Pot Luck

All Day Desayunos, Sans Daylight, at Poblano's

I love breakfast. I also love sleep. These two conflicting concerns often result in hunger, crankiness and disappointment.

You see, I have figured out, down to the minute, exactly how late I can wake up and get to work on time. This does not allow for breakfast. It barely allows for basic hygiene. This leaves me with a daily quandary: either consume a somewhat sad bowl of instant oatmeal at my desk or descend to the tunnels and return with a sad foil packet of instant breakfast tacos. I usually opt for option three, which consists of six or so hours of hunger, followed by an enormous and (usually) ill-advised lunch. I think this vicious cycle can be roughly blamed for the 40-some pounds I've gained in the seven years since taking this job.

Of course, my quest for a decent tunnel breakfast isn't driven by a desire to eat more healthily or shed a few pounds, but by a more immediate, visceral and sensuous set of interests. Basically, I want something in the morning that will take the edge off of the fact that I have to be in the office before my kids have to be at school. Were it socially acceptable, I would ensconce myself in velvet love a caffè corretto, but since it's not, I don't think a decent breakfast should be too much to ask.

Awhile back, one of my readers took note of my plight, offering the suggestion of Poblano's. It took me awhile to get down there, but it led to the discovery of an entirely new subterranean chamber of Tunnel Explorer options. I had, apparently, never turned left at the end of the food court underneath McKinney Place.

By the time I finally made that turn, it was almost 2 p.m. on a Wednesday. Thankfully, Poblano's serves breakfast all day. For $5.99 ($1 more than the pre-11 a.m. price), you can have your choice of a number of Mexican breakfast favorites all day. The choices run from Huevos con Chorizo, through Chilaquiles, to my favorite, Machacado con Huevos. I went with the machacado.

I first fell in love with this dish while soaking up an ill-advised number of Thanksgiving soda cocktails at neighborhood last-ditch-dining-effort Ruchi's Taqueria. I honestly don't think I've ever been there sober, except for the brief romance I had with post-shift machacado, back when I still got off work at 5:30 a.m. Even then, it was at least followed by a couple of drinks. I'm getting off track. The point is, my baseline may be a bit skewed. I honestly don't know if Ruchi's version is shit or legit, but it's what I count as my gold standard.

So, the Machacado at Poblano's? It was okay.

The plate came with a fairly generous serving of beef scrambled with a couple of eggs, a side each of refried beans and "fried" potatoes, and a stack of tortillas. I chose corn over flour, correctly assuming that either variety would be prefab. I'd rather have industrial corn tortillas over flour any day of the week. I asked for extra salsa verde, my tipster (thanks, Mary!) having provided that advice

The beans had a nice porky quality, tasting very much like my simple meals of pintos cooked with smoked ham hock, though they needed a pinch of salt. The potatoes were steamed or microwaved, then colored slightly on the grill for service. They were slightly overcooked, with a too soft, crumbly texture. Their flavor was mild, earthy and sweet. They tasted good, though they paled a bit next to the stronger flavors on offer.

The machacado was underseasoned, and it didn't get that frizzled-crisp texture I prize. A few extra minutes of frying before the eggs were cracked might have helped out. Also, the beef seemed to be assembled more in chunks than strands, leaving less thready surface area to crisp on the flat-top.

I watched as the eggs were cracked and scrambled fresh, rather than being poured from a jug, as I've seen all too often in tunnel breakfasteries, and for that I was glad. There was a good ratio of egg to meat, rendering them a harmonious whole. As mentioned, the tortillas were bagged and boring, their brief griddle run adding nothing.

The salsa, a creamy tomatillo and avocado affair, seemed like it might improve things considerably. It's a similar salsa, after all, that has always thrilled my booze or exhaustion-addled palate on other machacado plates, blending its slightly spicy lushness with the sharp, salty punch of the eggs and beef. This version was slightly sweet, slightly tart and oversalted a bit. It wasn't bad, but I wanted more heat, and a zing of citrus or cilantro to wake the whole thing up.

A taco prepared with a smear of those porky beans, a few hunks of dried beef and a good drizzle of creamy salsa was admittedly greater than the sum of its parts, but still not a paragon of machacado plates, so far as my limited experience can judge.

Regardless, it's probably become my go-to tunnel breakfast. I'm being critical because that's what I do, but this was a much finer breakfast than anything its subterranean neighbors have mustered, thus far. Did I mention that they serve it all day?

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall