Kiko’s – The Contender and the Uncanny Valley

5514 Everhart Rd • Corpus Christi, Texas • 361-991-1211
Chorizo & Egg – $1.59 • Carne Guisada – $1.99 • Bottomless but lifeless coffee – $1.15

If you live here you know: Corpus Christi is the center of the breakfast taco world. Period. So Imagine my chagrin when I read an article in the New York Times bestowing that crown on Austin’s pointed head. I grew up in Austin, and I can drive down any street in that city and tell you about some party I went to there, or what great music venue used to over here. There are things Austin has got that I wish Corpus had – Waterloo Records, KUT, the Alamo Drafthouse – but we have the best tacos hands down. I wrote John Edge, the author of the article in question, and explained this fact to him. He was kind enough to reply saying:

“United Tastes, the column I write, addresses the ongoing evolution of American culinary culture. In Austin, I found a city where breakfast tacos — served by Cambodian as well as Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese cooks — are becoming unhypenated American. I found a city where cooks were honing breakfast tacos that transcend traditional barriers of race and ethnicity. But I’ll stick by me declaration that, when it comes to making sense of how breakfast tacos are becoming an unhyphenated American food, Austin is the place to eat and think.”

And while I respect any work that nurtures multiculturalism, this is so wrong. The column doesn’t claim Austin is ‘the best place for breakfast tacos that aren’t made by the people who invented them and know how to best make them,’ it says “when it comes to breakfast tacos, Austin trumps all other American cities.” Like a copy machine (or a clone, or a foreign film) the 2nd generation is never quite as good as the original. Look at the Storm Troopers – they’re taken right from Jango Fett’s DNA but he’s a bad-ass and every one of those storm troopers is a half-wit.  I’m one of the only people on earth who liked Gus Van Saint’s remake of Psycho, but it’s not as good as the Hitchcock version.  Can you think of any cigarrette lighter better than a Zippo? This unqualified affront to the great tradition of breakfast tacos must not stand, and like the Gracy family at the birth of the UFC I challenge any city to come here and put up or shut up. Just bring some kleenex and a some cardboard boxes, so you can pack up your broken dreams and wipe the tears from your eyes as you return home defeated to face the shame and humiliation of your ineptitude and the cold comfort of your inferior breakfast.

Imitation and re-imagination is fraught with pitfalls. Robot maker Masahiro Mori (I can’t pass up any opportunity to use the word robot) coined the phrase ‘Uncanny Valley’ to describe our reaction of revulsion to artificial humans that we find close enough to look more like a human than a robot, but at the same time seem inhuman and disturbing. There has been a lot of discussion of the Uncanny Valley regarding CGI as the technology sits at the edge of this valley peering in. What does this have to do with tacos, you ask? This morning we ate tacos at Kiko’s, a local taco purveyor and winner of the Caller Times‘ Best of the Best award for breakfast tacos. One need only to look at our national election system, or the academy awards to appreciate how easy it is for the unscrupulous to manipulate a poll. Kiko’s is an attractive and sprawling restaurant located a stone’s throw from Corpus’ main commercial thoroughfare S.P.I.D. (South Padre Island Drive). It’s central location is nearly perfect – close enough to the highway to pickup all the shopping traffic and far enough back that you can eat there and still feel like you’re in a neighborhood. It has a faux patina that is at once charming and artificial. I get the same two tacos every Friday, the carne guisada and the chorizo & egg. Their chorizo & egg taquito was pretty good, far short of such greats as Marroquin’s but still pretty tasty.  The tortillas were just good enough to qualify as fresh, but not much better than off the shelf. The salsa, too, was fresh and hot but not great and somehow lacking anything to distinguish itself. Then there was the coffee: as the Hat said to me something was not quite right about it.  Like a Stepford Wife it was satisfactory but a little creepy. All of these things fell into the Uncanny Valley, and tasted a few degrees off true. Let me throw another movie simile at this description, Dr. Seth Brundle in the Cronenberg remake of The Fly when he teleported the steak and then tasted it…

From the Hat

It’s a beautiful day here in the provinces; a crystal-clear day in the Sparkling City and a good day for a breakfast taco. Kiko’s was the objective this morning and as I made my way across town, I thought about the frenetic fretwork featured last night at House of Rock. Monty Montgomery kicked ass at House of Rock, Dick Dale up the block, and Roger Creagar under the bridge. D-Town was rockin’!  We’d decided to meet early this morning and I was on track to make our 6:30 rendezvous but the Taco Show Host was running late.  I settled in at Kiko’s and waited with a perpetual cup of fair java and took the place in. Kiko’s is a very attractive restaurant. The tropical-themed artwork on the walls incorporates the relief in the plaster. Saltillo tile buffed to a sharp shine works with the primary colors and accessories to give the vague impression of a mercado. There were quite a few people there and as time passed, more and more showed up. From the customer familiarity with the wait staff, i’d say Kiko’s has a pretty good number of habitual patrons.

I was eager to give the breakfast tacos a try and was glad to see Ian pulling up on his horse. I ordered a barbacoa and the tripas, both on fresh-made corn tortillas. I’m guessing it was the tripas, but our order took a very long time.  Once our food showed up it looked great – it was okay. The barbacoa was plentiful but nothing to get worked up over – bland and a bit too lean. (I know, I know but fat is flavor.) I was actually more impressed with the freshness of the cilantro and the onions. The tripas were clean and cooked perfectly, but seemed completely unseasoned. So far, so fair, but the corn tortillas brought things down a bit. They were fresh but the texture was just not right. I found myself wishing I’d ordered at least one of the flour tarps. The salsa was also okay – fresh and not bad heat.

Speaking of heat, those of you who follow tacos will know that there’s been quite a noise generated by a NYT article hailing Austin as the center of the Texas taco universe; as well as some back-and-forth between The Taco Show Host and the Times reporter. I can appreciate the Times’ argument, and in all honesty I could go for a Thai, Indian, or Vietnamese breakfast taco. Tacotopia would benefit from authentic examples incorporated from various cuisines, but I’m not sure that diversity is the most appropriate measure of the interplay and impact of the breakfast taco on culture. To me what’s important is authenticity. Authenticity comes from a connection to the kitchen, the heart of a culture. Our food is in our souls and when it’s authentic, our soul is in our food. Anyone who does a bit of searching here in Tacotopia will find that chief ingredient, the soul, bursting forth from many of the fine taquerias in town. And I think that’s where Kiko’s falls flat. I get the impression of food service rather than service to food, as if they’ve lost that link to the home kitchen that makes a breakfast taco such a pleasure. Go get ’em Corpus Christi – The Breakfast Taco Capital of the World.

Something just wasn’t right. This was the case nowhere more true than in the carne guisada which could well have been the same steak.  It looked great, the beef was tender, there was just the right amount of salt and viscosity in the gravy but it tasted synthetic, like I was eating it at the breakfast taco pavilion in Epcot.

While I can’t say the food here is bad, I also can’t recommend it in the shadow of so many terrific taco shops. This is a local taco touchstone and I don’t mean to alienate the faithful but they seem to do a brisk enough business that my detraction couldn’t adversely affect them.

Our free taco winner for this week is:

Kelly LeBrock

Kelly LeBrock played hands down the sexiest robot on planet earth as Lisa in Weird Science, and in the 80s could lead my unsuspected adolescent self into the uncanny valley and beyond, and to beat the metaphor to death, later fell into the valley of obscurity only to resurface in recent years to bath in the sullied waters of reality television. No one could approach her iconic visage during her brief stop at the summit of 80s teen desire. As time passed she aged, struggled with weight, and consorted with riff-raff (Steven Seagal). More recently she did come off as savvy, funny and frank in her interview for the John Hughes doc Don’t You Forget About Me. Honorable mention goes to Olivia Munn for reprising the role for the photo on the right.

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 a Shermer Athletics gym tee to

Kiko's Mexican Food Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Southside Barbacoa

5954 Everhart Road, Corpus Christi, Texas • 361-334-088
Chorizo & Egg $1.35 • Carne Guisada $1.95 • Bottomless Coffee $1.15

Tacos are my business, and business is good.  So good, in fact, that we have eaten a lot of the low-hanging fruit, the taquerias that we pass every day on our trips to work and our favorite watering holes.  We’re in no danger of running out of taco shops any time soon. With turnaround we might be able to do this forever, but I do keep a lookout for untested taquerias as I travel around Tacotopia.  I was with my wife, picking up some arugula from the Southside Farmer’s Market and saw the Southside Barbacoa company.  I put it on the list, and then earlier this week I was talking tacos with Sandy from Water Street Corporate told me I should try this place.  I don’t have to be told twice, and I promptly bumped Kiko’s back a week to make room for Southside.

Being the third month of the new year I have yet to give up hope of reaching my goal weight for the year.  I’ve been walking downtown instead of driving, and climbing stairs to the 7th floor instead of taking the elevator, at least sometimes.  One of the most difficult sacrifices I’ve had to make is the cherished taco.  There was a time where I’d have a taco every morning, and Yaneth at Garibaldi’s would have my order waiting for me, her perfume wafting from the takeout bag.  Okay, that never happened anywhere but in my daydreams. Long story short – tacos are my motivation, my reason to push through the work-week.  I love the first time in a new taco shop, the first smell of the tacos and the particular ambience of the place, the kitsch, purses and belts for sale, candles and good luck charms, the endless supply of charming waitresses and of course the tacos.

As the name says, this is in the Southside.  And for those of you not familiar with the layout of Corpus Christi, which is perpetually confusing even to those who live here, the Southside is the part of town where all the new development is occurring.  It’s a little more caucasian than downtown and the Westside.  The police seem to spend a lot more time in that part of town even though they’re headquartered downtown.  There are tons of strip centers, and no meter maids.  All the buildings are less that 70 years old (most are less than 7).  Southside Barbacoa is different too. Spanish isn’t the primary language spoken, it is in a strip center (literally, right next to the Palace), and even though it is a barbacoa restaurant, they don’t have homemade corn tortillas.

None of these things are deal-breakers.  A taco doesn’t know where it came from.  The Hat and I settled in to see what this place was all about.  I can’t speak for the barbacoa, even though I had a bite – barbacoa taken out of context (sans tortilla, salsa, salt) can be misleading.  The chorizo and egg was good though.  The filling of the taco was above average but not spectacular.  The tortillas were the high point, fresh but with a little bit of crunch on the edges – and no loose flour which doesn’t bother me but which many find disagreeable.  The carne guisada was tender but not soft, and had just the right amount of tang so that the flavor popped, but didn’t resemble meat that had gone over.  The red salsa was unsuitable for human consumption – Pace or more likely a food service knock-off thereof, but the salsa verde was quite good.

The hat and I weren’t the only people there, there were a few take-out orders filled, and some apparent regulars including a cop, Loyd Neal and John Longoria.  We all know cops have excellent food radar, so maybe the politicians were using the cop as a bird-dog. The Hat and I headed out into the overcast morning, satisfied and looking forward to the next Friday, the next taco, if we can wait that long.

From the Hat

So it’s no secret I’m a Houston-phile.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Sparkling City.  But sometimes it does a body good to get to the big lights and enjoy the things that can only exist in the midst of a large aggregation of people.  The power of large numbers makes it possible to open anything from telescope shops to Scotch Tape Boutiques.  There are trade-offs though.  Houston, with a museum district as big as our school district, has traffic to match.  There might be a store for everything, but crossing H-town to get there and back can take hours.  Still, if you want stuffed cabbage and Matzo ball soup at 4:00am, you can get it.  If you need a lens cover for your German-made binoculars, you can get it.  And if you need a variety of stinky cheese, fine liquors, and the pate and caviar to go with them, you can get them.

And now Corpus seems to be seeing some move in that direction with the opening of Spec’s.  Spec’s opened this week Thursday and I admit, I had to sneak in around noon to check it out.  The place was pretty much what I expected.  It’s in a nascent stage with much growing to do, but I can see great potential.  The wine section seems to be extensive, but I’ll have to talk to an expert to know for sure.  The gourmet section is a start, but far from the Houston examples.  There’s some space on the shelves, but a conversation with one of the employees revealed that there’s much more to come.  I was impressed with the store and think that it will eventually approach the epic nature of Houston’s downtown example.  Way to go Spec’s, and CC!

-And now to the important stuff.  The Tacoteurs Friday tour stop was Southside Barbacoa.  I had to have the namesake and a chorizo con papas – both on flour.  The barbacoa was the low-fat version.  [I’d doubt it’s lowfat in any conventional sense of the word -iok] The mixed version, a fattier composition is only sold on weekends.  Made on-site in about 11 hours, it was very good.  My favorite though was the chorizo and papas.  It was sublime, loaded with chorizo and saturated potatoes.  It had that perfect vinegary taste I love in a good chorizo.  The torts were right up my alley, dense and with plenty of bite.  Both tacos benefitted from a fresh jalapeno green salsa, but I won’t waste any words on the red stuff.  All-in-all, a very good experience and I’ll have to go back to check out the mixed version of the barbacoa.


Our free taco winner for this week is:

Fairuza Balk

A gypsy witch who, though overlooked by hollywood, still manages to get interesting roles in movies directed by auteurs who can appreciate her talent.  Check out Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans by Werner Herzog.  She had a promising start in the industry with significant roles in The Craft, Waterboy, Valmont, Gas Food Lodging, American History X as well as a slew of indy films.  She went on to run a wicca boutique in Venice, CA and do voice work in video games while occasionally showing up on the big screen.  She played undercover FBI agent Deborah Ciccerone briefly in the Sopranos and was retroactively replaced by Lola Glaudini who was re-shot in all episodes from that season.  Fairuza is a Turkish word for the color of her eyes, the first word her father spoke upon seeing her at her birth.

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 a gift certificate to Panpipes Market to

Southside Barbacoa on Urbanspoon