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.

El Lucero – Begin Again

101 Old Robbstown Road, Corpus Christi, TX
Chorizo & Egg $1.45 • Carne Guisada $1.95 • Coffee $1.10

I’m 40. I know there are about half of you who wish you were 40 again, and the other half who dread the thought. My teen years were a time of trying to figure out where I was, and who I was. My 20s were a time where I still had hope and ambition that I would do something great. By the time I was in my 30s I was trying to adapt to the world, rather than bending it to my will – and I was managing my expectations. I’m not going to be a rock star. I’m not going to be a director, or an actor, or developer of some piece of software that would change the way we think. At 40, I’m lucky if I can make it through the workday. And I’m not just saying that. I do, now, feel lucky to walk out to my 10 year old pickup at 5, or 6, or 9, and unlock the passenger door because the keyhole on the driver’s door is jammed from when someone opened it with a screwdriver to steal my blue Fender Jazz bass many months back. I hop in, drive across the harbor bridge and the causeway with the sun over my left shoulder turning everything in front of me magenta and orange, looking at the water that is a different color every day. It never gets old.

So, in my 40s I hope it will be the decade where I start fresh – with a more solid footing and more realistic expectations, and wisdom. I don’t know everything, but I know more than I did yesterday. I see parallels in my experience and the American experience. We got kicked in the teeth 10 years ago, thinking nobody had the nerve to take a shot at us. Now we know what it’s like for every other country in the world – to not be untouchable. We got the wind knocked out of us, and got off balance when we tried to punch back. We took our eye off the ball, and by the time we came to we’d been had by the government, by globalization, by the banks and the financial industry, by the republicans and the democrats who feed us the illusion of choice, the fed, big oil, big pharma, and anyone else with a bar of soap and a towel at the blanket party. We’re not going out like that. We’re coming back, stronger and smarter. We will do what our country does best – reinvent ourselves.

Corpus Christi can do it too. I lived in Austin in the 80s, before it blew up. During the S&L crisis there were tons of new office buildings that were totally empty. They turned it around, and their population has doubled in that time. Austin looked forward, and embraced education, diversity, and the future. Corpus Christi could take a hint and quit holding on to the past and start looking forward. Youth is our future, and if we don’t make this city a place they want to stay in they will leave, and we’ll fade away. I’m talking to you, city council. Work together, instead of fussing like children. Texting? Really? Is that your job? Arguing about texting? When half of the buildings downtown haven’t been occupied in more than a decade and are uninhabitable, and no one does a thing about it? They should be brought up to code or razed, I don’t care who owns them. It’s disgraceful to see the Lichtenstein building with gaping holes all over it’s rear – and human feces all over the stairs from downtown to uptown, and the only people who seem to care is Bill H on the vacuum cart and the hellishly efficient meter maids. And Brad Lomax, and Alan Albin at the DMD, and the folks at K Space, and Joe Hilliard, and last but not least Casey ‘the Rooster’ Lain. These are the people who are keeping this cities’ culture alive. Even Produce, though they took liberties with my companies’ logo on the last artwalk poster, and let’s not forget Glassworx, cuz the 20 somethings like to smoke things while they wear their kicks and their weird baseball caps with the bills on the side, and the Yin-Yang Fandango because anachronism is entertaining, and pachouli smells better wafting off a hippiechick than an incense stick, and SegCity cuz segways are like big girls – your friends may not think they’re cool but they’re a hell of a lot of fun. As long as I’m just plugging, stop by the Treehouse Collective who are not, as far as I can tell, commies – in spite of their name. And while you’re there you could do worse than to stop by Surf Club Records, or if you want the really cool shirts, or to get your cooking or pocket knives scary sharp, Whetstone Graphics – where you can even pick up a Tacotopia Tee. Let’s not forget Aloe Tile, in the old Studebaker dealership; The only downtown business I know with a banjo-playing co-owner. The most important person in the whole scheme of things (not to sound like Fred Rogers) is you. Go out and do something cool, or help someone who’s doing something cool, or at least don’t be a jerk.

This weeks taco joint has reinvented itself too, even since the last time we were there when it was Chacho’s. Now it’s El Lucero, and the atmosphere is a little different. Where once there was Harley memorabilia and steel, now there’s blank walls and disenfectant. I don’t know which is better, though in my experience cleaner taquerias do not necessarily render tastier tacos.  The chorizo & egg was pretty bland, not much chorizo, not much salt, not much flavor. The carne guisada had a ton of salt, and flavor – though it was very food-servicey flavor. The tortillas were good, both flour and corn, both salsas were passable – the verde was excellent, creamy with some heat.  This was their grand opening so I should go back and see if it get’s better later in it’s lifecycle.

Sorry for the extended hiatus. I’ve started 10 different posts that haven’t made it online, but the world is turning around me and I’m trying to get back in the fray.

The taco award winner for the week is:

Adrienne Barbeau

Barbeau in 1981

Long overdue for some respect is the talented and beautiful Adrienne Barbeau – who at 65 is still able to lure monsters out of their hiding places as she did in Creepshow, The Swamp Thing, and The Fog. Monster movies weren’t her only outlet for performing, even though she was married to one of the elder statesemen of the genre – John Carpenter, as she was in the classic Cannonball Run seen here trying to talk her way out of a ticket. Before her scream-queen days, she worked as a gogo dancer in New York and as such worked for the mob. She also played Rizzo in the Broadway production of Grease, and wrote a couple of books, and even had a kid at age 51 with her husband who happens to be the brother of little Steven Van Zandt. Now that she and I are both married I guess our long distance romance will never be consummated but I will always have a spot in my heart for her massive talents.

Offer includes 2 tacos, an audience with the ‘tacoteurs,’ and a free tacotopia t-shirt. Please redeem this offer at  to tacos@tacotopia.net. 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 copy of the European release of the Swamp Thing to.

El Mexicano

5650 Leopard Street, Corpus Christi, Texas
361-289-2781 (temporarily disconnected)

If you’re anything like me, you have plenty to do. Everyday. Day in, day out. My truck has been languishing in disrepair, undriveable for two weeks now, because I’ve been too busy managing one calamity after another, both at work and at home. None of it is unmanageable, and everything that has to get done will get done – but it’s tough. I’ve been coordinating multiple plumbing companies to work on a situation at my house, and fixing my truck has moved up on my priority list so that I can use it to carry the jackhammer I’m going to rent to break up my slab if that gives you any idea of the kind of fun I’m having.

So it’s no surprise that I look forward to these little Friday morning taco runs. Hopping on the bike, and flying South on the causeway with the sun coming up over my left shoulder helps me to rise above all of the tedium that I’m neck deep in lately. And then there’s the taco at the end of the ride. Today that taco is inside El Mexicano, and was recommended by Sonny – my wife’s primo. I hadn’t eaten here before, and I rarely find myself on this side of Leopard. I had noticed the top notch hand painted signage before, however, and when I pulled up I felt like I’d been there a hundred times.

The hat was already there, and he’s got problems of his own. He’ll be coordinating multiple contractors this week too: electrical and carpentry. As Fritz Kunkel said, ‘to be mature means to face, and not evade, every fresh crisis that comes.’ and the crisis ahead of me was the choice of which taco to try first; chorizo & egg or carne guisada. This is the kind of crisis I can sink my teeth into.

The carne guisada looked like a typical ‘UT’ burnt orange stew, heavy on the cumino but there was something else to it. I was very tender, and good quality beef. The chunks were big, and the sauce, though sultry, was upbeat and sharp. With some of the pureed salsa verde it was a serious taco.  On to the chorizo & egg; a visual inspection revealed an optimal level of segregation of the c and the e (you’ve got to keep em separated). One bite and my suspicion was confirmed, this one was tip top. The two flavors wait to mingle until they’re in your mouth, along with the salsa and tortilla. The tortillas themselves were also impressive, fresh but thin and uniform.  You could see some corners of flour coating but for the most part you’d have a hard time distinguishing them from shelf tortillas unless you felt or tasted them, and then there would be no mistake. And there was something else about this taco – a hint of sweetness and spice – like cinnamon, so slight as to nearly be undistinguishable. I don’t know if it was in the chorizo, or if it was added in-situ, but I liked it.

So, on leaving, I felt ready to deal with the challenges laid out before me as I rode down Leopard, toward downtown, directly into the sun, dodging hookers and bums as they shuffle out into oncoming traffic. I love this town.

From the Hat

This morning, the Taco Show Host and I were to meet at Taqueria Mexicana for our usual Friday repast.  I was a little frazzled because I couldn’t find my iPhone.  Since the message from the Impossible Missions Headquarters was on my phone, I drove down Leopard hoping my memory of the location was correct.  So preoccupied with my missing appendage I was that I failed to even notice if the working girls were at it on the infamous street.  My memory was correct and I did find the place and settled in to wait for TSH.  While I waited I had a couple of fair cups of coffee and didn’t play scrabble, or check my email, or get a quick Facebook fix.

The place was clean and smelled of breakfast.  I figured the place was going to be good because it looked as though the most effective measurement of customers was by the ton.  (The Hat included.)  I heard the red Honda before I saw it and we had ordered before Ian even sat down.  I had two tacos, a nopalitos con huevos (not a la Mexicana this time) on flour and a lengua con cilantro y cebollas on corn.  When they arrived, right away I knew I should’ve ordered the carne G.  I found myself eyeballing my friend’s plate and hoping that he would have to leave for any reason and I could abscond with a bit of his taco. He was on to me so my order would have to do.  The lengua was tender, but grey and tasteless.  The cilantro, however, tasted as if they had picked it fresh moments before so between it, the onions, some salt and pepper, and a hot and spicy green salsa, it was okay.  I did enjoy the corn tortilla.  Warm, corny, with a bit of tooth to it, it was good.  The nopalitos and egg taco was pretty good.  It was stuffed with eggs and cactus.  I’ve kind of been on a quest for understanding of this particular menu item.  I’m usually not really sure if I’m eating pickled cactus, or freshly prepared nopales, but this morning for sure they were pickled.  This is not necessarily a bad thing as I could still get a strong note of cactus in the dish.  This taco is becoming one of my favorites and in the world of tacos, it’s seems to be a fairly healthy offering.  This was a good example, not great, just good.  Still, San Luis rules on the nopales taco.  There’s been some talk of running through some of the favorite taquerias to recalibrate our metrics.  I’m all for it.  (Like I need a reason to go to San Luis.)

Some of you will notice (cheering from some, boos from others) a distinct lack of levity in today’s taco text.  Recently a skydiver was killed on a dive in Port Aransas.  Shelly and I and a couple of friends had just jumped with him the week before and had the time of our lives.  Shell is still flyin’ high.  He was a talented videographer that enjoyed his work filming terrified jumpers – putting together a record of the event that the overwhelmed brain just can’t manage.  The divers are a close-knit group that will be saddened at the loss for a long time.  To them, our prayers.


Our free taco winner for this week is:

Regina King

Ms. King attracted the interest of the Tacotopia Altruistic Taco Award Selectors with her compelling portrayal of detective Lydia Adams on SouthLAnd, one of the many television properties to suffer from the Leno Coco Debacle. Fortunately the show, one of the best shows on tv today, landed at TNT and has recently begun its second season. Regina, as I like to call her, has been on screen since the was practically a tween, appearing in such seminal works as Boyz n the Hood, Friday and Ray as well as 24, Jerry Maguire, and New York Undercover. With hypnotic looks and a physique carved from stone, King is hard not to notice and she has been surrounded by talent for most of her life, attending high school with Nia Long, studying acting with Todd Bridges‘ Mother Betty A. Bridges, marrying (and later divorcing) the VP of Qwest records, and attending weddings of friends Vivica Fox and Sandra Bullock. (Who would have thought that someone known for being such a classy guy as Jesse James would be engaging in such douchebaggery?) Regina King is truly a queen.

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 sharpie on a bootleg dvd of the rough cut of the upcoming big chill remake in which Regina King will appear  to tacos@tacotopia.net.

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