In August 2015, the team behind the book The Tacos of Texas was in Houston scouting for the best tacos that the city's numerous taquerias and trucks had to offer. The team members who visited were Austin-based author Mando Rayo of the "Taco Journalism" blog, Houston-based photographer Marco Torres (who is also a freelance photographer for the Houston Press) and filmmaker Dennis Burnett. (Austin-based Jarod Neece is also a co-author.) One chapter of the book is dedicated to Houston spots. Others cover different Texas cities, including breakfast taco blood rivals San Antonio and Austin.
The Tacos of Texas is scheduled to publish on September 20, but we received an advance review copy. We knew Houstonians might be curious about what the book says regarding our hometown, so here’s a sneak peek (without spoiling the details).
The Houston chapter begins with the team’s top five picks of where to buy tacos in Houston — and these choices do not disappoint. Clearly, these guys know their tacos and include perpetual favorite Estilo Taco Tierra Caliente, which parks next door to West Alabama Ice House.
That’s thanks in part to knowing the right people to ask about the best spots in Houston. Torres is a passionate proponent of Houston’s mom-and-pop taco shops, and it's also good to see “Guns & Tacos,” a.k.a. Jay Rascoe, get some recognition as a local expert. Rascoe started leading group tours of interested diners more than six years ago to the most notable taco trucks in Houston. He's among a handful of people who helped removed the intimidation factor for people who are unfamiliar.
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Houstonians who want to plan their own taco tour can also refer to pastry chef Iveth Reyes’s outstanding list of ten, which incorporates not only taco trucks but also restaurants and reliable breakfast taco stand-bys like Laredo Taqueria.
Also included are short profiles of Houston truck owners and restaurateurs. The story of La Macro’s Saul Obregón Banda and how he’s had to re-establish his one-time brick-and-mortar restaurant as a truck is a great read. The same goes for the story of taco power couple Jessica Villagomez and Alejandro Martinez of Boombox Taco. The interviews with Jose Luis-Lopez of Gerardo’s Drive-In and Maria Samano of Estilo Taco Tierra Caliente are utterly refreshing, because their voices are so rarely heard and yet they have had such huge roles in shaping what Houstonians expect these days when they want an authentic street taco.
Some of the recipes included in the Houston section of the book are not really practical for most home cooks. For example, the recipe by Sylvia Casares of Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen calls for a ten-pound, milk-fed cabrito — or baby goat. Chef David Rodriguez’s recipe calls for five pounds of pork intestine. Only the most hardcore home cooks will seek out these ingredients, much less prepare them. More practical is pastry chef Olga Farias’s recipe for cochinita pibil tacos, which calls for an easily obtainable boneless pork shoulder. (In all fairness, traditionally the recipe calls for a baby pig, but pork shoulder is much more accessible.)
The Tacos of Texas will be a great resource for people who want to hit the streets themselves to try what authors Rayo and Neece describe. Consider it a guide that can facilitate grand exploration of one of the best aspects of Houston food culture: the humble, inexpensive and glorious street taco. The book can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com and costs $19.95.