Mi Masatlan – The Times They Are a-Changin’

2000 Ayers, Corpus Christi, Texas

Everything changes. What’s that hackneyed joke about weather in Texas? ‘If you don’t like it, wait a minute, it’ll change.’ The climate is changing. Hardly anyone smokes cigarettes anymore. Fully electric non-hybrid cars are starting to show up on our roads. My stepson last night was confused at the sight of my wife and I sending invitations to a party through the US Mail. Politicians are still in the wholesale business of trading influence for campaign money – but the scale is changing with record spending and decreased oversight each election cycle. It’s enough to make me want to crawl into a bunker and shut the rest of the world out. There is one problem with that – no good source of tacos.

And good tacos are one thing that stays the same here in Tacotopia. While cities to the North with more energetic economies and less regressive attitudes are trotting out Pad Thai Burritos and Kimchee and Cheese Quesadillas, Corpus Christi is making the same world class tacos they’ve been making for generations. I think we are a society in which there is room for everything, and there is a place for these novel tacos. In another week I will be chowing down on some McMexican Corned Beef Tacos to try and beat my hangover from my St. Patrick’s day party. There are some things, however, that can’t be improved upon: The Zippo lighter, the Godfather, Prince when he was with The Revolution, and Corpus Christi’s breakfast tacos.

Some time ago we reviewed a place called Alma’s which is now Mi Masatlan. I’d been there before that, when it was yet another taqueria. This place is not the most attractive taco shop around, with utilitarian steel building architecture and well used but sturdy booths. There are no frills here. It was fair the last two times I was there and I expected in its new incarnation would stay true to form. I was wrong, and it was a welcome change. I ordered a chorizo & egg, and a carne guisada. It came to the table almost too hot to hold. The carne guisada must have been made in-house, and was perfectly cooked with big square chunks of good beef. It was not too fat, but not too lean. The tortillas were handmade, with artisanal angular edges. The chorizo was excellent with a hint of cinnamon. The salsa verde was fresh and hot, and distinctive – not tasting like any other I’ve had. Everything we ate this morning was really good.

One thing you find in taco shops here in Corpus is that the servers are always women. Having a man refill our coffee was unusual, and he looked familiar. When I asked him he said his name was Raul Fuentes, and that he’d worked at another spot called Rinconcito del Jalisco, which I had tried to write up before my attempt turned into a two month tacotopia dry spell a la Francis Coppola during Apocalypse Now. One thing that would have come out with the review was that the tacos there were delicious. I asked Fuentes if he was the owner, or the manager, and for whatever reason he didn’t really give me a straight answer. I imagine he’s a turnaround specialist; that he takes ailing taquerias and makes them into shining stars. This would explain why he is out in the trenches in spite of his gender, pouring coffee and serving up truly wonderful tacos.

Our Taco Award Winner for this week is:

Lucy Lawless

I never watched more than one or two episodes of Xena, Warrior Princess because I took issue with their use of the letter X instead of Z, and the fact that I didn’t have cable for much of the run of the show. What I did see of it, though, I liked – but more for the hotness of Zena and her ambiguously gay relationship with her sidekick Gabrielle, than for the story from which I was distracted. Recently I watched Spartacus: Gods of the Arena and was knocked out upon watching a lot of Lucy Lawless (and I mean a whole lot). She is stunning, and brings some real acting chops to the show as well as physicality that while not exertive is as impressive as those of the gladiators. A native of New Zealand, Lawless was awarded the Order of Merit, which is like being knighted by New Zealand. This makes her practically a hot lady Aragorn. She’s one more really good reason New Zealand is not to be confused with Australia.

Offer includes 2 tacos, an audience with the ‘tacoteurs,’ and a free tacotopia t-shirt. Please redeem this offer at Whetstone Graphics on a Friday morning of your choice. Offer subject to cancellation by order of the wives of the tacoteurs. Enter to win by emailing your name on the back of the Box Set of Battlestar Galactica to tacos@tacotopia.net.



La Tapatia – Freedom and/or Choice

4521 Ayers Street, Corpus Christi, Texas 78415
Chorizo & Egg $1.49 • Carne Guisada $1.79 • Bottomless Coffee $1.25

We live in a world where our reach is constantly expanding and at the same time diminishing. I can tweet to people all over the world and hear back in seconds, but only in 140 characters. Like Pink said in the Wall, “I’ve got 13 channels of shit on the TV to choose from,” only now it’s hundreds, plus vod & tivo. Choosing something can take longer than watching it. Hazel Rose Markus, Professor of Psychology at Stanford, says “Choice can also produce a numbing uncertainty, depression, and selfishness.” We hold choice to be sacred in this country, as the cornerstone of our most cherished value – freedom. With this American birthright we choose to enslave ourselves to our jobs, to the hope of financial security, to the hapless devotion to a system of government that often resembles theater, to put it charitably.

A little band from the 80’s had a great song that captures the essence of this issue –

“In ancient rome,
there was a poem
about a dog
who had two bones.
He picked at one.
He licked the other.
He went in circles
and he dropped dead.”

I was setting up an account with a vendor this morning, and had to spend 45 minutes, call three numbers, and navigate through countless voice prompts just to find the name of an actual person at my bank to put down on the application. It’s enough to make a man want to sign up for a lobotomy.  I’ll take mine in the form of two breakfast tacos, thank you very much.

And here in Tacotopia, we have many trained master taco surgeons ready to oblige. For the cure to this morning’s psychotic break I checked myself in to Hospital la Tapatia, located on Ayers near Golihar in what can only have been a Burger King in a past life (I know the layout, BK was my first job). The Hat and I had been to La Tapatia #2, and to date it got the worst rating we’ve given so we didn’t quite know what to expect. The quality of a taqueria can vary from day to day, so comparing one restaurant to another with the same name can be like comparing an apple to something that’s unlike an apple.

I like to sit in a booth, and these booths were still intact. The interior was clean, bright, and filled with a heady enthusiasm for the biggest sporting event in the world crackling out of the TV. I was rooting for the carne guisada, but in the end the chorizo and egg won. My carne g came out with huge chunks of beef, the biggest I’ve seen in this type of taco, but the flavor was pretty neutral and the gravy tasted just a bit of Sysco. The chorizo and egg was better, though the flavor of the chorizo was not that distinctive. The three red salsas were all excellent, and the handmade flour tortillas as well. The coffee as well was good and constantly replenished.

That’s the thing about Corpus Christi, we are presented with so many choices of incredibly good breakfast tacos we forget what it’s like in places like Austin, where you can’t get fresh tortillas at five places in a three block radius at 6:30 in the morning in just about every working neighborhood. That’s why our ratings look like they never change. Corpus operates on such a high level that almost anywhere you go is going to be at least a high B, and probably an A. Throw on top of that the incredible value of these taco shops, where you can feed two people breakfast for less than it costs to buy a coffee at Starbucks and my newly lobotomized mind boggles. It is really like a little slice of heaven to be able to be surrounded by such a bounty of taco goodness here in South Texas.

So La Tapatia was serviceable, pleasant, satisfying, and I’d even say fun. The waitress’ enthusiasm for team Mexico was infectious. Now we’ll have to go back and try Tapatia #2.

From the Hat

So today starts the most watched sports tournament in the world – the World Cup.  I’d like to be clever and use all sorts of soccer (futbol) – related references, but in reality, I’d be guessing if you asked me how many players are the field at a time.  And what are those guys in the big nets doing anyway?  I’m sure it has something to do with the extended “Gooooaalll” when someone scores.  I understand the excitement.   The announcers get to perform their yells, what, maybe five times in the whole tournament.  I’d make it last too.

Sure, I’ll participate in the hype. How can I avoid it? Already I’ve found myself talking shit about kickin’ the Brit’s asses and I don’t have a clue about either team. But it doesn’t matter. That’s part of the fun. People are social animals. Theodore K-types aside, we like to be part of groups. We find strength in numbers and enjoy the comfort that comes from being in the company of like-minded people.  So I find myself enjoying the good-natured ribbing with a small crowd of friends at the expense of a friendly Brit. And I say she held up well to the barrage, dosing us with an across-the-pond version of the same business we were giving her – but with an accent. Get ’em Cat.

Sure, I couldn’t tell you who has the best chance of winning, who the stars are, why the keepers get to wear fancier clothing. Nor do I have the answer to many other soccer mysteries, but I don’t have to. I’ll be like many others, enjoying the spectacle and unless I catch some on a public TV, I won’t see a game. Speaking of public TV, the World Cup opening ceremonies were playing at Tapatia while TSH and I had our Friday morning taco repast and in the midst of colorful costumes, dancing, singing, and a human-powered dung beetle butt-up to a minivan-sized soccer ball – there were tacos.

I had a lengua taco, and uno de mollejas, both on flour torts.  The tortillas were very good, toothy, dense, and cooked to that perfect Holstein look. Both were stuffed amply with the goods. The pale, grey lengua looked steamed, not the guisada I prefer. But it was tender and with the addition of salt and salsas, and onions, and cilantro, good. The mollejas were better. Fried crisp, but not quite that perfect fried oyster consistency and served with pico de gallo. They also suffered from a paucity of seasoning, which I made up for with a couple of excellent salsas. One was surface-of-the-sun HOT!  It was offered in a squeeze bottle with a color scheme reminiscent of hornet.  There was a slightly fermented taste that I haven’t decided was purposeful. With purpose or not, it added a pleasant sourness that one doesn’t find in typical Mexican sauces. The second salsa was a rich brown-red color with a deep, smoky flavor and mild heat. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. The coffee was cafe good and served in an IV drip by a diligent waitress who was definitely rooting for Mexico.  To her I say, “Go Dallas Cowboys!!”


Bandera Eyeshadow

Our Taco Award Winner for this week is:

Gina Gershon

The other half of the compelling couplette in ‘Bound,’ Gershon – 48 – seems not to have aged since starting her career in film in the late 80’s. Appearing in classics like the Player, Showgirls, and Cocktail, this valley girl has also done singing on broadway.  Gina was pictured on the cover of Cigar Aficionado, but denies that she has been involved with fellow cigar lover Bill Clinton. She has been quoted saying she doesn’t trust people who don’t like to eat, and we agree. Gina, if you’re reading this – we would very much like to earn your trust over a taco or two.

Offer includes 2 tacos, an audience with the ‘tacoteurs,’ and a free tacotopia t-shirt. Please redeem this offer at Whetstone Graphics on a Friday morning of your choice. Offer subject to cancellation by order of the wives of the tacoteurs.  Enter to win by emailing your name on the back of Gina’s Sarah Palin Bikini to tacos@tacotopia.net.

Taqueria La Tapatia on Urbanspoon

Alma’s – the Sell-Out Edition

2000 Ayers, Corpus Christi, Texas
Monday – Sunday, 7:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 361-888-8336
Chorizo & Egg $1.50 • Carne Guisada $2.25 • Bottomless Coffee $1.10

After hundreds of tacos my scheme to make it big in the world of breakfast tacos has finally paid off, and we’ve hit the big time. A fan of the blog has underwritten this post! Of course it doesn’t take much, he bought us breakfast – but it’s the first time someone from the real world has had the taste and the conviction of character to step over the line from fan to benefactor.

We had breakfast with said fan and a co-worker this morning. I’d use their names but I didn’t get a release signed, and they work in the legal profession. I dare not expose the tacotopia empire to any undue liability. Suffice it to say they were both charming and are welcome to allow us to return the favor any Friday they’d like.

We’d planned on reviewing Brandy’s but I’d failed to do proper research ahead of time and when the gang all showed up we found a sign that said she opens at 7:30. This is the second time this has happened at Brandy’s.  At least now I know. Next week, 7:30, third time’s the charm.

Alma’s is on Ayers, near six points, near other tacotopia alums the Donut Hole and Chacho’s, across from the old Butter Krust bakery. In Austin, I was bussed out of my Burnett Junior High neighborhood to Martin. The bus would pass the Butter Krust bakery on the way before eventually making it’s way downtown past the capitol building and an ‘oriental massage’ parlor. I was young enough at the time to think both of those places were engaged in legitimate business. Like the one here in Corpus the bakery in Austin shut down in the mid 80’s, but I can remember the smell of the bread coming in through the school bus windows distracting every kid on the bus to pause their dice games and enhanced interrogation techniques to take in that glorious smell.

But we’re here to talk about tortillas, not bread; and Alma’s isn’t a bad place to get one. I’d been here a couple of times before, when it was named Anna’s.  I guess it wasn’t difficult to change the sign when the name changed. Alma’s has a lot of capacity though it was empty aside from us this morning. On other occasions I’ve often seen cop cars in the lot, and not for duty.

I got chorizo & egg, and a carne G as I do every Friday. They came out, big and hot, with the chorizo & egg closed and the guisada open to display a soupy deep brown peppered beef. It looked good, and it tasted as good as it looked. The red salsa was nothing special, but better than no salsa on the two tacos. The chorizo & egg was unlike any I’d seen before, with a magenta color that leeched into the eggs. It was very juicy, but the juice was amber, unlike the chorizo. It was good, whatever color it was. The tortillas themselves were really a pleasure to eat. They were big, tough but not dry, well done but not toasty, and stood up to the juicy fillings better than most. The coffee went down easy, and was refilled expeditiously.

This place is odd, but I like odd – especially when odd tastes good. It’s worth the trip.

From the Hat

Have you ever been in a car wreck, or something equivalent where everything moves in slow motion?  You really only have time to say “Oh Shit!” before the whole business is over, but it feels like it takes forever.  The anticipation of disaster stretched in time as you watch not in horror – there’s no time for that – but in that blank, WTF frame of mind as you hurtle toward the end.  It doesn’t really last long enough to get a good grasp of what’s going on and to form an opinion.  So if it is the end, you’ll go out in a daze, your last words a scatological epithet.  Not a very impressive ending, but getting a long, terrifying look at your demise wouldn’t be any better.

I mean, we’re getting that long, terrifying look right now in the Gulf of Mexico.  The numbers describing the amount of oil pouring into the gulf are rarely encountered in most people’s lives outside the weekly lotto drawing.  I watch daily as the oil is blown inexorably toward the coast.  Soon to come will be the oil-coated laughing gull getting his 15 minutes.  The Gulfo is a dynamic place, intimately connected to the rest of the world by currents that could transport the mess up the East Coast of Florida and beyond.  Hopefully they will staunch the leak quick – minimizing the damage to the gulf fisheries,  gulf coast ecosystems, and local, national, and global economies.

I also had that slow-motion feeling this morning.  I woke late, threw on some clothes, and rushed, half asleep, out the door to get downtown to Brandy’s.  I arrived, to find TSH and a pair of Taco Tourists standing in front of the locked door of Brandy’s.  We decided on a short trip to Alma’s on Ayers.  The place was large, but unoccupied.  We ordered coffee and I started to wake up.  The four of us sat, played 6-degrees, then got to the ordering.  I had a picadillo with cilantro y jalapenos frescos, and a nopalitos and egg.  Both were very big.  I took on the picadillo first.  The ground beef was served in a thicker-than-usual, browner-than-usual sauce and had a very promising proportion of potatoes.  It needed a bit of sal, but was savory and delicious.  Customarily, I devour one taco, then the next, but I held back the last bites of picadillo to savor later.  The nopalitos taco had some difficulty.  It was stuffed with eggs and a fair dinkum amount of cactus.  The taste was fine, but I think that the cactus juice might have watered the eggs just a bit, compromising the texture.   It was passable, but carried by the tortillas.  The flour tortillas were just how I like them – toothy and cooked to the cusp of crispy.  The salsa was fresh, had a respectable heat, and worked well with the tacos.  The service was very good.  The chef himself came out to inquire exactly how I wanted my jalapenos on the side, fresh or pickled and we never lacked for coffee.

Between the good breakfast, and the company of newly-met taco fans, I say it was a great start to the day.


Our free taco winner for this week is:

Beverly D’Angelo

The original MILF from National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ms. D’Angelo lives in the imagination of anyone boy who watched that movie. She worked as an animator at Hana- Barbera, dabbled in music, and ended up in front of the camera turning in strong performances in light and heavy fare alike. She has twins with Al Pacino and was involved with Milos Foreman. Her charming overbite is one of the things that distinguishes her from her otherwise conventional blonde barbie good looks – which are still bangin’ at 58.

Offer includes 2 tacos, an audience with the ‘tacoteurs,’ and a free tacotopia t-shirt. Please redeem this offer at Whetstone Graphics on a Friday morning of your choice. Offer subject to cancellation by order of the wives of the tacoteurs.  Enter to win by emailing your name on the back of an autographed copy of Honky Tonk Freeway to tacos@tacotopia.net.