1322 Leopard St.
Corpus Christi, TX 78401
Chorizo & Egg: $1.05
Carne Guisada: $1.50
Bottomless Coffee: $1.50
America. In Mexico as a kid when asked where I was from I replied “I’m an American.” The shopkeeper said, in perfect English, “So am I.” It had never occurred to me before, Mexico was contained in the continent of North America. My adolescent brain hadn’t bothered to make a distinction between American & U. S. Citizen. Most ‘Americans’ never do. It’s a part of our character to grab what seems true and hold on to it, defending it to the death against attacks and sometimes logic and truth. It’s what makes us strong, and what makes others hate us. I hear the mantra of ‘family values’ repeated from every corner, much of the time used to sell things. I hear condemnation of anything unfamiliar or different. One thing many Christians get right is charity. The problem of poverty is too big to fix without fundamental structural change in society, but it is being treated by many – some out of devotion to their faith, some out of dedication of humanity. You see evidence of this on Leopard Street. Any given hour on any given day you can see people asleep on the benches and sidewalks, and there are always the walking wounded – making their way down the circuit: Salvation Army, Metro Ministries, then to the bus station and back to panhandle. As I stood next to my truck a man shuffled by me and the smell was overwhelming. It wasn’t the smell of urine or filth. It was the smell of desperation.
I gathered with three generations of family this morning. My Father-In-Law, My Stepson and myself shared the table with fellow taco inspector Kevy the Hat. We talked politics, we talked food, we talked about women and men, we talked about the past. Dee, my Father-In-Law, grew up blocks away, and told us about how this restaurant used to be a diner called ‘Bunk’s’ that served up real root beer from a wooden barrel, back before they tore down the Sears and put in it’s place the city hall, years later, to cast a shadow on the overlooked and forlorn transients as they polish the crumbling sidewalks with cheap shoes and bare feet. The 1914 County Courthouse sits blocks away, empty for 30 years, again crumbling after a short lived effort to restore it lost steam a few years back.
My wife’s father is a man of respect with whom I carry on discussions on many things we both claim expertise in, if only in each other’s company. He’d recommended this place – not for the tacos, but for the homemade corn tortillas. Many years ago my family in a fit of wanderlust, which we had in spades already, and in an effort to prolong our short fall to the rock bottom of destitution sold everything we had, hopped in a camper van and crossed into Mexico where we traveled for months and months. I remember eating fresh corn tortillas that were hot out of the tortilleria, right there on the sidewalk outside. I haven’t liked a corn tortilla since, how could another compare? This changed today. These were big and fresh, and thinner than the typical corn tortilla. It looked like it was pressed, and had no real irregularity of texture but tasted like it was kneaded by the hand of god himself (please forgive me).
The flour tortillas were the same way. So thin it was as if I were trying to hold the egg and chorizo together with a puff of smoke. Everything else was good, but hard to focus on in the company of the tortillas. Carne Guisada – good, Chorizo & Egg – pretty good, Barbacoa – good, Coffee – pretty good once we got it. The salsa was unremarkable but complemented the tacos. If there was anything to complain of, it was that the waitress forgot our coffee for 5 minutes – and once reminded showed up quickly with a fresh full pot.
So don’t rely on conclusions built on the presumptions of familiarity and don’t let your routines protect you from experiencing the world outside your comfort zone. You might not know what you’re missing, and if you’re missing this place you’re missing out on a damned good thing.
From the Hat
Today was a good day to be a Tacoteur. Ian’s Father-in-Law had suggested Bandas on Leopard and joined us there for tacos. Once seated, he immediately ordered something not from the menu, barbacoa on a home-made corn tortilla. I decided to listen to the table-talk and follow suit. In addition to the barbacoa taco, I ordered chicharrones and eggs a la mexicana on a hand-made flour.
I’d been across the the street at Shaeffer’s Muffler Shop at least twice a year for state inspection stickers and had seen Banda’s many times while I waited. I’m a bit bummed that I could have gone in there and had a high-quality taco while my car was being inspected.
While we waited for the tacos, I enjoyed a cafe-delicious cup of coffee or three. I listened to tales of the area from way before I graced the region with my presence. I could almost see what the place would have looked like back then. Maybe a bit like it does now, without the guys sleeping on the sidewalk.
The tacos arrived and Wow!. They were big and the smell of fresh corn tortilla was rushing off my plate. I took aim at the barbacoa. The best!. I’d have more to say, but I think it’s summed up by my words at the time, “This is as close to barbacoa taco perfection as it comes.” And I stick by those words. The corn tort was fresh-made and thin. Thinner than most corn tortillas I’ve seen – Twiggy in the world of tortillas, but packed with corn flavor and robust enough to handle the juicy barbacoa. Served with cebolla and cilantro on the side it was exceptional. You’d have to barbecue the head yourself to get better. I did good to follow the lead of The Man.
Next to the chicharrones and egg a la mexicana. This was the best in recent memory. These were no fluffed-up air-brushed chicharrones, they were the real deal. Their texture was almost gelatinous. Exactly right. There were plenty in the taco and they were not overshadowed by the eggs. The flour tortilla was really good. Thin and lacking nothing. It broke on me during the taco, but that was probably because it was stuffed beyond carrying capacity with goodies. I accented this taco with the excellent fresh red salsa on the table.
In closing, I’d like to say that next time I get a vehicle inspected, I’m not going to be hanging around the Shaeffer’s waiting room, watching the Judge-of-the-day dispense television justice. I’m heading across the street where the television is playing a panel of five short-skirted women all talking español at the same time. But they won’t distract me one minute from my taco.