El Palenque – The Slice of Vice Edition


El Palenque Mexican Restaurant
3429 Leopard St
Corpus Christi, TX 78408
(361) 887-9105
Chorizo & Egg: $1.45
Carne Guisada: $1.90
Large Coffee: $.95

The grind of the city can push a man too far.  The litany of insults to a man’s dignity and the slow and steady destructions of his dreams can drive him to a place the innocent would fear.  This is a place that serves up whatever that man wants.  In our part of the world he’s got his options; the border is filled with little towns where you show up with money and leave with a need to see an American doctor, if not a lawyer.  And when he finds himself walking the dark and dirty sidewalks to the South they might lead him to a place where people bet on the very lives of two cocks engaged in a battle to the death – the arena known as EL PALENQUE.
If you’ve been down Leopard you know what to expect. The steady stream of working girls and derelicts wearing a path from the Metro Ministries to the shelter and the bus stop. El Palenque has been around since 1991 and occupies a building that used to be a strip club.  As we sat at our table we were flanked by cops and thugs alike. The attraction of this kind of diversion makes no distinction between right and wrong, between rich and poor.  It is unadulterated lust for blood.

We are no different, Kevin & I, as we lay our money down for the spectacle.  I bet on the favorite to win, a half breed plate with a Carne Guisada taco and a Chorizo & Egg.  Kevin had a hot tip about a fix – the Picadillo taco and his friend Dale, the taco.  My Coffee was gigantic, as were most of the hulking patrons.  There was no red salsa, only a delicious green – as if to say ‘red salsa? we don’t need no stinking red salsa!’ We dared not eat the corn tortillas, as we were told by the merciful waitress they were not homemade as she dispensed salsa into what seemed like 500 tiny cups with speed that would put a machine to shame. She was sharp, that one.  She knew everyone’s name and had their regular orders at their tables almost before they could sit down.  She looked like she’d faced some trouble in her life but was still trim and cheerful, with a proud beauty covering the abuses of time. The banter with the english speaking customers was salty. The only Spanish I heard was from the radio, and almost none of the customers were Mexican.

The Chorizo & Egg was very light on the Chorizo.  The Carne Guisada redeemed the breakfast, with huge chunks of beef and a soupy sauce all resting on thick fresh flour tortillas.

On the way back home Kevin tried to piece together the confusing fragments of memory from the night before:

Yes Ian, the fix was in.  My feathers ruffled upon entering the pit.  Armed only with cockspurs of the trade, a fork, I raged, skwalking in anticipation of the unknown.  I set upon my duel, taco a mano, with the taco known as Dale.

Dale, a long time patron who still frequents the Palenque, ordered a bean, egg, cheese and two slices of bacon so regularly that they named it after him.  As tacos go, it was good.  The beans were the perfect texture, but missing any snap.  The bacon was well done, but not too crispy.  Not the most worthy opponent, but I was happy for the lightweight first round…and it was a good thing, for the next battle surely tested my mettle.

DaleTacoThe picadillo at first taste was a bit bland, but with a strategic application of sal, the flavors brightened and I knew I was in a run for my money.  I could see the other patrons glancing askance to see how I would fare in battle.  I’m not sure, but I think I saw Ian covering a bet with the waitress.  Surely he was betting on my success… surely.  The taco was really good.  A mix of ground beef, potatoes, and in this case chunks of bright orange carrots made the hash both tasty and visually appealing.  In the end it didn’t stand a chance either, and its broken body was the proof of my victory.


The tortillas were very good.  I disregarded my custom of one flour and one corn at the recommendation of the owner.  They didn’t serve a hand-made corn tarpaulin.  Too bad, but I won’t fault them as the flour torts were very good.  The salsa was green, and served in a squeeze bottle.  It had a good fresh taste of chili with plenty of heat, very good I would say.  The coffee was served in a cup that was large enough to have sequestered a small gamecock–and it was good.

In the end, I walked out victorious but not unscathed.  It’s likely I will wear the parting shot of salsa from the picadillo on my shirt for the duration of the day.  Salud.

We got away with little more than the shirts on our backs, and worn out stomachs as we made our way home to beg our wives to take us in and forgive us – one more time.