Hitchin' the Wagon

Dreams come in all sizes, even dreams of opening a restaurant. The cost of some start-ups can reach sums in the seven figures; others boast more modest numbers. Tamar Levy, a 31-year-old single mother, and her steady boyfriend Alex Perez have set up shop on Montrose Boulevard, north of West Gray, in a converted horse trailer now known as Taqueria Los Primos [1320 Montrose Blvd.; no telephone -- horses can't talk]. Levy estimates that the entire business, beginning with a $4,500 investment in the horse trailer (a modest two Mr. Eds-capacity model) has cost "under $16,000."

"Originally," Levy explains, "somebody in my boyfriend's apartment complex had bought the trailer to use as a taco stand, but they ran out of money. They sold the trailer to my boyfriend and his cousin, who began to outfit the trailer with all the equipment required by the health department. Then the cousin lost interest and left, so my boyfriend suggested we go into business together, because it's a good business." The cousin connection, of course, is why the trailer is painted with the name Taqueria Los Primos. "We wanted to change the name to Taqueria Los Locos, but we would have had to go through the work of getting approval from the city all over again," Levy recounts. Nothing thwarts dreams like the leaden regularity of bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy is the reason the trailer is taken away every evening after closing time to empty out the wastewater reservoir. At 7 a.m., every day of the week, it is back doing business on the same corner patch of the parking lot of a failed gas station and convenience store (since resurrected as Bayou City Audio). The dream of having a restaurant of your own must include the reality that long hours are never optional.

On a recent morning, Levy was at the tiny trailer, which she estimates contains "112-and-a-half square feet of space," to meet a man who was going to work on one of the two small apartment buildings she owns in Montrose. She took time out to chat in rapid Spanish with two employees, Lilia and Tonya, who were busy preparing breakfast tacos inside the fully equipped trailer.

Levy is a natural linguist. Although her mother is Israeli and she lived in Israel between the ages of three and five, Levy has spent the rest of her life in Houston and Austin, where she attended the University of Texas. By virtue of having had an Israeli husband, she learned to speak Hebrew. Now, she is rapidly acquiring Spanish, explaining that "I needed to speak Spanish in order to talk with many of the people who were working on my apartments, and I already loved listening to the music of Luis Miguel, Eros Ramazzotti and Maná, so I picked up a lot of Spanish from the lyrics."

Her love of Israeli and Latin cultures has even translated into a menu item.

"The egg and feta cheese breakfast taco is on the menu because eggs and feta are a very popular Israeli breakfast. I said that if I were going to have a taco stand, it would have to have that particular taco on the menu."

The rest of the menu is less inventively multi-cultural, featuring such familiar Tex-Mex items as egg and chorizo, and egg and potato tacos. There are four different tacos served for lunch and dinner, including a novel taco al pastor with chopped pork and pineapple filling, and a very authentic chicharrón taco with tomatillo sauce.

Levy was surprised to learn that chicharróns are a favorite nibble of president emeritus George Herbert Walker Bush, who likes to have a bag of fried pork skins close by. Maybe, when all this election foofaraw with W. dies down, the Lion of the Persian Gulf will come down for a late-night snack on a Friday or Saturday night, when the bottled gas grill burns till 11 p.m. Hey, they're only a $1.25 each, tax included. That's as prudent a price as you're likely to find so close to River Oaks.

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George Alexander