Mini-tour, Houston Taco Trucks - Jarro, El Norteno, Tacambero

2009/02/14 17:50:59
I stop at these regularly as I’m constantly on the move around the city and they’re everywhere in Houston.   Here’s some of the best I’ve found (with help from friends).

Jarro Café - 1521 N. Gessner, north of Longpoint, on the West side, inside the Beltway

The owner of this wagon, Memo Pineda, either used to or still does run restaurants in Mexico City so I’ve heard.  The restaurant is a former Pizza Inn but he keeps the wagon in operation in front of the restaurant and lots of people prefer to eat there.  He calls it his drive-thru window.

He uses top notch ingredients such as Angus sirloin for his bistec tacos although friends told him he didn’t need to do that for the people who would be eating at a taco trailer.  He also has outstanding salsas.  From a rented space in front of a liquor store he built a reputation and a clientele and eventually was able to buy the restaurant and set up shop indoors.

The menu at the trailer is shorter than inside and tacos are $.25 cheaper.  There isn’t a loser on it that I’ve found although I like some better than others..  The salsas, including a fiery chile de arbol, crushed red pepper, and even more incendiary bright green tomatillo and serrano, used to be displayed on the bar on the side of the trailer in molcajetes but they’re now in plastic bottles with pour spouts.  I was always a little uneasy with the open-to-the-air salsa bar, right beside a busy street with traffic whizzing by kicking up dirt and the exhaust fumes, etc., but some of the ambiance is lost with the plastic bottles. 

For this picture I cheated by eating inside as it’s been impossible to get a good picture of the tacos in the car.  There’s another plus to this; inside you can order platos and get chips, refritos and arroz.  A dilemma that has plagued me here is the tacos are so good, I like them just as they are, but I also want to get some of the salsas.  With the plato inside, you get chips to dip in the salsas which you can help yourself to at the salsa bar.  This was my first time inside and I got the little paper cups with the salsa, a mistake.  They also have small bowls which would be the better option. .

I got a 3 taco plato of Placero (crispy chicharron, avocado, lettuce, tomato, etc.), bistec, and molepollo which the girl at the counter said was the best.  I have to disagree, I liked it less than any of the others I’ve tried, there was very little meat on that one, but the Placero was excellent.  That was my first time to try the bistec also and it was just a bit of a disappointment.  The others I usually get are al pastor, conchinata pibil and campechano, which is fajita plus loganiza.

The "Mayan" salsa is made of chopped purple onions flecked with Mexican oregano and chile powder and lime juice. The bright green one is hottest.  He’s got the best line-up of salsas in the city.  Those and the tacos are the reason to come here, not the sides.
Re:Mini-tour, Houston Taco Trucks - Jarro, El Norteno, Tacambero 2009/02/14 17:58:49
El Norteno, Pollo Asado and Costilla Asadores, en estilo Monterrey
Gessner @ Longpoint and the 9300 block of Longpoint, on the West side, inside the Beltway.

This is the trailer parked on Longpoint, I think the 9300 block.  The other one, a bus, is parked only a half mile away in the driveway of a service station which sometimes gets very crowded, so I usually stop here.  There are lots of pollo asado wagons around the city and I’ve tried several.  This seems to be the best. 

A half chicken (medio pollo) is $6, a whole one $11.  You get frijoles charros, tortllas, a roasted onion and 2 roasted chiles (underneath the drumstick) plus a medium heat salsa verde. 

The meat is sometimes much more charred than in this picture and a little too dry; it’s flavored to the bone.  There’s a small park between the two locations with a table set under pine trees and another larger park about 3 miles away on Hammerly @ the West Belt.  This is a lot of food to handle in the car but the aroma will drive you crazy if you try to go far with this package. 

Another specialty here is beef ribs; they also have fajitas and salchicha.  One time I got the Plato Mixto (small $11, grande $16) which is fajita meat, ribs, both chopped up, and salchicha, a spicy knockwurst like sausage, split; the meats tend to be well done but the salchicha was very juicy; There was enough meat on the small for 2 meals.
Re:Mini-tour, Houston Taco Trucks - Jarro, El Norteno, Tacambero 2009/02/14 18:05:16
Taqueria Tacambero, 2520 Airline Dr. behind Canino’s Produce

There seems to be a lot of consensus that this is one of the best taco wagons in the city but many people have probably never heard of it.  It’s parked behind the city’s main produce wholesaler which is open to the general public.  You have to make your way through the produce bins (the wholesaler, not farmers) in the front, then a section with lots of small stalls with independent businessmen, some of them farmers but most not, selling the more exotic stuff.  The back section is crowded 7 days a week and on weekends finding parking and making your way to the taco trailer is a chore. The front section is shopping cart to shopping cart on weekends.

Tacambero has a very extensive menu and many items not found on many taco truck menus around the city but not all are always available.  Tripitas, birria, buche, rajas, nopales, calabacita, papas are some of the offerings along with the usual barbacoa and al pastor, but she is most known for her lengua and mollejas. The lengua is moist and juicy and still has some pink and is the best in the city I’ve found.  The mollejas (sweetbreads) are not only the best sweetbreads at a taco truck probably, they may be the only sweetbreads at a taco truck and the best in the city period.  The Taco Truck Gourmet in the Houston Press, which recommends all of these places but they also get good comments on local boards, dragged a French cooking expert who had complained that nobody in Houston did sweetbreads right but he was very pleased here. 

I cheated a little and ate some of the lengua and mollejas before I got the camera out for the picture.  I have yet to try the buche or tripitas but they’re supposed to be very good also.  I like to go to the produce market about once every couple of weeks; it’s the same produce you’ll find in the supermarkets but a little fresher and usually cheaper.

Right across the street from Canino’s is El Bolillo, an awesome Mexican panaderia, with great churros, Tres Leches, bolillos and teleras.  I plan to do a report on it.  On the north side of the Canino’s parking lot, which serves several other wholesalers not open to the public, is Triple A Restaurant, an old fashioned diner known not surprisingly for it’s fresh vegetables.  I have yet to eat there.

Spanish is the first language of most of the workers at all of these places (except the diner), sometimes the only language spoken.
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Mini-tour, Houston Taco Trucks - Jarro, El Norteno, Tacambero 2009/02/14 20:05:22
Fantastic report!  That chicken looks fact, everything looks great!
Filet Mignon
Re:Mini-tour, Houston Taco Trucks - Jarro, El Norteno, Tacambero 2009/02/15 06:04:22
Great photo-tour, Dexmat.  They make me want to hit a Homestead taqueria this weekend.

What is the meat in photo #5?
Re:Mini-tour, Houston Taco Trucks - Jarro, El Norteno, Tacambero 2009/02/15 08:16:21

MiamiDon that's the plato mixto.  The beef ribs are cut cross-wise very thinly, the fajita is chopped very coarsely.  The red is the salchicha, sectioned, split, grilled (probably weighted down or at least pressed down while grilling, so it splays out some).