Chow, Baby: Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Fiesta for the Rest of Us

It took a while, but Chow, Baby finally finished off the liter bottle of Mexican vanilla that it got last year at a supermercado in Zacatecas. (You know, this stuff is really good in coffee. Somebody ought to tell Starbucks.) So Chow, Baby was on its way to the next best thing to a supermarket in Mexico: the Fiesta Food Mart at NE 28th and North Main streets. This is one of the neatest foreign places in town: one-stop shopping for cactus, tripe, and bottled strawberry pulp, plus it even has an elotes stand out front. And when you get a jones on for an ear of corn smothered in crema, grated cheese, chili powder, and lime juice, nothing else will do.

But Chow, Baby figured it needed a bit more tummy-filling before shopping. No shortage of taquerias on the way — but only one had a window sign announcing “$1 Tacos,” and that’s how Chow, Baby landed at Tres Betos Taqueria (2418 NE 28th St.). Turned out to be a great choice. The place is six-tables-tiny but shiny clean, decorated with Army flags and a framed Star-Telegram article detailing how the 23-year-old owner, Heriberto “Beto” Ramos III, opened this place after his tour in Iraq. So Chow, Baby felt safe, too. Tres Betos has a pretty wide breakfast and lunch menu — various egg stylings, burritos, carne asada, enchiladas — but Chow, Baby danced with what brung it and had four great tacos ($3.99 including spicy charro beans). The best of the best was the carnitas, a glorious fried-pork jumble of crispy bits and juicy bits. Army strong, indeed.

Fiesta also sells Texas Monthly, whose cover story this month is the excellently titled “The 63 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die.” Let’s see what locals made the list: Fuzzy’s garlic beef, of course; Blue Mesa, Rio Mambo, Benito’s, J&J Oyster Bar (for its blackened-catfish taco) — no arguments so far — and one new to Chow, Baby: Tacos Don Miguel, 3817 Rosedale St. To the Chowbabymobile! An hour and four tacos ($1.25 each, with not enough cilantro and too much onion) later: Well. On the one hand, Chow, Baby is glad the glossy mag acknowledged the underpublicized but usually delicious “family-run shack in a shaky part of town” segment of the market. On the other — and Chow, Baby sure hopes its readers haven’t discovered this for themselves — it’s damn annoying to go way out of your way to a recommended restaurant and find out it’s eh. Not that Don Miguel is bad, not at all. “Average” ought to cover it, with one outstanding item: the juicy, slow-cooked barbacoa ($7/lb).

And that’s what made Don Miguel’s worth the trip: By the pound, it solved Chow, Baby’s holiday-ritual problem. With its own clan so far away, Chow, Baby has envied Texican families their everybody-get-together-and-make-Christmas-tamales tradition, especially the part about tackling a little brother and wrapping him in corn husks. But even all by itself, Chow, Baby can easily make Christmas tacos for all its friends, with produce from the Fiesta and barbacoa/asada/pollo/carnitas/etc. from one of the many, many divine taquerias around town. Of course, tacos don’t freeze as well as tamales do, so Chow, Baby will have to eat all of them itself while merely wishing its family, friends, and readers all the best. Happy holidays, y’all.

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