my finger to show that I wanted one taco, al pastor, and the man inside the truck held up his fingers, first one, then five, then zero. "Un dólar cincuenta."

A dollar fifty? For a taco plate? That sounded ridiculously cheap. Visions of me huddled over a porcelain throne flashed through my mind. "Awesome," I said, and handed him the money.

Five minutes later, I was given a big to-go box, a fork, some napkins and some extra salsa and sent on my way. I sat in my truck, styrofoam box in my lap, and tentatively opened the lid. What I saw and smelled inside was amazing.

A single taco filled with cheese and chunks of sliced pork that appeared to have been pan-fried to achieve a crisp on the outside of the corn tortilla. Papas sautéed with cumin and chile and blackened around the edges. Caramelized onions. Fresh cilantro. Half a lemon. And a generous helping of green tomatillo and jalapeño salsa on top.

I have eaten more than my fair share of tacos, but this was hands down one of the best. The meat was perfectly tender and juicy, the tortilla had a great crunch to it, the cheese was smoky, and the salsa was bright and spicy. The whole thing was on the greasy side, but I loved it even more for that. Nothing in that humble styrofoam box was superfluous -- everything from the onions to the lemon were there because they added something to the overall dish. And it was only $1.50.

I don't even remember if I ended up at Voodoo Queen after that. All I recall was being in taco heaven and making plans to get lost again in the near future on that same street.

The list so far: No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop


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