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Chili Bob’s Houston Eats

Way before the blog you’re reading got started, there was Chili Bob’s Houston Eats. It’s not pretty. It’s got a suffix on it. His food photos could use some work. I think his first name is Bruce.


Here is his humble mantra. (Read in Kevin Spacey’s voice for added effect.)

I’m a food explorer and reporter, not a restaurant critic, a food nerd rather than a foodie or fooderatti. This blog records my excursions exploring Houston’s great diversity of eateries with an emphasis on ethnic and national cuisines, peasant food and neighborhood eateries as opposed to haute cuisine or trendy foodie hot spots plus some Texas specialties like barbeque and sausage. These are the sorts of places that make Houston such a great place to live and eat out. The blog is mostly about places that are new to me instead of old favorites and there’s a little emphasis on places in the southwestern corner of the city, where I live, but I do roam all over. I don’t make recommendations, I just report what I had.

Chili Bob is a mystery. He isn’t on Twitter. He doesn’t get nominated for anything. You won’t see him at any foodie functions. He doesn’t get invited to be a food judge at foodie events. He doesn’t go on Houston Chowhound food crawls or throwdowns. He will not be featured on Cleverly Stone’s morning show, or wear a navy blazer to a Culturemap gala.  He doesn’t enjoy handcrafted cocktails at Beaver’s on industry night.  If asked to participate in a Cadillac Challenge, I assume that he would respond like Edward Norton responded to his office manager in Fight Club.

No one  has ever seen a photo of Chili Bob.

Yet Chili Bob’s blog tells more about Houston’s food scene diversity than any other, aside of established food critics that do this for a living. Maybe even more so.

His blog is an unintentional testament to the diversity of Houston food.  Look at the categories on the left side of the page. Keep scrolling. And scrolling.

He finds everything. Every time I find a new taco truck, he finds a damn tunnel underneath it that leads to some Guatemalan turkey soup, Ethiopian beets, or  South Indian lentil donuts.

Read and enjoy.

Juke Boy Bonner – “Houston, The Action Town”

Michelada Mishaps

My friends Ryan and Amanda invited me to their wedding in Dripping Springs, Texas last month. The bride and groom are both into camping, so they rented out a campground deep in the gorgeous Texas country, and asked their friends to enjoy the wedding, party like maniacs,  and camp out under the stars.

In preparation, I went to Spec’s Liquor in downtown Houston on a mission to buy a variety of canned beer six-packs to share with my old friends. Picked up everything I could find in cans. Southern Star Pine Belt, Karbach Hopadillo, Ska Modus Hoperandi, Oskar Blues Old Chub, New Belgium Shift, Brooklyn Lager, and Maui Big Swell IPA. This is why I always get invited to parties.

While shopping around, I came across a styrofoam cup labeled “Don Chelada Michelada Mix”.  As you can see, it also reads “Beer Booster & Hangover Helper”.

A little bit of background here- I’m a michelada freak. I don’t care what kind of crappy beer goes into it, a michelada is always awesome, as long as it doesn’t come in a can. I’ve had the glorious opportunity to judge michelada (and bloody mary) contests years back, and I regularly make them at home.

Looking at this 24 ounce styrofoam cup, you can only imagine the conversation between the company’s owner and their graphic designer.

Owner: “I need something that represents Mexico. Something that will make this product appear to be ultimately authentic; something that will conjure images of colorful villas, the rich sounds of a mariachi, the fear of a bullfighter, the scent of fresh masa.”

Designer: “How about a Mexican?”

Owner: “That’s brilliant!”

Designer: “With a sombrero and a mustache.”

Owner: “We’re so glad to have you on board.”

As far as the statement “Beer Booster & Hangover Helper” goes,   I can’t argue with it. Micheladas are great for both of these purposes.


I googled the product name and found their website. It’s kind of a mystery, really. It doesn’t say where they’re from, or who they are. The About Us page is blank. Everything is blank, except for the page where you can buy these cups. Their Twitter account has been taken down, but there a Facebook page. On the Facebook page, the owner holds internet auctions for cases of michelada kits.

To rate the Don Chelada on a level playing field with other micheladas, I would need to find a hangover. A wedding party at a campground would do the trick. After partying til 3 or 4 in the morning around a massive bonfire, after all the beer I brought was gone and the kegs were blown, I walked into the wilderness with a sleeping bag and called it a night. The next morning, with a bastard of a hangover, I removed the cellophane and peeled back the paper lid on the styrofoam cup.

I expected some kind of liquid packet inside, but the bottom 1/4 inch was full of a dried, red seasoning powder. And a rock.

Why is there a rock in the michelada mix? I took it out and looked at it. It weighed as much as a rock, and looked like a rock. I tasted it. Rock.

Maybe they put rocks in the lightweight cups to weigh them down, so they don’t topple from the counter if someone bumps into it?

“Maybe they know something I don’t”, I thought, choosing to drop the rock back into the cup and give it a try.

I was out of beer, so I opened some stranger’s icechest and scored their last two Negra Modelos (it’s a 24 ounce cup, so I had to take two.)  In a cocktail bar, they moisten the rim of a glass in order to get the seasoning or salt to adhere. Since this is a dry styrofoam cup, they had to use some kind of adhesive to get the seasoning to stick. I carefully poured the cold beers into the cup. Most of the seasoning just floated to the top, even after a stir. The item I formerly thought was a rock floated too. I’m still confused about the floating gray rock.

The first sip was a mouthful of seasoning, but it wan’t hard to see that coming. It was terrible, but I took a few more swigs just to see if maybe it just needed to mix a little better. Nope.

A sleepy guy with red eyes and a ponytail walked up.

“Hey, you know what happened to my last two beers?”

“No, but you can have the rest of this michelada if you want.”


I walked away in classic “walk away from a massive explosion without flinching or turning around” action hero mode, with the correct knowledge that he would spray it out through his mouth and nose.  None of us can be Bruce Willis, but we can all improvise by creating our own moments. Don’t look back.

When I got back into Houston, I had a few questions for Jay Francis, one of Houston’s most intrepid food adventurers, who also moonlights as a fortune teller on the Southwest side of town.

Stepping through the colorful beaded door curtains, I walked over to the stereo and turned the volume down on Ananda Shankar’s “Streets of Calcutta”, which was playing at full volume.

“Never interrupt a man in meditation”, Jay sternly warned, as he covered himself with a kimono.

Jay is the guy you call when you’ve got food questions. He’s been everywhere, he knows how to pronounce everything, and apparently can see into the future. He explained that the combination of tequila, lime and salt was originally initiated as a prescription for influenza. I was hoping to find the origin of the michelada, but we weren’t able to put it together.  I didn’t notice them during my time in Mexico, and Jay didn’t see them either.

The birth of the michelada is a mystery. The word “michelada” can be broken down into three Spanish words, “mi chela helada”, which basically translates to “my ice cold beer”. This is one possibility behind the name. The almighty beverage has been traced back to a family from France that resided in Jalisco, Mexico, that held huge drunken mega-parties I wasn’t invited to and mixed up beer and salsa. The Michelada name has also been attributed to a General Augusto Michel who kicked ass in the Mexican Revolution, and commonly brought his soldiers to a cantina in San Luis Potosi to get them hammered on spicy beers. Also, there are a few Canadians who believe they invented it.

“Why the history lesson?”, you may ask. We study history so we don’t make the same mistake twice.  The Don Chelada Michelada Kit is a mistake that should never be repeated. I want to find a historic building downtown and chisel this into the facade in Latin.


If the powdered michelada kit was this bad, what should a good michelada taste like? We’ll get to that later. The picture right there is the Budweiser & Clamato Chelada, next to a Kershaw Ken Onion Leek 1660CKST with a SpeedSafe ambidextrous assisted opening system. This is a great knife that has no business resting next to this wretched beer in a photograph, but if anyone offers you this beverage, the Leek is a highly recommended tool if you’d like to ventilate one of their lungs or puncture an internal organ or two.

Call me crazy, but I didn’t expect this beverage to be terrible.

It is.

It pours an unappealing orange-pinkish color, and it smells awful. For a more vivid description of the taste of this beer,  AV Club did a great job.  I’m not going to even explain the taste of this beer, because I really don’t want to revisit the experience. It really is that bad. If someone tells you they enjoy the Budweiser & Clamato Chelada, they are simply lying to you. Here’s another review of this revolting fluid by some psycho named Aaron Goldfarb. Knock yourself out.

The traditional michelada is an outstanding daytime beverage that definitely shouldn’t come in a gluey styrofoam cup or come out of a can. If you’ve tasted one of these monstrosities (or if you read one of the above reviews), don’t let this dissuade you from the magnificence of the real thing.

My favorite michelada comes from a mix that can only be found at Connie’s Seafood on Airline. You can pick up a bottle of it for $5. Drop a spoonful and a half into the bottom of a glass with a salted rim, and fill it with an ordinary beer and a squeeze of fresh lime.  Some people prefer it with ice. If you have a favorite michelada recipe, or a favorite place to buy micheladas, please share it!


Commenter “Moe” explained the gray rock, and claims it is a “saladito”, or dried plum. (see comments below.) Not to alarm anyone, but there’s an FDA warning against imported saladitos dating back to 2009, citing that they contain lead. How lead gets into dried plums is anyone’s guess.  To be fair, if we all went by FDA’s rules, food would be pretty boring.







Cinco de Mayo and Ignacio Zaragoza

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone! If you’re not completely tanked on beer and seven-layer dip already, I’ve got something fun for you.

Remember an older blog post where I interviewed Ben Johnson, the mastermind behind “Badass of the Week“? Yesterday, he offered up a nice history lesson on the origination of Cinco de Mayo, appointing Ignacio Zaragoza as this week’s Badass.

It’s the best account of the history of Cinco de Mayo I’ve seen so far. No idea why they banned this guy from writing history textbooks for kids.


G&T For Mayhem

In this dark world of corrupt Yellow Cab drivers, tow truck vultures, and politicians with deep pockets and dark secrets, a swarm of evil has infected our landscape. Auto-tune technology has destroyed our airwaves. People are afraid to visit a bar or restaurant without first looking it up on Yelp.  Women are wearing Uggs.

Although the future may appear to be hopeless, the answer lies in anarchy, chaos and destruction. Fear not the Karsdashians, the Adam Levines, the Regis Philbins and Ryan Seacrests of this world; for their time is limited. Stand up and fight for mayhem, and we can take the law into our own hands.

A special thanks to for their great work on these.

Les Blank on the Mexico-Texas Border

Every Houstonian worth their salt is a fan of Lighnin’ Hopkins, the Texas blues musician who made his career in Houston’s Third Ward in the late 40’s. Just recently, I found an amazing YouTube snippet of a 1968 documentary on Mr. Hopkins, by a film guy from Florida named Les Blank, called “The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins.”

Les Blank is a really interesting character, who has filmed dozens of documentaries on music cultures around the world since 1960. One of these is Chulas Fronteras, which heralds the rich culture on the Mexico-Texas border in 1979, way before FOX News and reality shows such as Border Wars existed.

You can watch the entirety of these videos on UC Berkeley’s site, or talk to Les Blank himself.


Taco Trucks and Shiny Trucks

“Taco trucks are operated by immigrants for immigrants. This makes them a fascinating culinary phenomenon, first of all, because they’re serving some items no other venues offer, and second, because they challenge high-minded ideas about authenticity.” – Robb Walsh

When the first commercial for the first episode of The Great Food Truck Race aired, you could hear the collective sound of thousands of palms smacking foreheads across the nation.

Tyler Florence, really?

The food truck craze has run its course in LA and NYC, according to every major food-related publication, to the point where even stating that the truck frenzy has jumped the shark, is jumping the shark. But in the fair town of Houston, Texas, food truck mania just kicked into hyperspeed.

You’ve seen the shiny new food trucks around town. I’m guessing there have been at least two opening up every week in past months. Many offer top-notch cuisine, others miss the mark. They have clever names, they’re active on social media, some of them even have QR codes on their trucks. Phamily Bites, a great late-night Vietnamese truck, sells banh mi sandwiches of many varieties, including filet mignon and Chinese sausage. There’s a photobooth machine on the front of their truck, where patrons of the bars on Washington Avenue can pose and view their duckfaces the very next day on Phamily Bites’ Facebook page.

Newer bars such as Liberty Station, The Boneyard and Kung Fu Saloon have found a symbiotic relationship with food trucks. The trucks make good money, and the bars can keep their patrons from bailing to grab dinner.

Entrepreneurs outside of the restaurant industry have found creative ways to profit from the craze. A tumultuous food truck festival took place in May, and the most recent enterprise is the “H-Town Food Crawl”. I’m not sure why they call it a crawl, because the trucks are all in one place. Tickets are sold to the public for around $25 and for this price you can try samples from a handful of shiny trucks and get drink specials at a local bar.

You can even look forward to a book about these trucks. Houston author (and 29-95 contributor) Paul Galvani is currently working on a book titled, “Houston’s Top 100 Food Trucks”.

One may ask, who blazed the path for this shining armada of culinary warriors?

Mexicans, mostly.

The mobile eatery involves less financial risk than a brick and mortar restaurant, costs less, and can be a platform for restauranteurs who would like to “work their way up”, or prove their concept to financial institutions before investing in a restaurant. El Hidalguense, a Hidalgan restaurant on Long Point known for excellent cabrito and borrego, started as a truck that sold rotisserie chickens. 100% Taquito, a successful venture on the 59 feeder, started as a trailer in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

The side of a true taco truck does not look like the front of a Hannah Montana album. The menu is usually painted by hand. If they serve pork, there will likely be a handpainted Porky the Pig on the side. If they serve chicken, you may see a cartoon chicken, usually in a cowboy hat for some reason. Tacos usually go for around $1.50 each, and a great many taco trucks offer great tacos for as low as $1.00.

Despite the low price, you’ll find amazing food at these trucks. Houston area food fanatics and food critics know them very well. In fact, the Houston Chowhounds have held Taco Truck Crawls for years. (These are free of charge to all participants, by the way.)

Taco trucks (in the Houston metro) are held to the exact same hygienic and procedural standards as shiny trucks, but there is a disconnect in public perception. Average Joe will have no problem eating adventurous, non-familiar food from a shiny truck with a professionally designed menu, but will steer clear of the traditional taco truck, even with a significant price break.

The media definitely plays a role in this perception. While local television has a history of producing hatchet pieces on traditional taco trucks, it has no problem embracing the new wave, as shiny trucks are now regularly featured on morning shows and hired to provide food at city events and festivals. Sadly, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever see Tierra Caliente or El Mapache on Great Day Houston, even though the unheralded taco trucks outnumber shiny trucks by hundreds, if not thousands. They’re not shiny enough for these purposes. The true taco truck, the humble servant of the diverse world of mobile cuisine, does not entitle itself with misleading terms like “gourmet” or “chef-driven”.

“the modular”, a new and very promising truck on the scene, has a sense of humor about the way some food trucks tout their cuisine.

If you haven’t been out to a true taco truck, here are a few suggestions on different sides of town, in no particular order.


Taqueria Mi Jalisco

Berry and Fulton, North Houston

This was a popular spot on the Chowhound’s second Taco Truck Crawl, even though it was across the street from the massively popular Tacorrey truck. (The Tacorrey truck still exists, but hasn’t been set up at this location for a while.) You can find suadero and longaniza tacos here, as well as good tripas. The taquero is very friendly and speaks fluent English, and you’ll get chiles toreados– fresh, grill-charred jalapenos free with every taco plate.




Various locations,

Although this small chain of taco trucks is in a bit of trouble with the Department of Labor at the moment, there’s no denying that they serve some of the best tacos in town. They have a huge menu, but if you can’t make up your mind, you can never go wrong with their fajita tacos on corn tortillas.



620 Sheldon Road, Channelview

I’m not sure if this qualifies as a taco truck, as it never goes anywhere. It has a nice patio with big screen TVs on it, but it is technically on wheels. No Houston taco list is complete without it. Tacos al pastor is their specialty, and anyone that knows me also knows I will never shut up about it. It’s a bit of a drive, but Channelview is probably not as far away as you think. It’s best to visit Karancho’s on a weekend in nice weather, when the trompos are getting charred by hot coals while pineapple drizzles all over the bright red achiote-marinated pork like a daydream in a luchador’s siesta.


Taqueria Don Tin

Shepherd and 23rd Street, Heights

There are several taco trucks around town named Don Tin, but specifically I’m talking about the one in the north Heights in the Fiesta parking lot. Tacos are a buck here. Be sure to utilize the provided red salsa, and bring any Spanish knowledge you have- they don’t get many gabachos ordering food at this location. Something unique at Don Tin- you can order Tex-Mex- style “tacos dorados” here. They fry corn tortillas in a U shape on the spot, fill it with your meat of choice, and top it with white cotilla cheese. This is great for taco truck newcomers. It’s best to eat these at the truck, rather than taking them to go.


El Mapache (“The Raccoon”)

Gulfton and Renwick, Southwest Houston

You can eat from the taco truck in the parking lot of the convenient store, or you can sit down in the vibrantly decorated restaurant in the lot behind the store. You really can’t go wrong with the tacos here, and the salsa is excellent.


Veteran’s Memorial and Gears Rd.

Northwest Houston

Here’s a destination spot. Three or four trucks are in the same lot, with plenty of seating. A taco truck, a pupusa truck, a raspas (snow cone) truck, and a chicken truck with a grill in the back. For five bucks, you can buy knockoff DVDs for movies that are still in the theaters. Bring your own beer if you’d like, and bring your friends too.

Nobody knows how long taco trucks have been in Houston, but they've been here for a long, long time. Here's a photograph my friend Robb Walsh took in 1939.


Connie’s Seafood Market, and a tribute to Valentina

When you pull into the parking lot of Connie’s Seafood, you’ll see an odd variety of vehicles. You might see a dropped Monte Carlo on dubs, a new Mercedes S500, and a Ram truck pinstriped with a pattern of Ram logos, parked next to one another. Blue collar families save their money to eat here as a special occasion, and white collars stop in as an escape from their sitcoms.

Bright primary colors and handpainted signs abound, the interior is like walking into a recently painted kindergarten, with an unparalleled selection of toy-releasing quarter machines.  If you’re there on a weekend, you’ll find an accordion player and guitarist making their rounds among the tables while you strive to avoid eye contact with them. Calling Connie’s “casual” would be an understatement- for some reason, a lot of moms are wearing sweatpants here at any given time.

When the waitress takes your drink order, choose a michelada. If you don’t care for micheladas, that’s because you’ve never had one from Connie’s. They’ll ask what kind of beer you want with it. Go with the cheapest beer they’ve got, because the beer you choose simply serves as a michelada vehicle. You will instantly understand the power and magnitude of this glorious beverage, and fervently wish that you could make these at home. Lucky for you, they recently started bottling this sauce, and they sell it behind the counter for five bucks if you specifically ask for it. You’re welcome.

You can order from the big menu, or you can walk up to the counter and choose a fresh fish from the ice underneath the glass. This can be really tricky if your Spanish is rough, but the helpful sign boards tell you how to order the fish in both languages. I’m a fan of the black drum, an inexpensive and  underrated fish (which they were out of on my last visit), but you can also choose from redfish, red snapper, or flounder. You can buy raw fish by the pound if you’d like to cook it at home, or tell them how you’d like it cooked: fried, grilled, pan-grilled “a la plancha”, steamed, or ranchero style. Translations for the different cooking methods are available on the signs above, but it can still be difficult for non-Spanish speakers to communicate to the waitress. If you’re solo, get the smallest fish they have. Be warned of the ranchero style- it is topped with a spicy mix of stewed tomatoes, garlic, jalapenos and probably serranos. It’s very spicy and tastes great on its own, but you won’t taste the fish at all. You can never go wrong with just frying up your fish. If you choose it “ala plancha” (on the grill), they season it well, and it works great with lime and the available Valentina sauce.

If you’re not familiar, Valentina is a mainstay at every serious taqueria in town. This dark, complex and incredibly inexpensive sauce (that is somehow always missing its lid), is the most underrated liquid substance in the Western hemisphere. It’s better than Sriracha. (Sriracha is incredibly popular, but it’s really just spicy red liquid garlic in a dope looking bottle.) There’s nothing wrong with garlic, but you can’t just make your food taste like pure garlic and say you’re improving the taste. Consider this Emiril Lagassi prick, who made his career taking pride in putting tons of garlic in everything, destroying potential relationships across the globe. Imagine the scores of guys and gals of all ages who attempted  to impress their dates with these Lagassi garlic recipes, who were then were grossed out by their own dates due to burpy garlic breath. Go Valentina or go home.

You can order a shrimp or octopus cocktail if you’d like.  They have ketchup in them. If I had a Delorean with a flux capacitor, my first mission would be to go back in time and bludgeon the idiot who came up with the idea of putting ketchup in seafood cocktails. If you’re seven years of age, and you’re at Red Lobster with your parents, it’s okay to dip your Kid’s Meal fried popcorn shrimp in ketchup, because you are seven.  If you agree with me on this, avoid the seafood cocktails that come in a glass, unless you are the type of person who enjoys the unfortunate marriage of shrimp and ketchup and probably Filet-o-Fish sandwiches, too.

Connie’s has a big variety of fried combo plates, and you’ll be happy with all of them. It’s a diverse menu- you can even order fried alligator gar, which is better than you might imagine. Fried catfish is a mainstay here, and you can’t go wrong with it. The fried stuffed crab here is solid too, as well as the shrimp fried rice. Big portions of fresh seafood here at good prices. This is also a great place to get Gulf oysters when they’re in season, and the combination of oysters and a cold michelada in a frosted bar mug will make you feel like Charlie Sheen on payday.  While you’re on this side of town, check out Canino’s market across the street (weekends only), El Bolillo bakery, and keep an eye out for the elusive Rio Verde taco truck.

Connie’s Seafood
2525 Airline Drive

G&T Pro Tip: Next time you want to cook up some pork chops, marinate them in a Ziploc with Valentina and a bit of honey.

Taco Scouting

When this website launched, the main idea was to build a map of all taco trucks (and gun ranges) in the Houston area (up there to your right). I knew it wouldn’t be easy, because there are just too many trucks to count.

The map has come a long way, but it’s still way behind. I’m not entirely sure how this happened, but the Google map shows that it has had 466,624 views since its creation in 09.

As much fun as it might be for one person to visit every single truck in the Houston metro, it’s just not possible. So I had this nifty idea.

We rounded up a few taco fanatics on Twitter, and chose a place to meet up. After mastering a plan of attack, we then split up into  different directions, writing down intersections and addresses to every taco truck around. While eating scores of tacos.We used the #tacoscout hash tag to stay connected on Twitter.

It was a blast. I didn’t count the trucks we added to the map, but it was somewhere in the area of 50 total. This, my friends, is how you fill out a taco map. Once we were stuffed with tacos, we met up at Liberty Station to knock off the trail dust.

So, we’re doing it again. I’m thinking Southeast side, Edgebrook area. If we put a bigger crew together this time, we can expand our reach and explore new taco frontiers. The more great eats we find, the better spots we’ll have for the next Houston Chowhounds Taco Truck Crawl.

If you’re interested, let’s meet up at Starbucks off 45, Sunday, July 10. at 11:30 AM.

11404 Gulf Freeway
Houston, TX 77075




Cooking and Eating Baby Lambs and Goats

This article was previously posted on

Earlier this year, I was introduced to a guy named John Speights; an astute homebrewer, Mexican food aficionado, and fanatic of weird music. While enjoying a Hoppin’ Frog B.O.R.I.S. Oatmeal Imperial Stout in his backyard, I spotted a large circular brick oven, similar to the description in Robb Walsh’s The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook.

“What the hell is that thing?”

“This, my friend, is a brick oven. I use it to cook baby lambs.”

I knew right away that we would be amigos, and that we would share mix tapes, ride bicycles together, and knit one another friendship bracelets.

He explained the process in detail. Before the firepit is built, a large hole is dug out of the ground, and a concrete base is poured in, leaving about a foot and a half of depth. A car tire is used to facilitate pouring the mold. The pit isn’t made of stone bricks, but “fire bricks”, constructed of a ceramic material similar to the inside of a kiln. A special heat-resistant mortar is used when stacking the bricks concentrically. A tight seal is important, so if the bricks or mortar eventually crack, you can use mud to pack in between the cracks. I won’t get into too much detail about the construction of a fire pit, because it’s all over the web and I am not your personal research assistant.

The cooking process can take up to three days.  A big fire is lit within the pit, until the bricks are at the correct temperature. At this time, you let the fire burn itself out.  A mesh grill is installed over the coals,  a pot is placed on top of the grill to collect the meat drippings for birria (a lamb or goat consommé) and another grill is installed above to cook the innocent baby lamb. Although there are countless methods of cooking lamb, he learned this style from his friends in Hidalgo, Mexico.

Leaves of the maguey plant are cut and split, and the seasoned lamb cuts are wrapped in these leaves and tied off with string. You can find these yucca-like leaves in Hispanic produce markets (John prefers to grow his own). John uses lamb testicles in his consommé, along with rice, garbanzo beans, garlic, epazote, and chipotle peppers.  Once everything is in place, a tight lid is placed on top and situated so that no air escapes from the pit. Then you just leave it alone for a long, long time and revel in your manliness, because you’re on your way to becoming a true-life backyard badass.

You can do the same thing with goats.

The proprietors of El Hidalguense reign from Hidalgo, a Mexican state rich with historical and gastronomic significance. The name means “guy from Hidalgo”, kind of like you’d call a guy from Texas a Texan. As the case with a great many Mexican restaurants around town, this business started as a food truck and eventually flourished into a full-blown restaurant.

Dr. Jocelyne Gonzalez is a daughter of  El Hidalguense’s owners and a friend of mine. We talked about goats once.

“Eat at my parents’ restaurant, or I will kill you with a knife”, she stated grimly, without a hint of sarcasm or  humor, while holding a large knife.

El Hidalguense is on Long Point, and as any Houston food adventurer worth their salt knows, is a vast stretch of cultural cuisine. You could eat there every day and never find everything. In fact, it’s a hotspot for Houston Culinary Tours, where people throw down big bucks to hang out with celebrity chefs and chow down on unique foods from around the world. The restaurant is about a block from Taqueria el Ultimo, which is known as one of the greatest taco trucks in the city. In fact, Ultimo was listed in Walsh’s Top Ten a few years back; and very recently, listed as one of The South’s Best Food trucks by Southern Living Magazine.   That’s probably why I had never tried El Hidalguense before, or at least that’s my excuse. Driving past Ultimo has always been a cardinal sin.

Several things draw your attention when you walk into El Hidalguense. If you come in on a Saturday or Sunday, you’ll find live music by Trio Alacran Hidalguense, singing and playing in the huapango style. This band is fantastic.  The fiddle player’s hands and instrument are coated with chalk dust, and the horse hair of the bow splits into the air as the vocalist conjugates Spanish verbs like a Mexican Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

You’ll see old cowboy hats hanging on the wall that look as if they’ve traveled through deserts, mountains and trail dust for decades. And the most exciting thing (to me, anyway) is the brick firepit where they smoke fresh cabrito (young goat).  Their recipes and cooking methods were handed down from Josey’s grandmother in Hidalgo a while back.

If it’s your first time at El Hidalguense, you’re going to want some cabrito. You can choose between cabrito asado (barbeque); or cabrito enchilados, a method where the meat is wet-rubbed with a powder ground from dried chiles. A cabrito plate will set you back about $27, but it is plenty to eat, enough to split with a companion. The plate is a combination of shoulder, ribs, head meat, and if you’re lucky, a kidney or two. If you’re new to cabrito, the aroma can seem a little odd, but once you see the meat fall off of the bone and dig in, you’ll be a believer. After all, goat is by far the most popular meat in the world, and consumed by 75% of the world’s population. Its fat content is 50%-65% lower than similarly prepared beef, but you’ll never notice. I enjoy making cabrito tacos with the accompanying handmade corn tortillas, topped with their smoky salsa, cleverly constructed with Arbol Seco and Morita chiles.

The slow-cooked cabrito is El Hidalguense’s specialty, but the lamb is spectacular as well. Order the barbacoa de borrego (lamb barbacoa), or the spicy nopales (cactus) and puerca (ground pork) gorditas, paired with an icy Tecate. The birria is excellent as well, sopped up with fresh handmade corn tortillas aplenty. If you’re feeling really adventurous, go straight for the cabeza. Yes, it’s a baby goat’s head, right there on your plate, split down the middle so you can get to the sesos (brains). I’m not a fan of sesos, but these are the best I’ve had. The real treat is the goat’s tongue, which is so fantastic that you don’t want to compromise the taste by adding salsa.

If you show up on the right day, you may even be lucky enough to come across Jay Francis, a prominent yet controversial Houston food explorer who is skilled in the sacred art of brujeria. At the Houston Chowhound’s Taco Truck Crawl III, he actually got it to stop raining by doing some weird chanting stuff with small animal bones while making clucking noises.

The restaurant will take your plastic, but bring a few bucks to tip the band. Bring your family or friends along on a weekend, and you’ll all have great food and an authentic Mexican experience.   I brought Jonathan Jones, chef of Beaver’s and El Patio to the restaurant, and he told me, “Of all the Mexican restaurants in the Houston area, this is the most Mexican.”

It would be tough not to agree with this. Enjoy the photos!