Hacienda Vieja – Dignified Defiance

4301 S. Staples St, Corpus Christi, Texas • 361-994-6530

I make my way down staples to go from North to South if I have the time, and if my pickup’s suspension is up to the task, and if schools aren’t letting out, because I like the way it looks. My GPS tells me to take Crosstown to SPID. My wife will always take Ocean. I, however prefer Staples which is like a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder: often rude and ugly, people say bad things about her, but she is always being used. I have a morbid affection for the sad and broken. I often stop at the Sunrise Mall, located on Staples, so that I can pay my respects before it gives up the ghost.

Ad for Piggly Wiggly on Staples, 1927

For those of you who don’t live here, Staples was once a main artery that is now old and hardened. Littered with decrepit buildings and people who have no illusions about the difficulty of this world, Staples grudges ahead in admirable fashion, dragging the broken pieces of it’s history behind it. If you’re from Austin, think Lamar in the 80s. Here there is no irony, what you see is what you get. Vestiges of the glory of the 50s and 60s are barely visible, as a Wal Mart is built upon the grave of Parkdale Village like the housing development in Poltergeist. “You moved the cemetery, but you left the bodies, didn’t you? You son of a bitch, you left the bodies and you only moved the headstones! You-only-moved-the-headstones! Why? Why?”

Located toward the less abject end of Staples is Hacienda Vieja, ‘Old Plantation.’ You don’t have to look to closely at the Hacienda Vieja to recognize the signature ‘architecture’ that says “I was once a Bill Miller.” Freshly, if barely, remodeled, it doesn’t smell like a taqueria, but you acclimate quickly. I was greeted by the Hat, and friend of Tacotopia Joe Hilliard. The company was great. The tacos, slightly less than great but good at least. The chorizo and egg was unobtrusive, a bit too polite for my taste but well dressed with a hint of cinnamon. The carne guisada consisted of nearly perfect cubes of beef whose texture was almost as ideal as their shape. The sauce was not bad, definitely a house recipe, no food service here (I’d guess). The tortillas were fresh and good, maybe a tad doughy. The salsa roja was sloppy and hot, heavy on the chiles with a dry finish. The coffee came in tiny brown coffee cups that, though we tried, we could not empty without a pretty waitress refilling them. We observed that they have a full bar but I didn’t order anything that would muscle out the 20 cups of coffee. I’ll be back.

As we emerged, we saw El Aleño a block away with a new paint job since we reviewed it nearly 2 years ago. Another new face on an old character.

Our Taco Award Winner for this week is:

Marcia Gay Harden

A Navy brat, Marcia Gay Harden has been around the world. She has acted on stage and screen, winning an Oscar and a Tony. She graduated from UT Austin, and then NYU, and is often cast as an uptight mother as in Whip-It (damn she wore that postal uniform well though) but I fixated on her when I first saw her in 1991’s Crush. Since then she’s turned some stellar performances in a ton of movies such as Miller’s Crossing, the Spitfire Grill, Pollock (for which she won an Oscar for playing the too-ugly-for-Marcia-to-portray Lee Krasner), Spy Hard, Mystic River, and Into the Wild. At 51, she is as beautiful as she was at 21, and is in my opinion one of the best actors around.

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 Miller’s Crossing to tacos@tacotopia.net.

Tapatia #2 – Do Over

5212 Weber Road, Corpus Christi, Texas • 361-852-6272 • www.taquerialatapatia.net
Chorizo & Egg $1.49 • Carne Guisada $1.79 • Bottomless Coffee $1.25

Everyone deserves a second chance. La Tapatia #2 got a bad review a year ago due to some bad onions, and I wanted to revisit this place to see if the onions were an indicator of a more serious problem or just a fluke. Four of us converged this morning to get to the bottom of it, and in doing so we left unsure of what to think.

I arrived first, and seated myself in one of the aged brown vinyl button upholstered booths. It was surely intended to look old when it was new, but after 20 or 30 years of wear by derriere the booths here look like I might have seen them in someone’s yard on Hoarders. Also, there’s a hole in the drop ceiling surrounded by rusting trim; evidence of years of leakage. I have a similar situation to deal with at my business, and I know how hard it is to get a flat roof fixed. I parked in the corner so I could see any attackers coming, and had good coffee inside 60 seconds.One of the waitresses was singing to herself behind the counter until regulars showed up, speaking tex-mex in a familiar fashion with her.

The rest of the crew filed in, and we ordered. As our food arrived we all eyed it with some suspicion. I had no onions on my two tacos, but the Hat got barbacoa on corn con cebollas y cilantro and we all examined the chopped onions. They looked harmless, but it’s hard to tell from a chopped onion. They weren’t as translucent as you’d think they would be if they’d gone over. The Hat fearlessly took a big bite and after a few seconds of considered mastication gave us the thumbs up.

I started in on my tacos, served up on excellent handmade flour tortillas in the double D formation. On the left we have the staple of breakfast tacos – the chorizo & egg. The c&e was serviceable. Not the best I’ve had, but better than many. To the right was the carne guisada, technically not a breakfast taco. While it’s usually found on the lunch/dinner section of the menu, I find it is a good litmus test of the quality of the taqueria, and it’s usually delicious. This carne g in particular was much less soupy than most. It’d be hard to say if it was intentional, or if it had just sat in the steam tray for too long, but the extra toothiness complemented the beef.

There was one thing about the meal that left us confused – the salsa. It had a tangy flavor, and smelled like a bowl of salad left in the sink for a few days. I bought a refrigerated salsa back in the early 90s from HEB’s Central Market around 35th street in Austin that was fresh and filled with cilantro and onions. Then one day I got a jar that had gone sour, and I realized this after I had chewed and swallowed a big heaping chip of it.  I could never eat that salsa again without tasting it. This salsa had a flavor reminiscent of that, but I have heard of lacto-fermented salsa. Perhaps this is how it was supposed to taste. It did have some nice heat, and it wasn’t so bad that I didn’t put it on both of my tacos.

In the end we don’t know if there’s a freshness problem here. Maybe in another year we’ll come back and do a third sampling (and ask them). Then again, maybe not.

Our Taco Award Winner for this week is:

Elizabeth Hurley

Perhaps you remember her from Austin Powers or Bedazzled. Maybe you saw her representing Estée Lauder. You might recall her from the scandal with her stupid ex-husband and a certain ‘professional’. She weathered the press and humiliation, not divorcing Grant until 2000 – 5 years after the incident. She was given away at her wedding to Arun Nayar by Elton John. If I were Hugh, I’d be sorry if I saw her in this sari.

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 dvd of ‘Aria

Anonymous Chevy Van Tacos and Hot Cups of Coffee

4701 IH- 37 • 6:00 AM – 7:00 AM

Einstein’s theory of relativity tells us that with a greater gravitational force acting upon an object it will pass more slowly through time. Scientists from NIST last month, with the help of two new ultra-precise Aluminum-Ion clocks, were able to measure a difference in the effect of gravity when the two clocks were only 13 inches apart. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around, but think of it like this. Corpus Christi sits over a base of a few incredibly dense people who cause an increase in the cities gravitation field which in turn causes the us to lag about 5-15 years behind most American cities in terms of adoption of new technology and cultural innovations.

There are of course exceptions to this. We are light years ahead of the rest of the world in taco technology. Our economic collapse was about 25 years ahead of that of the rest of the nation, but through some space-time anomaly it appears we may be stuck in this fiscal valley for an eternity. Most other things, though, happen in other places years before we get them. An example of this is the trending phenomenon of taco trucks, also known as Loncheras. In California, innovator of American culture in all things from hot rods to emissions standards to bo-tox, taco trucks are legion. They are so numerous, in fact, that the Food Network has made a reality show about them. To our north is Austin, a town that (bless it’s heart) makes up for the low quality of its tacos with high prices, and in turn innovations in the sales, marketing, and distribution of the objects of our desire. Armed with mobile kitchens, tech knowledge, and social media enabled devices, operators of what once were called roach coaches are taking over the culinary landscape in metropolitan areas all over the US. Their impact is enough that brick and mortar restaurants are pressing politicians to squeeze mobile vendors with increased regulations and code enforcement.

We don’t have this problem in Tacotopia, for two reasons. One – it’s hard to find a working taco truck, and two – it’s hard to find working politicians. We are at least 10 years behind Austin in taco truck proliferation. And while it is hard to find a mobile taco vendor, it is not impossible. We ran upon one in the parking lot of one of the Hurb’s Burgers on IH-37. It wasn’t a taco truck proper, it was just a white van with a cooler and a coroplast sign behind the windshield, but they did have a limited selection of tacos and a friendly disposition. There didn’t appear to be any coffee, but right across the parking lot was a bona-fide vending trailer that would have been at home in LA county: Hot Cups, combining coffee with bikinis. Ashley served us two hefty coffees with a winning smile and her tattoos peeking up out of her daisy dukes. Innovation is a good thing. The coffee was good too, dark and rich with a hint of hazelnut.

The Hat and I headed back to a testing facility to analyze the fare. The tortillas were fresh as one could hope for from the back of an unmarked van, and better than the nominally handmade tortillas we had last time at Las Milpas on Navigation. The carne guisada was quite good, making up for less than great beef with exceptional gravy. Add to this some top-notch red fresh salsa and you’ve got a winner. The chorizo & egg was good too, barely warm but better than room temperature and with little (but not too little) red grease.

The Hat talked to the taco seller who indicated he does own and operate a truck, but that it’s undergoing some needed repairs. We hope he gets it back on the road soon, so we can avail ourselves of the taste of tomorrow.

Our Taco Award Winner for this week is:

Raquel Welch

Some of you will recognize the photo to your left, which was taken around 1965, the year the US became involved in the Vietnam conflict, and the year Pillsbury introduced the Pillsbury Doughboy. We hadn’t landed on the moon, Woodstock was years away, and the Beatles were still performing. Ms. Welch was 25, and if you do the math you’ll see that the slice of hotness on the right is a seemingly impossible 70 years old. She must have a profound understanding of fluctuations in the space/time continuum in order to have avoided the effects of time as well as those of gravity. She was married to Hollywood wildman Robert Evans and actually feuded with Mae West, whom she called a ‘dockworker in drag.’ And even though she’s one of the most iconic sex symbols ever, she has been able to reconcile that with her faith and lifelong weekly church attendance. Somebody’s living right.

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 dvd of ‘Mother, Jugs & Speed.