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

La Bahia – Level 5 Illusionist


La Bahia

224 N Mesquite St

Corpus Christi, TX 78401-2541

(361) 888-6555

interiorI run a t-shirt shop called Whetstone Graphics here in downtown Corpus Christi, and we sell a shirt that from a distance looks like a skull – a typical emo/screamo declaration of angst – but when you look at it more closely you see it’s actually several nude women.  In a town like this it’s funny that the shirt that sells the best has naked ladies on it.  It’s a tawdry illusion, and it’s the illusion that makes it interesting (okay, maybe the naked ladies help).  The subject of our discussion this morning is La Bahia, and it is cloaked in illusion.

I told my wife’s family last night that we were planning on reviewing La Bahia, and ‘El Gran’ Dee said ‘Don’t make the mistake of calling it a Taqueria, it’s Tex-Mex.’  I think the main distinction between the two is that the latter mostly serves clientele who resemble me (gueros).  Si, soy un guero pero I know tacos and these tacos were the real thing.

We showed up at 6:15, and the place was closed – but a guy came out and said ‘if you want to come in you can’  and then  ‘but we won’t have any food until 7:00.’  Psych!  So we came back at 7:00 and it was already open.  Once inside we got coffee and ordered.  The place is huge and rambling, like the winchester mansion done Spanish Colonial.  The place gives the illusion of going on forever.  Not only that, but the entire interior is done in very good faux finish, with stone arches so trim they must be wood-framed but with keystones that protrude… Maybe it’s faux stone over real stone, who can tell?  The ceiling was real wood with a faux wood finish!

The inside of my tacos were about average.  The carne guisada was flavorful but not distinctive; the chorizo and egg was not bad but not great.  But both were wrapped in good, fresh flour tortillas.  Add some of the salsa, which could have been the ‘chile’ made by my ex-wifes abuelita con un mocajete, and they were excellent.  Throw in some good coffee, good service, ice water without asking, interesting patrons (cops & clergy), and good company and the whole experience came off as memorable.  Maybe it is Tex-Mex, I heard no spanish spoken in the place, but maybe that’s just what they want you to think.


From the Hat

Sometimes it’s hard to start this comment.  What I want to say seems to come out too negative – and that’s not quite fair.  Today’s taco mini flash-mob occurred at La Bahia, downtown CC.  The place is beautiful – sprawling, brightly-lit, very clean.  The service was very good.  Coffee was there quickly and was endless.  Our order was taken and delivered with no waste of time.

I know you’re thinking there’s a ‘but’ in there somewhere, and I guess there is.  I had two tacos, a machacado and egg, and a chicharrone and egg; both a la Mexicana.  They were both ample, both served piping-hot on a pretty good flour tortilla.  But (there it is) something was missing,  I don’t quite know what.  I mean in the Platonic sense, they participated in the form of taco.  But they were almost touristy – made more for John Q. Public than an avid devotee of the genre.  You could definitely take these tacos home to mother and not offend, but there wouldn’t be any manly side talk with Dad about what’s under the hood.  It was a beautiful illusion, that hid a reality of not-too-exciting tacos.

For you nuts-and-bolts people, the chicharrones were of the air-puffed pork rind variety, the machacada was pretty good, but I should have had it without the a la Mexicana.  The a la Mexicana was good and fresh, especially the cilantro and onion.  Both came through as if they’d been chopped right before they went in the tacos.  The salsa was very good.  Might even be the highlight of the meal.  Lots of tomato and a good heat.  It made the tacos.

I heartily recommend you eat at La Bahia, though.  But make it with a crowd, particularly if they’re from Anchorage, or Ottawa, or some other place where true tacos might be unknown.  You’ll have a good time, You’ll enjoy the food and the beautiful decor, but its all an illusion.