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.

Chema’s Tamales – A Diamond In the Dirt

1336 S. Staples • 361-882-1077

The death of OBL marks the real beginning of the 2012 US presidential campaign season, a beginning that has been thankfully delayed. If it could be crammed into the last week of October 2012 I think the nation would be better for it, but I’ll take one year of lying, self-aggrandizing, slander and manipulation over two. My Fridays invariably start with a listen to the week’s Slate Political Gabfest while I drive into town, and then the blessed relief from the horror of politics as I pull my truck into the lot of a comforting and friendly taqueria.

I got an email from a taco enthusiast who works for Landlord Resources, who said I should check out Chema’s. A few days later I was at House of Rock, and David Loeb mentioned this spot to me. It’s in a place that has been occupied by a number or restaurants, none of which have I ever tried, but with all the recommendation I had to give it a go. It’s difficult to even see the front door from the street, so I had no idea what to expect. It is on old Staples, and so it could be made of cardboard and adobe with no roof if it’s like some of the nearby buildings, but once I walked in the door I was surprised to see a neat, spacious, and comfortable dining area. Over the next few weeks I went back twice – due diligence, and I can report with some confidence on the quality of the food.

The chorizo & egg was not bad. Not the best I’ve had, but serviceable. The carne guisada was dense and meaty, breaking off into little flakes of chewy beef. The tortillas were fresh, though not made to order, with a nice tooth to’em.

The tacos themselves are not in contention for the best traditional breakfast tacos in the best town for breakfast tacos in the world, but there are things make Chema’s stand out. If you notice in the photo, the breakfast tacos are served with lettuce and tomato on the side. This is the first for me, and I’ve eaten at a truckload of places in town. All the plates match each other, and match the pottery coffee cups, that have ‘chema’s’ hand-painted on the sides. The place is clean and the service is impeccable. Chema’s been there every time I have, and he likes to talk with the customers. You can tell before you even talk to him that he’s a man who takes pride: in the food, the restaurant, the presentation, and in himself. A transplant from San Antonio, he will tell you he’s trying to bring something different to the table. You’re likely to see him in white linen pressed pants, with a little gold on his fingers and in his mouth, standing with his chin up but smiling at everyone, and quick with banter. I went twice during lunch and the place was packed. You could hear people talking amongst themselves about how good the food was. Chema would bring out complementary tamales for people to sample. This is a nice restaurant – a good experience all around. It’s not fine dining, but it’s about as fine as you’re going to get for Mexican food done right – with pride and without pretense. Keep it up, Chema!

Our Taco Award Winner for this week is:

Chloe Sevigny

HBO‘s Big Love ended last month, with a finale that was a high water mark for the series, unlike many finales HBO has generated. It was a series my wife and I liked, but there was something about it that alway bothered me. Chloe Sevigny is beguiling, and yet played an evil shrew so well that it was difficult to see her for the rare beauty she is. Big Love was her return to the screen after she was blackballed for a controversial sex scene in Vincent Gallo‘s the Brown Bunny, a movie that started a feud between Roger Ebert and Gallo where the latter put a hex on the former, and considering – it may have worked, though Gallo cursed Ebert with colon cancer instead of cancer of thyroid.

Chloe was a bad girl, sneaking out, hanging out with skaters, smoking, going to all night parties and selling acid as a teenager. You may remember her as the accidental lesbian girlfriend in Boys Don’t Cry, or as the naive but willing secretary in American Psycho, or as the hottest girl in just about any Harmony Korine movie. She values acting enough to refuse to move to Los Angeles, staying instead in the East Village. When she’s not smouldering in front of a camera she dabbles in fashion design.

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 the original theatrical cut of the Brown Bunny to tacos@tacotopia.net.

Los Laureles

2754 Port Ave • Corpus Christi, Texas • 361-884-7010

Los Laureles is a little old cinder block building on Port. You can drive down Port on any given Saturday morning and you will likely find at least one new taqueria, or taco trailer. This is not tourist food, it it intensely local. So much so that I, the taco show host, with my intimate knowledge of the breakfast taco world, often feel profoundly caucasian with my pronounced arctic complexion and rudimentary Spanish.

A few months ago a took a drive down Port and made a list of new places to try out. Then a few weeks ago I was contacted by the catering manager for a touring country solo act whose name rhymes with Tim McGraw and called upon for assistance in finding a taco truck. Sure enough, I did find a few trailers, and one of them was on Port (though they expressed no interest in working a private event). In all this, I had noticed Los Laureles sitting humbly, and set out to pry loose its secrets.

I ordered a chorizo and egg, and a carne guisada, both on flour. The tacos came out before long and I went about tasting them. The chorizo & egg was good, and greasy. Some people don’t appreciate the grease but I do, depending on the grease. This was bright red and flowed out the back of the taco like a garden hose in spite of my pinching off the end. The napkins began to come in to play at this point. The carne guisada was like a burlesque performer: a little fat around the edges and more delicious than what is held out by the mainstream as ideal. It was fantastic. I got two different salsas. The red was nearly tasteless until it contacts air at which point it gets dusky and fiery. The green, on the other hand, entered with fanfare and stole the show. Both were really good, as were the flour tortillas.

The waitresses were cute, and not to be trifled with. The coffee came quickly in an impossibly small cup. I was the only guerro there, and crews of mexicanos were joking with each other before their day’s work while eating and reading the paper. This place gives off the feel of a restaurant that is steady, and not going anywhere, like Bill H, the guy downtown who drives the little vacuum cart. There’s nothing you could throw at him that he can’t handle, and then not bother to talk about with his crew at Cheers. If we could all only have that kind of conviction. I’ll be back to this place with friends in tow.

Our Taco Award Winner for this week is:

Carla Gugino

Carla Gugino is a chameleon, playing old and young, modern and retro, light and tragic. She was the redemption of Watchmen as Silk Spectre the elder though she was just seven years older than Malin Ackerman who played her daughter. You can see her in theaters now in Sucker Punch. She is a regular on Californication, as well as Entourage, Spin City (as well as R. Rodriguez‘s Sin City), Chicago Hope, and the show she led, Karen Cisco.  She has aslo been in American Gangster, This Boy’s Life… the list goes on. She’s just a little younger and a little hotter than the girl I confused her for at first, Rachel Weisz, who is hot enough herself to trigger smoke alarms, but there’s no mistaking Carla for long.

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 the Box Set of Battlestar Galactica to tacos@tacotopia.net.