I scanned the short menu on the side of Abu Omar, a silver-sided taco truck on Hillcroft at Pagewood. It wasn't very forthcoming about the kinds of meats it served, just listing items like tacos and tortas.
"Do you have chicharron?" I asked the smiling young man, Roberto, inside. "No," he replied. "We're...um..." He trailed off as the word seemed on the tip of his tongue. Finally: "Halal! We're halal. Only beef and chicken."
Abu Omar is, as far as I know, the only halal taco truck in Houston. And even more interestingly, it switches from Mexican specialties during the day to Middle Eastern cuisine at night: After 6 p.m., the truck offers shawarma, falafel, foul, Turkish coffee and much more. When you think about it, shawarma isn't all that different from al pastor-style meat (except with regard to the meat itself) -- so an Arab taco truck isn't that much of an aberration.
Nevertheless, it's an exciting and wondrously new thing here in Houston. So when my friend John, who works with refugees in the area, emailed me to tell me about the little truck -- which just opened two weeks ago -- I was incredibly excited to check it out.
Arriving on a sunny afternoon last week, John and I took in the hand-painted, bright yellow sign next to the truck, displaying its name in both English and Arabic. As I snapped a couple of pictures after ordering, a handsome young man got out of a car parked near the truck and walked over to me and John, curious about our intentions.
The owner introduced himself as Alex, a young man originally from Amman, Jordan. Upon hearing this, John eagerly launched into a discussion about restaurants and food in Amman and the foods that Alex carries in his little truck.
"Do you have lebne?" he asked. Alex nodded yes. "What about hummus?" Another nod, as John continued listing off items.
"We also have hot tea everyday," Alex said. "For free."
"With mint?!" John seemed to be barely containing himself.
"Of course!" Alex responded.
And just then, our orders were called up. My lengua taco came on two fresh, hot corn tortillas with plenty of cilantro, which I quickly doctored up with some creamy salsa verde that sat on the truck's ledge. It tasted like the wonderful ají amarillo sauce at Pollo Bravo, all spicy jalapeno and olive oil and a pinch of salt.
The sauteed tongue nearly melted in my mouth, a wonderful sensation that tasted almost like someone had made lengua butter and spread it on the hot tortillas. And although I'd been wary of ordering a chicken quesadilla (I'm pretty much a tacos and tortas kind of girl), it was equally good. But I noticed it had a distinct Middle Eastern quality about it.
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The chicken tasted like shawarma-style chicken, seasoned with plenty of garlic and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg playing at the edges. It made me even more excited to come back here on one of these cool Spring evenings and try Alex and Roberto's real specialties.
And as much as I enjoy the chef-driven, gourmet taco trucks that have sprung up around town, there's a lot to be said for this kind of adventurous, cuisine-spanning spirit in a simple little taco truck off Hillcroft.