When El Tiempo took over the the Matamoros Meat Market No. 4 back in 2008, it absolutely surprised then-Houston Press food editor Robb Walsh and also concerned him a bit. While the prices weren't really raised and the menu still seemed pretty great, he wrote:
I got a carne guisada taco and a picadillo taco, both on flour tortillas, for $1.89 each. And, properly topped with salsa, onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime, they tasted damn good. But I wonder what El Tiempo plans to do with the place in the long term. Will it become the prototype for a homegrown Houston burrito chain?
In fact, it hasn't become a burrito chain at all. Instead El Tiempo Market still has an array of incredible tacos, take home meats, produce and dairy items, and recently spruced itself up with a new name, El Tiempo Taqueria, new signage out front, and four high top tables allowing for inside seating.
The market is often home to a crowd at 5 a.m. when folks line up to get the much sought-after breakfast tacos, and again at lunch, when tacos again are king, though plate specials are available in the $6.50 to $7.50 range, along with some salad bowls and even a few tortas and sandwiches of Laurenzo's fame.
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"There are condos up and down Washington now. We do have changing demographics," owner Dominic Laurenzo says, which could perhaps account for seemingly safer menu items, but you'll still want to order off the hot bar, where numerous kitchen specials including various guisada style (stewed) meats, huge husks of feather-light, deep-fried pig skin, barbacoa, fajitas, and deep fried, cheesy-as-all-get-out gorditas that can be stuffed with the meats of your choosing, are all fan favorites. A taco here will set you back $2.25 to $2.89, gorditas around $3.50, which isn't too big a leap from 2008-era pricing.
Barbacoa seems to be the favorite here, and I did sample some of that tender, succulent meat, though it was a gordita that I gobbled up full-speed, stuffed with melty cheese along with juicy fajita and sausage that had been added before my very eyes. I also went for the eye-catching red inside-skirt steak, fajita asada adobado (most people associate fajita with outside skirt steak which is made up of more marbled fat, but this cut is a tad leaner). Laurenzo tells the Press that the steak actually undergoes a sous vide process wherein it's put under pressure in a vacuum-sealed pouch with ice cold water and a spice mix that helps to tenderize the meat and also gives it that red DayGlo factor that rivals any banh mi's Vietnamese barbecue pork.
This taco was giant with its added spoon-slick of refried beans and rice, and a side of spicy salsa verde that I poured over the top, practically chanting my devotion to the tortilla itself, that hot, griddled perfection. This taco now has a place in my heart right next to Gerardo's barbacoa. It's good. Dangerously good.
"From a humble meat market for immigrants to a fast casual Tex-Mex taco stand, the transformation of the carniceria at 5226 Washington Avenue is a fast action view of the way Mexican food evolves in Houston," Walsh wrote back in 2008, but even if that's entirely true, the tacos here still kick ass...to this Houston interloper anyway.