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The Carniceria Connoisseur: El Tiempo Marches On

Carne guisada and picadillo taco at El Tiempo Market on Washington

Matamoros Meat Market No. 4 on Washington Ave. was once my favorite carniceria. It was simply a meat market that sold tacos, and it was part of the inspiration for this series.

The first time I lined up to buy tacos there seven years ago (“The Authenticity Myth,” October 26, 2000), I wrote: “At Matamoros Meat Market No. 4 on Washington Avenue, I stand before a glass case filled with glistening pieces of roasted buche (pork stomach), deep-fried chicharrones (crunchy fat) and several choices of stewed meats in long trays.”

When I went back six years later, the meat case had been removed. Now there was a taqueria with stainless-steel counters and stools where the butcher shop used to be. In an article about the gentrification of Washington Ave., (“Where Carnitas Meet Foie Gras,” March 16, 2006) I compared the $4 fajita plate at the newly revamped Matamoros Meat Market No. 4 with the $18 fajita plate at El Tiempo, the expansive new Tex-Mex eatery that had recently opened next door.

I guess El Tiempo didn’t appreciate the comparison. On my most recent visit, I was shocked to discover that Matamoros Meat Market No. 4 is now called El Tiempo Market. The Tex-Mex restaurant bought the place. It’s still a carniceria and taqueria, but it’s undergone yet another remodeling. Sadly, the wall paintings of Mexican food in Styrofoam to-go boxes didn’t survive. The place looks much more upscale now with expensive signage and professional graphics.

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To their credit, the new owners haven’t raised the prices. 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?

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. – Robb Walsh

El Tiempo Market, 5526 Washington Avenue

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