Undercover Taco Contest Finds Clear Winner

Why a bean & cheese taco contest? Didn’t we just do Best of Hays? And who are you? Why do you get to judge? Why does this even matter?

Me? I’ve eaten all over this planet, but I’m local now. Apart from a few years in London, I’ve lived here since 1994. Quality food is VERY important to me. I also think food critics can be elitist, uptight buttholes. Everyone deserves delicious food and it needn’t be expensive. Plus local businesses doing awesome deserve recognition, right?

Why bean & cheese? Isn’t that kinda lame?

Well. I figure if you master beans, cheese, and tortillas– the foundation of all Tex-Mex– then the rest of your menu is probably okay. In full disclosure, I’d prefer BACON, beans and cheese, but –let’s face it– the wrong piece of bacon can ruin a perfectly good taco, so I decided to keep it simple.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. This is completely objective. No one paid me to do this. Nor do I have a vested interest in the winner.
2. These restaurants are clueless. They might’ve slipped me extra cheese if they knew my intentions (which would totally sway my vote.)
3. I love adore cheese.
4. My palate is trustworthy. I’m only ‘fussy’ when it comes to quality. I don’t eat or cook crap and will taste cheap ingredients immediately.
5. I’ll be 100% honest. Always.

Choosing where to go.

Obviously, I can’t sample a hundred tacos. Neither my stomach nor wallet could handle that. I needed a Taco Master List (insert mariachi music). So I asked the local public:

What are your top 3 favorite taco places?

I asked Facebook.
I asked colleagues.
I asked strangers.
I asked waitstaff.

Then I tallied the vote and visited 15 restaurants over 3 days in random order.

Day One:
The Palm $1.61
La Fonda $1.46
Rodeo $1.35
Wow-Wees $2.44
Lolitas $2.50

Day Two:
Dona Chiquis $1.50
Garcias $1.62
Casa de Don Lorenzo $1.08
Los Vega $1.62
M & M $1.73

Day Three:
El Chepo $1.72
Exxon Station’s Bobcat Quickie $2.26
Rogelios $1.35
El Charro $1.62
Herbert’s $1.89

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Don’t be coming at me with a pitchfork if your fave didn’t make the list. This was a democratic process. I also followed a routine to keep it fair.

1. Visit 5 places each morning.
2. Order 1 bean & cheese taco to go.
3. Take 1-2 bites of each.
4. Write down reaction. Immediately.

Chew. Write. Chew. Pause. Is that lard or pork fat? Chew. Pause. Man, that’s salty! Chew. Too salty. Pass taco to husband.

. . . And so it went for three days. Finding a champ meant every little thing got scrutinized.

Tortilla

Please don’t serve me yesterday’s tortilla. Automatic demerits. The fresh, homemade tortillas were SUPER obvious.

Best Tortillas:
The Palm
El Charro
Herberts

Temperature

Beans and cheese should be hot and melty, people. Dry, dusty, unmelted cheese on tepid beans is a total deal breaker.

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Beans to Cheese to Tortilla Ratio

Contents shouldn’t slop out the bottom when taking a bite. That’s just as bad as all ingredients smushed into a little log and too much tortilla in one bite. The perfect taco should balance proportions and squish together nicely in your mouth.

Atmosphere

Everyone’s walked into a place, looked around, and thought um, no thanks. VIBE is crucial, ya’ll. Dine-ins, drive thrus, and trailers should ALL feel clean and inviting. Especially those with open/visible kitchens (you’d think!). Warm greetings coupled with the hum of happy patrons is powerful stuff you can feel with your eyes closed. And we had standouts.

Best Atmosphere:
The Palm
Rogelio’s
El Charro

Service

To-go places: How long did I wait? Dine-ins: How did staff react when I strolled in on a busy morning and ordered one cheap taco to go? I’m happy to report excellent service all around. I also think San Marcos is hiding a few ninjas. I was in and out of a few places (order, pay, taco-in-hand) in less than one minute. I’m not even kidding.

Fastest Service:
La Fonda
El Chepo
Los Vega

Cheese

The very first thing I did was open up that taco.
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Please don’t be stingy with the cheese. Just don’t. And if you serve cheap cheese may the Lord have mercy on your soul.

Salsa

I only used a drop so as not to overpower my bite, but let’s face it. Salsa matters big time.

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And how could I not have a salsa contest? Each restaurant’s was so distinctive, I tasted them blind a second time and STILL identified their source. The very best used fresh ingredients and left several flavors dancing around my tongue.

Best Salsas:
Lolitas
Los Vega
Herberts

Now finally, TASTE. I narrowed it to 4:

La Fonda
Garcias
El Charro
Herberts

These four blasted ahead of the competition. They really did. But I sought the BEST. I gave my palate a few days rest for the final challenge. And just so you know how very serious I am about fairness, I did the last tasting BLIND.

My husband handed me anonymous tacos and I took small bites, chewing slow, mindful of the adjectives popping in my head. The winner served a full, melty taco with flavorful beans and buttery cheese in a soft, fresh tortilla. Not once, but twice.

Congratulations, El Charro. You nailed it.

My crystal ball predicts more food contests, but right now my colon is sticking me the finger.

Until Mex time, San Marcos. It’s bean fun! Sorry. That was cheesy.

love,
Jennifer

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Unedited Scratchlings of a Beatlemaniac: Beatle Log Over and Out

This is so depressing.

Where: La Madeline, Houston, Texas.
When: 10:22 a.m.
Drink: Bold French Roast, half & half, 2 packets raw sugar

I’m so in denial.

Packing up to drive home this morning, I couldn’t bare the thought of it being over. IT being our trip to Liverpool.

Six
glorious
sparkling
champagne-colored
Beatle-filled
days.

Must it be over?

beatles_indianapolis

Can’t let go.
Gotta squeeze out all the Beatlejuice.
All of it.

“Wanna do one last breakfast?” I asked Angie, who got yanked back to reality so fast it was almost cruel.

Poor girl was making snacks for a whimpering toddler within 1 minute of dropping her suitcase. I’m not even kidding. Of course she wanted one last breakfast.

Our plane arrived late last night. I was almost stupid enough to drive 3 hours back to San Marcos. Her kids’ excitement at having Mommy home made me long for my own family. But I hit a brick wall—a lethal combo of virus, jet lag, and drain-circling adrenaline. All that plus night-blindness.

Driving home would’ve been a catastrophic mistake.

Instead I lay in bed, drunk on Thera Flu, insides swaying like gently rolling waves though I lay completely still.

Then I lost conscience.

I didn’t even write yesterday. My last day in England. No Beatle Day Six. Technically it wasn’t a Beatle day. I reunited with friends and family and flitted around Kensington buying toiletries and $70 hot dog meals.

That’s right.

I travelled 5,000 miles to buy organic toothpaste, my favorite British body wash, and French baby lotion that’ll double as my new face cream.

“You can get that stuff on Amazon.” Angie munched her bacon.

“It’s not the same.” I sipped coffee, slopping extra Hollendaise on my eggs.

I also got to spend time with my stepdaughter Keri (whom I don’t see enough), and Neil, one of my favorite friends I made whilst waiting tables in London.

We met at this funky, hidden West End bar cleverly (and effectively) disguised as a WWII bunker.

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After finally finding the door, we had to pass a super awkward inspection to actually get in.

The doorman– decked in 40s attire- lifted a gloved palm in WAITnot until I say — then lifted an old school phone receiver (the kind with a cord you can slam down proper if needed) then roll-dialed a number.

Angie, Keri, and I looked at each other like really? Did Neil forget to tell us the secret password?

The doorman eyed us up and down. Not pervy. Inspecting. Nodding into the phone. Answering mystery questions in codes we couldn’t decipher.

I felt stupid.

I mean seriously.

Here I am with no make-up. Croaky ass voice. Feeling like a deep-fried turd. Not dressed in any way suggesting I’d liven their vibe. Ugh I felt like Dork Mom trying to get into the cool party.

Then Neil breezed up gay and fabulous. Precious lovely Neil, whom I haven’t seen in 15 freaking years.

Thank God.

His phone call inspection didn’t take as long.

We’re with him.” We shuffled in behind.

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Minutes later –deep underground– an uninteligible Polish waitress with matte red lips handed us ration cards and served –I’ll give it to ’em– amazing cocktails.

But Neil describes it best:

We shared germs, laughs, theatre gossip, and basically didn’t skip a beat. Years and years and YEARS have passed, but Neil’s and my heart still beat in tandem.

Writing this, I realize the people I love I tend to love forever. (Sorry I got you sick, Poohbear.)

Truth:

The only thing worse than good-bye is packing.

Yesterday we boarded our plane, both of us quiet.
Contemplative.
Parts of us forever lost to the deep grey waters of the river Mersey.

**********

It was almost the perfect trip.

Almost.

An unpleasant exchange with a flight attendant on the way home unfortunately bookended this trip with an incident that –quite frankly– makes me a little sad.

I was going to give it a few sentences in this entry (nothing too deep so as not to taint my Beatle log) but was later tacitly threatened not to write about it at all.

Which now means it’s getting a dedicated blog entry.

Censorship is loser and SO ARE BULLIES.

Do not EVER tell me not to write.

See, I wanted to use a strong F word up there in that last sentence. Either after the ‘EVER’ or before the ‘write.’ But my mom’s had a rough week and I don’t want to compound her distress by thinking she raised a trashy potty mouth.

Anyway.

So it begins again. I’ll throw nickles, dimes, tens and twenties into an opaque jar to save for my next trip. (Never use something see-thru to save money because you’ll obsess about the contents every time you see it.)

“I’d go back to Liverpool right now,” chewed Angie. “This very second.”

“Totally,” I agreed. “We could do laundry when we got there.”

I also think I need a travel writing job with heavy emphasis on food, ghosts, and Paul McCartney. Universe, please can you hook that up?

*pretty please?*

Check it out:

Angie’s 7-year-old gave her homework this trip. Can you believe that?! A writing assignment! But she complied. And I love what she wrote:

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What’s It About?

This trip was about getting to realize a lifetime dream (to) visit a very special place to me. And I was lucky enough to share it with a very special person. With this trip I got to meet new people and make new friends and fall in love with a lovely place all the way across the pond called Liverpool. The people of Liverpool were all warm and friendly and it reminds me of the message that Beatles music is all about.

All You Need Is Love!

Love IS what it’s all about at the end of the day. Love yourself, love your family, and love your neighbor. We are all here on earth for a short time but our love for each other is eternal.

Don’t be afraid to fight for it. Or ashamed to defend it. You are never wrong to show how much you love something that is a part of who you are. Be love and be loved. Love is all you need.

Nice, Ang. ❤

*sigh*

Guess I’ll pour a to-go cup and drive home to our busted boiler and that stupid letter from the IRS stating I owe $127 even though my CPA swears I don’t.

I just hugged my bestie goodbye, so the Beatle log ends here.

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I can’t avoid it anymore.

It’s sunny out there.

I got a bellyful of caffeine and a playlist full of–

fans-crying

Well.
You know.

****************
Thank ya’ll for rolling up for our Magical Mystery Tour.

We’ll now return to our regularly scheduled program of ghosts, books, and psychic phenomena. If you’d like email notifications when I publish new entries, you can sign up there on the right.

Peace and love to you, always.

Love, Jennifer