El Mexicano #1 – Revisitation

(361) 289-7242 • 5650 Leopard • Corpus Christi Texas 78408

When I was a sophomore at Lanier High School in 1985 I was what you might call an outsider… or a dork, nerd, freak, geek, or any number of pejoratives I can’t write in a family friendly blog. I wanted to be liked, but I didn’t have the tools to be accepted. I had moved around my whole life and this stunted my ability to maintain relationships with people, or at least that’s what I tell myself. At some point I said ‘screw this.’ If I couldn’t join ’em, I’d beat ’em. From that point on I held the popular kids and cliques in contempt. I argued with people constantly – leveraging my advantage (a voracious appetite for information and love of language) against anyone who wasn’t as informed about politics, current events, music, and trivia. I got heavily involved in school activities, working on the school newspaper, the yearbook, the literary magazine. I rebooted the chess club, which had been dormant probably since about the time Bobby Fischer disappeared. I wore ridiculous clothes, and ridiculous hair. I hung out only with people who I thought were fellow outcasts, or intellectually superior to me. I had a crush on any girl that looked like Siouxsie Sioux, Annabella Lwin, or Elizabeth Fraser. I wrote pointed editorials in the school paper about the administration, the students, the teachers and the world.

And then a funny thing happened. People started to respect me, or in some cases hate me. Instead of mild distaste, goons would be moved to kick my ass – but others were moved to stand up for me. Teachers would play chess with me. People tried to save my soul and in the process ended up with their own faith diminished.

Once I left high school my whole outlook changed. I couldn’t keep disliking people like I had after realizing how challenging everyone’s lives were regardless of their intellect or politics. In the real world what you know doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you can do. The little territory I’d staked out for myself in my societal construct became irrelevant as I struggled to survive and make a living.

Every once in a while, though, I like to think back on those times – when I knew everything and I was master of my domain no matter how small or imaginary it was. Occasionally, here, we also like to revisit taquerias we’ve been to before. This week it’s Taqueria El Mexicano on Leopard. We reviewed it once before, but I have reasons for going back there. They’ve got great flour tortillas. Their mollejas are about perfect. Their carne guisada is some of the best in town. The chorizo & egg leaves a little to be desired. The hand-painted signage is some of the best in town. It’s on Leopard but it’s close enough to a major highway that you’re not too likely to get stabbed in the parking lot unless you’re asking for it. The interior is old and a little funky, but with an air of respectability. The drive-through window is peppered with hundreds of stickers people have left as they’ve picked up tacos on the way to work, mostly oilfield services companies and their ilk. The building has seen better days but looking at it you can almost take yourself back to a time when it was master of its domain.

Our free taco winner for this week is:

Paz de la Huerta

Paz is a hot mess. I don’t know what her issue with temperature and cameras is, but she must have one or why else would she be taking her clothes off every time someone takes a picture of her. And a mess she is, getting sloppy drunk at premieres and literally ‘hanging out’ with Courtney Love (NSFW). She’s even picked up the beating-people-up habit from Courtney, pleading out of a harassment case with some other less talented bimbo from reality tv. I can say what I want about her, but I can’t say she’s not beautiful, or that she isn’t aptly cast as one of the most interesting characters in the new, improved season 2 of Boardwalk Empire. Here’s to her and those like her, crazy chicks are a lot of fun if you can stay out of the blast radius.

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 in on the back of issue 117 of Flaunt magazine to tacos@tacotopia.net.

Las Palmas – Goin’ South

528 Gordon St, Corpus Christi, TX 78404 • 361-334-3936
Bottomless Coffee – $1.20 • Chorizo & Egg – $1.40 • Carne Guisada – $1.60

I’m reading a book right now in preparation for next week’s meeting of Corpus Christi’s Books & Beverages, the book group my wife started about six months ago. The book is The Help, and a movie adaptation is forthcoming. In this book group we’ve read some real stinkers (LA Outlaws), and some books that are great but creepy and perhaps a bit supercilious (Lolita) as is the use of the word supercilious. The discussion of the book will be accompanied by a gen-you-wine Southern potluck, and I’d expect some mint juleps. As I read the Help I wrestle with something I’ve fought with my whole life.

I’m a product of the South, though not quite the Antebellum South. I was raised in Texas and Arkansas – both states were Confederate – but Texas was always too independent to be truly Confederate, and Arkansas was just too poor to ever put on the airs of Southern society. Before I go any further, let me leave no ambiguity about my feelings about the Civil War and the legacy of slavery in the US: Racists are evil and stupid, and can go fuck themselves. Take your rebel flag (which isn’t even the official flag of the CSA you ignorant bastards) and shove it. Go ahead and try to secede, see how far you get, otherwise take that thing off your car and put it in the basement of the museum where it belongs. Contrary to the opinion of many Southerners, the Civil War was about slavery – but for slavery it wouldn’t have happened. These are things I don’t think there can be any other rational interpretation of. Beyond that it gets a little muddy.

As a young kid I ran around shoeless in the Ozarks, pissing in the woods. I lived in a few houses that had outhouses. I lived in one that didn’t. I’ve used a hand-pump out of necessity. I’ve lived among some of the most racist people you can imagine, from White Aryan Resistance bikers to the Ku Klux Klan. As a child, realizing the ugliness of racism, I worked to distance myself from Southern Culture assuming it was inextricable from racism. I tried to speak like they talked on the news, to lose any hint of an accent. I got rid of my beloved cowboy hat and boots, and started wearing chucks. By the time I was in Junior High I was one of few white people being bussed to a number of schools in Austin in which whites were the minority. It was assumed I was the enemy even though I had abandoned my culture in order to not be, but I never doubted my conviction that ‘All People Are Created Equal.’ Some stupider than others, but that cuts across any distinction of race.

This is what Thomas Jefferson had to say about Southern culture, which I learned going through the great Open Yale Course on Civil War and Reconstruction which is available for free.

“they are fiery, voluptuous, indolent, unsteady, independent, zealous of their own liberties” — he changed jealous to zealous there. If we’re doing close readings we might go into that for twenty minutes, but we’re not. He’s not over: “zealous of their own liberties but trampling on those of others, generous, candid and without attachment or pretensions to any religion but that of their own heart.”

As I got older I started to tease apart the threads of Southern Culture, Racism, and the history of the South, and came to a few conclusions. The South is great and terrible. It is the source of ugliness and of the greatest beauty the world has produced. The blues, jazz, rock and roll – all would not exist if not for the fertile garden of pride and tragedy that is the South. And while the Civil War first and foremost was a war for slavery, it was also about sovereignty, and honor, and one of my least favorite words – ‘heritage,’ a filmy gauze that is used to mask the worst human intentions and that stinks of death. In spite of the victory of the Union, it only won in spite of it’s best efforts. The Confederacy fought much more brilliantly, and defied the long odds against it – giving everything – until their cause was abandoned by General Lee and Jefferson Davis, one honorably, one shamefully. There were great offenses committed by both sides. I’m also not convinced that preservation of the Union, the ostensible cause for the war between the states, was a worthwhile endeavor. I’m also not convinced that the Union was the victor for more than five days, with the South assassinating the Union’s leader and infiltrating politics in a way that has made the former Confederate states the most important block of voters in any federal election since. The party of emancipation became the party of the white and the rich, and has switched its focus from the Dixie line to the border of Mexico – which we moved in the prologue to the Civil War, the Mexican War, which was fought by the real victor of the Civil war Ulysses Grant, who had this to say about it:

 “For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war [with Mexico] which resulted as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.  It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.”

All of this said, I can’t escape who I am, and I realized you can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. My grandfather’s name was Levi. My niece is named Scarlet. My grandparents would cook us grits, and sowbelly, and we were forced to eat turnip greens which we hated. I love’em now, and I love the South – if I didn’t I’d have stayed gone when I tried to leave it 20 years ago.

Of course if you keep going South you end up in the wheelhouse of this blog, Mexico, and we’re pretty damned close to it here in Corpus – on the map and in the kitchen. I landed this morning at Las Palmas, on the back-end of a run-down shopping center next to the HEB on Alameda and Glazebrook. It’s dark, and the fresh tile mosaics are laid over an uneven foundation. The chorizo and egg was average, maybe a little below. The carne guisada was pretty good, definitely not from a food service supplier, with a lot of chili in the sauce. The one sauce on the table was a ranchero, and was quite good. The coffee was hot, tasty, and frequently refilled.

I walked out into the sun and headed back to work, wrapped up in my thoughts of the past that could only be put away by writing about them.

This weeks taco award winner is:

Dallas Bryce Howard

Her father, the great Ron Howard, is as quintessentially Southern as cornbread – having played Opie on the Andy Griffith show. She plays Miss Hilly in the upcoming relase of the Help, where she will get to flex her well developed acting muscles on a character that is just so damned mean. You might remember her from The Village, or Terminator Salvation – even if the movies themselves were somewhat forgettable. I hear she’s also in those abominable Twilight movies, but in spite of this I have always thought she was a real, and realized actor and a transfixing beauty – each tiny ginger freckle dancing on her milk-white flesh. It’s enough to make you have to stand in front of the AC unit with a big ol’ glass of Texas Tea.

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 Kate Spade Cobble Hill Medium Serena Handbag for my beautiful wife to tacos@tacotopia.net.





Feliz Amanecer

‪8151 Leopard Street, Corpus Christi, TX‬
‪(361) 241-9611‬

 This is a restaurant on Leopard. If you live here you’ve driven on this road. The Corpus end starts ‘uptown’, an area that sits on a bluff opposite downtown from the bay. This is an old road, named in the first maps made of the city. Below the bluff, leading into it one way west, is Shatzell which feeds past Coppini’s ‘Queen of the Sea’ fountain, through a 100 year old switchback and into Leopard. Follow it west and you pass through the 15-20 story “high-rises” that sit, aging and neglected but still intact. Continuing west you start to see the ghosts, the old Braslau’s Furniture building left empty by attrition, moved to what was once South Corpus, near where my mother lived as a child in the 40s and 50s in a brand new post-war house on Pennington.

Her father was a mechanic for the old Corpus Christi Post Office they tore down on Upper Broadway. My grandfather, a victim of the great depression, wouldn’t let a thing go to waste and repurposed a marble slab and trim from the restroom into a 400 pound coffee table that my family moved with us every year or so as a child as we struggled to find a place better than the one we were in before. The irony is not lost on me that I live back here in Corpus Christi, where my family left to find something more.

The Melba in the 30s and today.

Keep west and you’ll pass the bombed-out Melba theater, then a string of boarded up bars and dance halls, bail bondsmen and then across Staples you’ll see City Hall sitting across from a muffler shop and one of the city’s best (if ugliest) taquerias, Banda’s. Stay westbound, and leopard runs parallel to IH-37. It passes under the Crosstown Expressway, and onwards through the West side, past Padre Island Drive and eventually to Calallen. Amanecer is pretty far out, where most of the people dining are white with oilfield service coveralls on.

Taco places in Corpus Christi have established a baseline of quality to which other cities just can’t measure up. The cornerstone of this is the handmade tortilla, which you must have if you hope to compete. Most even serve handmade corn tortillas, but you have to ask. The prices are cheap and the tacos good, but there isn’t a lot to set many of the places apart from one another. They spring up where there is demand, and deliver basically the same tacos as the place closest to them. Feliz Amanecer is one of these places. As such I can’t tell you that it stands out, but it’s good.

What I can tell you about Feliz Amanecer is this: they’re big and neat, the service is quick and thorough, the Carne Guisada is above average and I was brought two very good salsas. Everything else is on a level with what you would expect from any self-respecting taqueria in Corpus Christi.

Our Taco Award Winner for this week is:

Mary-Louise Parker

This South Carolina belle has been acting since the 80s, starting out in soaps and eventually showing up alongside some of the biggest names in the business in productions like Bullets Over Broadway, Fried Green Tomatoes, Red Dragon, The West Wing, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and her hit Showtime series Weeds which has recently started it’s seventh season. I should mention that she was famously abandoned by epic douchebag and glowing-blue-wang-having Dr. Manhattan Billy Crudup when she was seven months pregnant. Yeah, I like Claire Danes too, but I prefer kinky-headed brunettes – and I don’t mean just curly.

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 brand new MacBook Pro to tacos@tacotopia.net.


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