December 2008

Grilled gator

Grilled gator

We’re celebrating New Year’s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by sharing a gallon-sized Chocolate Russian frozen margarita, hanging with family and setting off fireworks. I hope you all have/had a safe and kickass NYE and are ready for the fury of ’09! How it’ll be different from ’08…I’m not sure. But I do know that, if nothing else, it’ll be a total tacostravaganza. And I have one request: I want alligator tacos.

The photo above is a plate of grilled alligator we had at the Cajon restaurant Boutin’s in Baton Rouge [more photos on Flickr]. It was insanely good. The meat itself was, yes, a lot like chicken. Maybe a little chewier with a sharper flavor, though that could have been due to the righteous grill job they gave it there. Having had alligator, I now know I must have alligator tacos. Hell, they could be cajun-grilled like the gator at Boutin’s, but throw on some salsa or pico de gallo, load it all up inside two warm tortillas (I tend to like my tacos with two thin tortillas of high quality.) and let ‘er rip! I’m tellin’ ya, that’ll make for some good tacos!

By gum, if we have to make ’em, we’re having gator tacos in ’09! Happy New Year everyone!

Superior Grill, Baton Rouge, LA

Superior Grill, Baton Rouge, LA

I had very  high expectations of Superior Grill before I even stepped off the plane from New York. Elizabeth had talked this place up so much that I expected Don Mattingly (former New York Yankees first baseman, my favorite player and my former childhood hero) and Jesus to cook and bring the tacos to us themselves. Hell, the family down here has made a tradition of going to Superior Grill for Christmas Eve dinner! It HAD to be good.

Welcome to Superior Grill

Welcome to Superior Grill

The decor, both inside and outside, said, “Hello Ryan, come in and eat our tacos. We want to fill your belly with deliciousness and make you happy. Be not afraid, just feast.” The wait staff was friendly and our table was immediately gifted with a heaping helping of warm, crispy chips and just spicy enough salsa. I’m a bit of a chip fiend, specifically when it comes to curled/folded chips.  I go ga-ga for ’em. The chips here were quite good, not overpowering in taste, obviously built more for dippin’ and enjoying the salsa. Good stuff! And when we devoured most of the chips and two containers of salsa, they quickly brought us a fresh (so hot!) batch of chips and four containers of salsa. Aces!

Meal-wise, we ordered a few things. I got the three taco plate (two steak brisket and one pork taco), Elizabeth got the one  beef taco/one chicken enchilada/one cheese enchilada combo, her sister Juli got the tortilla soup and her boy-toy Steven got the chicken fajita plate. I can’t comment on Juli and Steven’s food, though they seemed happy with their grub. I tasted Elizabeth’s dish and thought the beef taco (hard) was pretty decent, the chicken enchilada was real good and the cheese enchilada was great. My tacos?



Simply put: they rocked. Before adding the salsa, pico de gallo and guacamole to the tacos, I tasted them as they were. The steak brisket tacos perfectly cooked, juicy, extremely flavorful and pretty much made my mouth sing. It was a different cut of meat from what I’m used to in NYC, but hot damn that was excellent. That photo really doesn’t do it justice. The pork taco wasn’t quite as good. The pork was cut into chunks and a little dry despite being served with onions and peppers already in the taco, but it was still a pretty darn good taco nonetheless. By itself, I’m sure the pork taco would have pleased me, but against such a magnificent display of steak taco goodness, it just couldn’t compete.

The plate also came with rice and beans (good but not out of this world), pico de gallo, lettuce and serrano peppers (which I didn’t have, since I don’t like too much spice). The guacamole there was righteous and I suggest getting a side order for any dish you order.

All in all, Superior Grill won my heart and my taste buds with excellent food, great service and some damn fine tacos. When we figure out a proper review scale, we’ll add that in here, but I’d put this place somewhere in the vicinity of awesome.

See all the photos on Taco Por Vida’s Flickr gallery.

Airport food is not real food, as we all know. And, rather than judging my airport food by the normal, exacting standards I would implement in real life, I tend to go with the following questions:

1. Does it have any flavor at all?
2. Is it under $15?
3. Does it give me heartburn?
4. Can I get some alcohol to accompany it?

Perhaps I should move #4 up, as I *hate* airplane travel. So, that’s pretty much why I always hit up Pappasito’s Cantina when I fly Continental on my way home to visit the parents.  When it opened along with the E terminal in the early 2000s, it was a place with reliably decent and fresh Mexican food, certainly better than the other Houston airport options, and–rather amazingly–strong, tart, relatively inexpensive margaritas. While I wouldn’t have named Pappasito’s as one of my top five choices in Mexican restaurants, it was a bright spot in terms of airport food.

Sadly, much has changed in the past decade.

The past few times I’ve been through the airport and had a chance to eat at Pappasito’s, I’ve been noticing a change in the quality.  Still, I would convince myself that it’s better than most options there, thinking, “At least it isn’t Famiglia pizza” and, “Yeah, it’s chain Mexican and I shouldn’t expect much” and, “It is an airport, after all.”

Pappasito's Cantina, Houston Airport

This time, I had a Cancun burrito–chicken, black beans, guacamole, and pico di gallo–along with a 12-ounce frozen margarita.  The burrito was filled with ultra-sticky, rather tasteless refried black beans that overwhelmed and surrounded the rest of the ingredients.  I could hardly see the chicken in my burrito, let alone taste it.  The guacamole–well, there was a small dab of it, somewhere in there.  In short, in order to have any taste at all, I had to add a lot of the still-fairly-adequate salsa.  Damning with faint praise, indeed, to call the salsa “adequate.”

On the other hand, there’s that margarita: At $6.95, it is a remarkably good deal.  Not too sweet, not too tart, it also contains a significant amount of tequila.  If you have a long layover, as I did, it definitely does the trick and takes the edge off.  In short, it’s actually worth your money and time if you want something stronger than a beer and cheaper than an airport bar cocktail.

Seriously, folks, this is sage advice. Our children will live by this.

Say No to Drugs, Say Yes to Tacos

Say No to Drugs, Say Yes to Tacos

Via CarlJannson on Twitter and

It sucked. How’s that for a review?! Seriously, though, I’ve heard good things about the Pappasito’s franchise and decided to sneak in a sausage, egg and cheese breakfast taco during my layover in Houston (between traveling from NYC to Louisiana).

I guess I expected a taco with flavor and substance, but all I got was some mediocre scrambled eggs, a slightly spicy sausage and some ew-y gooey cheese tossed into a bland tortilla shell. No sauce, no peppers or extras or anything. It was just bland food served in a bland way. I also got a side of potatoes and beans. That was just fatty and nasty. Yuck.

It’s airport food, so I shouldn’t have expected a taco revelation, but still: that blew.

Big plate o Dominican food from International Food House in Inwood, NYC

Big plate o' Dominican food from International Food House in Inwood, NYC

Oh, and I took photos of the sloppy mess but for some reason my Eye-Fi memory card destroyed the three photos I took. I guess that’s fitting since the food was nasty. So, instead, here’s a photo of delicious plate of mixed meats, veggies, rice and beans I got from International Food House, a great Dominican restaurant in Inwood, NYC. This is a standard dinner for me when Elizabeth (badcoverversion) is away and way better than that dang breakfast taco.

Speaking of Elizabeth, she’s got a much more in-depth and less ranty post about the airport Pappasito’s coming later.

Happy holidays and all that jazz to everyone celebrating. It’s been a relatively tacoless Christmas for me here on Long Island (my ancestral homeland), though badcoverversion and her family had their traditional Christmas Eve dinner at Superior Grill in Baton Rouge, LA where the tacos flowed like delicious, taco-flavored water. I’m heading down there tomorrow, so we’ll be sure to give it some extra love here on Tacos Por Vida.

Anyway, in my search for Christmas Tacos both in reality and online, I came across this gem:

Taco Christmas Tree Ornament

Taco Christmas Tree Ornament

This, my friends, is a taco Christmas Tree ornament and further proof that you can find anything on the Internet if you look hard enough. And yes, it’s as ugly as all get out, but I want one. When this sucker’s back in stock, I’m buyin’ at least one. Maybe two, then we can get them personalized! Hurray for Christmas Tacos!

Anyone out there actually get to enjoy some Christmas Tacos?

I was going to get tacos for lunch at work today, but something happened. The possibility of pizza came up and we couldn’t resist the siren song of Two Boots pizza. Now with both pizza and tacos on my mind, my thoughts immediately veered towards “Taco Town,” arguably the finest bit of TV ever produced by Saturday Night Live. Behold.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’m gonna try to get tacos for dinner and have our first taco review tonight/tomorrow.

[Update: Dinner tacos never materialized. I opted out. With reason, to be explained later.]

So, my buddy Arune sent me a link to the menu for a Chinese restaurant near our office. Why? Because on the “Hot Appetizers” section, it lists the following: “17. Stir Fried Pinenut Minced Chicken with lettuce taco.”

I’m curious as to what exactly that means. Is it a taco made of lettuce…like the shell itself is lettuce? Is it just a taco full of lettuce? Is it just a snafu, a bad translation?

Check it out for yourself: Wu Liang Ye. Any thoughts?

I love Mexican food. I love all kinds, from Tex-Mex to Bay Area burritos to SoCal tacos straight off the truck. (Actually, I pretty much enjoy the experience of eating most foods from a truck–it’s living on the edge, man. You never know when it will be good eats or a terrible idea.)

When I first spent a summer in NYC in 1997, the shortage of good Mexican restaurants in the city struck me nearly immediately. I encountered a lot of fairly expensive, mediocre “Bay”-style burritos; numerous “Tex-Mex” style places heavy on bland, sticky, flavorless refried beans, Dorito-style chips, and obviously jarred salsas; and almost no grill that could call itself “Superior” (as one of my favorite home-town Baton Rouge joints is called).

Much has changed in the past ten years, mostly due to the explosion of the Mexican immigrant population in New York (this has meant a lot for New Orleans post-Katrina, too, where taco trucks now dot the landscape and provide lunch for day laborers). There are now taco trucks, fabulous taquerias behind Mexican delis, and much better ingredients in even the more upscale, “fusion” restaurants.

When I met Agent Taco, we discovered a mutual love for Mexican food. In this blog, you will probably notice a few differences between us: As a lover of heat, tomatoes, roasted peppers, and cilantro, I am much more likely to fixate on salsas than Agent Taco, who likes his chips (and is more particular about them). My standard menu item by which I judge a place will change depending upon offerings: enchiladas in a sit-down joint; burritos in a burrito joint; beef tacos in a taqueria or from an elusive taco truck. Agent Taco loves his tacos, and is much more adventurous than I in his choice of fillings.

In our quest, we hope to find the best (and the worst!) of New York’s Mexican food. This task will not be that easy: this town is rife with mediocrity in addition to the many, many fine Mexican places that we have already discovered. I hope you will join us in our taco travels, our salsa search, our queso quest.

New York is the greatest city on Earth. This is fact.  There’s so much to see and do and, most importantly, eat in NYC. Just about any cuisine you can imagine is represented at least somewhere in the five boroughs.

What most people overlook, though, is that NYC actually has some pretty kickass Mexican eats. And I’m not talking about Chipotle or Qdoba, but the occasional hidden taqueria or great sitd0wn joint that surprises and delights.

So the main thing we want to do is explore this city we love and spread the gospel of good food and good tacos. And, actually, bad food. We’re going to give every place we hit up a review. If it sucks, we’re callin’ it out. With that said, I’m pretty confident we’ll post about more than just tacos or Mexican food…hell, probably more than just food.

I hope you stick with us, link up with us on Twitter here and here and give us any suggestions, tips and words of wisdom.