As anyone following me on Tumblr/Facebook/Twitter knows, my boyfriend and I recently went on a quest to try 10 tacos in 24 hours. I’ve never been one to turn down a taco and how better to spend a day than trekking across town, trying all the places on my list? Make no mistake – 10 tacos is a lot, even for someone who easily eats six to nine every week. I am proud to say we were successful and managed to hit up ten different taco spots in Houston in one day. Here’s how that day went.
9:30 a.m. // 0h00 Tacos Tierra Caliente
We start out the morning at Inversion Coffee, hoping to see Breakfast Burritos Anonymous outside. When the parking lot turns up empty of food trucks, we duck inside Inversion for coffee before heading to my go-to taco spot : Tacos Tierra Caliente to try their new breakfast menu.
While the stripped down look of their trailer may look suspicious to the uninitiated, Tacos Tierra Caliente consistently serves up some of the best street tacos I’ve ever had. Each breakfast taco consists of eggs and a choice of chorizo, ham, or potatoes. The potatoes were well seasoned and the chorizo wasn’t too greasy or dry. Overall, these are solidly good breakfast tacos with an unbeatable price of only $1 each.
12:45 p.m. // 3h15 Tacos La Bala #2
Our second stop of the day was going to be TacoKeto, but we were sad to find the truck closed for vacation when we arrived. Instead, we headed out to Tacos La Bala, a spot serving up street tacos similar to the ones at Tacos Tierra Caliente but with the added plus of an air-conditioned building. When I saw chicharrón on the menu, I decided to try it for the first time (at least in taco form). The chicharrón had an orange color, much like that of al pastor, and with a similar sweetness. It had the warmth and gelatinous tenderness of beef tendon, one of my favorite dishes. This is definitely a serious contender for my favorite taco of the day. Mitch got the barbacoa, which I remember as tender and smoky, but a tad less flavorful than the barbacoa at Tacos Tierra Caliente, in my opinion.
1:40 p.m. // 4h10 100% Taquito
100% Taquito may have been the biggest surprise of the day. With its nondescript, typical strip-mall storefront, I never expected the lively interior that greeted us. The restaurant is decorated like a Mexican street, with fake little storefronts set up along the walls and a vintage Volkswagen Beetle parked in the “streets.” The counter itself is actually a food truck set up inside the restaurant. We ordered Tacos de Tinga, or their “Spicy Chipotle Brisket” tacos. The meat was mildly spicy, with a smokiness reminiscent of ranch style beans, but in a good way. The tacos were light on onions and too heavy on the cilantro in comparison. Overall, 100% Taquito was much better than I expected given its outside appearance, but if you’re looking for authentic street tacos, there are far more actual taco spots in the city that aren’t as blatantly catering to “gringos.” 100% Taquito is like the kitschy cousin of taco trucks that you can bring your suburban parents to (proof being the group of waspy teens in white tennis outfits seated at the table next to us).
2:30 p.m. // 5h00 El Rey Taqueria
With our fourth stop of the day, I can already feel myself starting to slow down. El Rey Taqueria, with its Cuban fare, serves as a nice change in pace from the Mexican street tacos we’ve been eating so far. The Cuban Taco comes with beef fajita and black beans, topped with plantains and sour cream. I’m not a big fan of either black beans or sour cream, so the fact that I enjoy this taco as much as I do is a testament to how good El Rey truly is. The plantains are perfectly ripe, soft and sweet, avoiding the bland starchiness one can often encounter with fried plantains. After finishing up Taco no. 4, Mitch and I took our first break of the day, a visit to the nearby Hiram Butler Gallery.
6:00 p.m. // 8h30 El Taconazo Veracruz
Our fifth stop was supposed to be at Taqueria La Macro (famous for their trompo), but we found it closed when we arrived – a huge disappointment since al pastor is probably my favorite of all taco meats. So, when we got to El Taconazo, I already had trompo on my mind. The red color of the meat looked just like the char siu (叉燒) of my childhood. Cilantro and onion came on the side, along with a little container of avocado green sauce. The meat was tender, with a taste surprisingly similar to Maggi sauce. The star of the show was definitely the green sauce – that alone made the trip to El Taconazo worth it.
6:50 p.m. // 9h20 The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation
I’ve lived in Houston all my life but surprisingly this was the first time I had ever been to The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. Famous for inventing the green sauce found in Tex-Mex restaurants throughout Houston, Ninfa’s is the definition of an institution. We ordered a Tejas Combo, which came with beef fajitas, a beef taco, and a cheese enchilada. The fajita was perfectly seasoned and smoky, with sweet, caramelized onions. The taco was a hard-shell taco with ground beef, lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes. The only times I’ve ever had hard-shell tacos were in school cafeterias growing up, so I must admit I was expecting the worst. This, however, was by far the best one I’ve ever had. The ground beef was nothing like the tasteless mush I had before. I might have even enjoyed the taco if not for the five other ones I’d already had that day. For me, a hard-shell, ground beef taco will never be as good as any soft-shell taco, but this was the best one can get. We also ordered a couple aguas frescas (pineapple and watermelon), which were deliciously fruity, although a tad too sweet. While perfect after hours of tacos, they quickly filled us up, leaving us incredibly full.
8:30 p.m. // 11h00 Laredo Taqueria
By the time we reached Laredo Taqueria, the both of us were pretty full from Ninfa’s. One thing on the menu did catch my eye, however – a nopales cactus taco. Neither of us had ever had cactus before. (At least beyond a prickly pear cactus lemonade). When the taco arrived, our first reactions were of surprise. Although I knew cactus itself is green, my immediate thoughts were of the fruit on prickly pear cactus, so I was oddly expecting something pink. The cactus was cut in strips and similar in color to green beans, although the texture wasn’t nearly as mushy, rather closer to okra. It tasted tart, almost as if it were pickled. The tortilla itself was lined with a layer of refried beans, which helped to tame the sourness. While the nopales was an interesting experience, I can’t help but think my opinion may have been impacted by how full I felt after Ninfa’s. Despite that, the taco was good enough to warrant a second trip to Laredo Taqueria in the near future.
1:15 a.m. // 15h45 Spanish Flowers
After Laredo Taqueria, Mitch and I headed to Mango’s Cafe to catch the Told Slant/Crying show (shout out to two amazing bands!!) and for a much needed break from tacos. As we left Mango’s fairly late in the night, the number of restaurants still open began to become extremely limited, especially as it was a Wednesday night. Luckily, Spanish Flowers is open 24 hours. The only problem, however, was that Spanish Flowers is a better restaurant for entire fajita platters and similar large dishes. As we were still full, we had to settle for the only taco-related dish that came in a single serving, a beef fajita tostada (but only after a debate as to whether or not a tostada still qualified as a taco). The fried tortilla was covered with a layer of refried beans and the tostada was topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, radish, and avocado. While there was far more lettuce than I would have liked, the beef fajita itself was extremely well seasoned. Given the amount of vegetables, this felt more like a fajita salad than a taco, but the meat itself was very good. I would expect their fajita platters to be far better, as the tostada seemed to be one of the less popular dishes.
2:40 a.m. // 17h10 Taco Bell
The night is late and we are extremely full. The tacos are close to winning. With our other late-night spots all closed since it wasn’t the weekend, we decided to throw in the fast-food favorite, Taco Bell. After driving out to the closest Taco Bell, we found the location had closed early – eerie and slightly Twilight Zone-esque with all the lights on and several cars parked outside. Desperate to keep on track on our taco venture, we drove to another location. I hadn’t been to Taco Bell in at least five years and if I was going to eat a trashy taco, I would go all the way. I got the Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco and Mitch ordered a Cheesy Gordita Crunch (my second choice). The actual Doritos Locos Taco itself was a genius idea in my mind. As mentioned earlier, I’m not a fan of hard-shell tacos but I love Doritos so this was the best a hard-shell taco could get. The ground beef itself was average, nowhere near Ninfa’s level. My biggest critique of these tacos would have to be the fact that it’s impossible to get both ground beef and lettuce in one bite. You’d think that decades of taco making would have solved that problem. As for the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, the cheese was far too heavy after a day of non-stop eating. On any other day, I would have loved the soft tortilla and the cheese, but today, it was too much. I finished my taco, enjoying the lettuce and tolerating the beef. Mitch, on the other hand, only made it through 3/4 before calling quits.
8:40 a.m. // 23h10 Breakfast Burritos Anonymous
23 hours after we began our journey in Inversion’s parking lot, we had come full circle – this time with Breakfast Burritos Anonymous outside. Even after a night of rest, I still hadn’t gained my appetite back. While I could feel my stomach growling a little, my mind repelled the idea. We split a sausage breakfast taco which came with eggs, cheese, and a choice of salsa. The eggs were incredibly fluffy and the salsa was amazing. I don’t know if it was because the end of our taco challenge was finally here or because it was that good, but this was one of the best breakfast tacos I had ever had. The only problem I found with it was that at $2.50 for one taco, this was by far one of the most expensive tacos on our tour. And for that price, I would much rather eat a regular taco than a breakfast one. If you’re ever in the mood for breakfast though, BBA is pretty impressive.
After 24 hours of tacos, I report that a non-stop taco tour of Houston takes its toll on even the greatest of taco lovers. I definitely hit a low with the ground beef in that Taco Bell taco and there was a point when I thought I couldn’t finish the challenge. The sense of victory I felt at BBA, however, made that 2:00 a.m. drive to Taco Bell worth it. Who else can claim to have finished 10 tacos in 24 hours?