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.

Taqueria El Mexicano on Urbanspoon

La Costeñita – Like a Christmas Song, Corpus Style


217 Leopard Street
Corpus Christi, TX 78408
(361) 882-5340

217 Leopard Street • Corpus Christi, TX 78408 • (361) 882-5340

Chorizo & Egg $1.39 • Carne Guizada $1.79 • Bottomless Coffee $0.99

Opens at 5:30AM

“It’s coming on Christmas.
They’re cuttin’ down trees.
They’re putting up reindeer
and singing songs of joy and peace.
I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”

– Joni Mitchell, ‘River’

Someone upstairs was taking this deliciously depressing Christmas song a bit too literally when they tried to turn Corpus Christi into a river and decided to deluge us with a solid week or two of cold rain and drizzle.  And no, that’s not hip-hop for drill it’s the unending and freezing water that’s been falling from the sky.  I thought it wouldn’t ever let up, but this morning I got up ready to brave the wet day and get tacos I saw a beautiful thing – The sun.  See, here in South Texas we get snow once every 20-25 years.  It rarely even freezes, but it does get miserable.  The cold is worse than you’d think here because of the rain and the wind, plus the drivers here are some of the worst in the nation falling just behind Mississippi and New Jersey respectively imho.

So we came out into the freshly drying world, two by two, and met up at a taco shop my wife had wanted us to check out since we’ve been checking out taco shops: La Costeñita.  Nestled in the heart of the Leopard badlands it has been here for about 13 years.  It’s got a nice hand-painted sign and rustic timber posts holding up the roof.  We all started showing up around 6:30, we being Myself, Monica my accountant wife, Matthew my brooding but taco-loving stepson, Kevvy the Hat, Shella Bella, local personality and downtown enthusiast Heidi H, and Movie Maestro, Talk Radio Host and the Fencer with the rapier wit and no GPS Joe Hilliard.

We all immediately set about discussing current events and solutions to the vexing problems that face our city.  Memorial Colosseum, stagnant growth, the effect of karma on unscrupulous downtown property owners, the fortunate absence of working girls on this stretch of Leopard due to the weather. Mr. Hilliard who I expect is as tuned-in to direction of the prevailing winds of local business development as anyone at the table seems pretty optimistic about the future but suggested we tune into his nameless show tomorrow at 11:00 on Keys AM1440. We also talked tacos, and before long we were doing more than talking.  The food arrived and we dug in.

TacosDDMy chorizo & egg was not bad.  The tortillas weren’t off the shelf but were a little springy.  There was plenty of filling and plenty of that filling was chorizo.  My other taco, a carne guisada, was atypical: the meat was cooked less I’d guess than many taquerias, resulting in a bit tougher tooth but with a fresher flavor and the sauce was quite good and red.  Ranchero sauce was brought out, but I opted for the salsa verde which was really excellent and quite hot.

The place itself was comfortable, and filled with working folks taking in coffee and fuel for the coming day – and a day it’ll be.  Everyone at the table has unusual things they have to do.  Grading finals, Christmas parties, taking finals, getting ready for the holidays, cooking chili for the Slaid Cleaves show tomorrow at the Venue at House of Rock.  Things get steadily more and more chaotic each day closer we come to Christmas and I struggle to keep myself from having psychotic episodes, self medicating with eggnog.

After it was done the Hat and I went to take a closer look at something we’d been discussing today over tacos, the Sign for the old ‘Tally Ho’ motel which is currently residing at Dawson’s Recycling, the company that handled much of the cleanup of the site.  The owner told us some stories about the things they found during the cleanup that would curl your hair.

I liked this place.  The tacos weren’t world class but still good, especially with the salsa, and sitting and looking out onto this part of leopard on a nice sunny morning is almost like looking back through history, to a time when this was a boomtown, when we cherished intellect and the promise of technology and the future.  Who knows, maybe Joe’s right and we’ll see a new period of prosperity here.  I’d like that, but as frustrating as this town can be and even if it stays just like it is warts and all I can’t think of a place I’d rather be in Texas.  Merry Christmas Y’all!  Happy Holidays too. Celebrate the little time we have left so we can end this decade on a sweet note, and turn it into some harmony to start off the next ten years.


From the Hat

Merry Christmas All!  Everyone seems to be getting into that Spirit – including those at the taco gathering this morning.  Everyone was animated in that early morning kind of way, buoyed by a night’s sleep and a couple of cups of coffee.  Not to mention the hot fiery thing at the center of the solar system making its first appearance in a month.  I’m not complaining about the rain.  But a respite from the slow, cold drizzle has raised my my razed spirits.  It was a good crowd this morning and the conversation was current and enjoyable.  Not that it’s usually not current and enjoyable, but more brains, more topics, more points-of-view.  We were loud compared to the other patrons, but they didn’t seem to mind.  Usually it’s Ian and I, quiet, scheming about the blog; this was more like a Holiday Gathering.  La Costeñita was dark from the outside but brightly-lit inside.  Shell and I have been there many times in the evening, or for lunch.  But this was our first visit for breakfast tacos.

It’s an interesting neighborhood, S. Leopard Street; an old neighborhood.  Some renaissance has happened in the last several years, but you’re still likely to see women with no purses walking to nowhere and guys in trucks willing to give them a ride.  Just up the road is Lou’s (Greyhound) Saloon.  Lou’s is an institution where you can get a beer, good and cold, draft or bottle.  I haven’t been in a while, but seems like they had a pretty good barbeque too.  They use to sport aerial photography of a time when Lou’s was the only building for miles in any direction.  Not far in the other direction, is Frank’s Spaghetti House.  Frank’s has been slinging pasta for 60 years.  It’s dark in a cozy kind of way and they have a decent selection of Italian food.  Over the twenty years I’ve been eating there it’s been mostly good.  Like the Astor, another long-time Corpus Christi establishment.  Steaks are cooked right out in the restaurant on an open fire.  Opened in the late 50’s, it looks like the restaurants from my childhood.  Like the rain though, all things eventually end and sunshine illuminates the darkness and clears out the dank corners of the world – the sun or the wrecking ball.  Such was the fate of the TallyHo.  The motel was ritzy from its beginning, infamous in its end.  From Swanky to Skanky, the TallyHo ended more about Ho than Tally.

I don’t expect a similar fate for La Costeñita.  While still a newcomer to the area, (10 + years on site), I think it will be around for some time.  The ingredients are fresh and the service is good and as it turns out, they serve a mean taco.  I’ll probably get some groans at my selection of tacos this morning – a taco de camarones, and one de aguacate.  It’s a stretch ordering a shrimp taco in the morning, but it was on the menu, and I love a shrimp anything.  It was tasty, the shrimp were firm and bedded in a nest of iceberg and tomatoes.  It needed salt and pepper, but otherwise was good.  The avo taco was delicious, simply avocado, lettuce, and tomatoes.  It was filled with perfect avocado.  Both tacos were accented well with either of the choices of salsa.  The salsa verde was fresh and delicious.  The warm ranchero sauce was liquid fire.  Both tacos were on flour torts, torts that didn’t make my list of favorites, but coupled with excellent company, well worth the trip.



La Costenita Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Taqueria Bandas – Diamond in the Rough


1322 Leopard St.

Corpus Christi, TX 78401

(361) 882-2180

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.  Banos
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.