Is Houston America’s next great food mecca?
Local restaurants are turning out innovative dishes and cocktails that show off the city’s incredible diversity—it is one of the most diverse city’s in the country. Restaurant goers can find some of the country’s best Vietnamese, Indian, and Southern food in Houston. But if there’s one staple locals rely on, it’s the taco.
Houstonians love tacos, which isn’t surprising for a city that was built on Tex-Mex. Texas’ southern neighbor taught us the joy of warm tortillas filled with delicious meats, and we take that joy seriously. Needless to say, tacos can be found damn near everywhere in this city.
When in doubt, order tacos al pastor (“shepherd” style). And always, always say yes when asked if you want cilantro and onion.
Tacos al pastor trace their roots to Lebanese immigrants in Mexico, who introduced the method of cooking meat on a spinning vertical spit. It was only a matter of time before they showed up in Texas. Here’s a recipe for those of us who don’t have a spit at home. Make sure to plan ahead: Done right, the meat is marinated overnight.
TACOS AL PASTOR
For the marinade:
2–3 ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
2–3 guajillo chilies, stemmed and seeded
½ cup chicken stock
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 tablespoon pineapple juice
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon dried cumin
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 ½ tablespoons achiote paste
1–2 chipotle peppers
5 cloves garlic
¼ cup distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
2 teaspoons sugar
3–4 pounds boneless pork butt, fat trimmed
½ pound uncooked sliced bacon
For building the tacos:
1 medium pineapple, peeled and cored
Fresh corn tortillas
1 white onion, chopped
Cilantro, stemmed and roughly chopped
2 limes, sliced into wedges
Watermelon radish, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons adobo (you can use the canned variety)
Heat the ancho and guajillo chilies in a small pot until they begin to puff up. Add the chicken broth, cover, and remove from heat.
Combine the canola oil, pineapple juice, Mexican oregano, cumin, red pepper flakes, achiote paste, chipotle peppers, and garlic in a small pot or sauté pan. Heat until slightly aromatic, about a minute. Add the vinegar, salt, and sugar, then remove from heat.
Transfer the mixture from the pot to a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into a large container or freezer bag, then add the pork and bacon to the mixture. Make sure every piece is coated. Refrigerate and let the meat marinate for at least 3 hours. For best results, let it sit overnight.
Building the tacos:
Preheat the oven to 250 F. While the oven is preheating, peel the pineapple and slice into rings. Discard the core. Set aside.
Place the marinated meat and any leftover marinade into a deep cast-iron skillet or a baking dish. Make sure the pork butt and bacon are distributed somewhat evenly. Place in the oven uncovered for 4–5 hours or until the internal temperature is at least 145 F and the top is nice and crispy.
Using a pan or cast-iron skillet, grill the pineapple slices and cut into ½-inch cubes. Place them in the fridge to chill until the pork is ready.
Remove the pork from the oven, and mix the meat and the fruit using a ratio of 1 cup of pineapple to 5 cups of pork. Set aside to cool and marinate with the juices from the pineapple.
Before serving, heat the pineapple and pork mixture uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes at 225 F. (This will give the exterior of the pork the desired crispy texture.)
To build your tacos, heat corn tortillas and fill them with as much pork as you want. Top with chopped white onion and cilantro leaves, and garnish with a wedge of lime and slices of watermelon radish. Buen provecho.