1) if you desperately need a hand-rolled flour (or corn) tortilla;
2) if you were planning to eat some type of mediocre junk for your next meal; and
3) if you generally like the kind of Tejano-style Tex-Mex food that I do (or you’re just looking for adventure);
Stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW and head straight to Taquería El Rinconsito. It’s located in the parking lot of the Manor Business Park at 3110-3128 Manor, just east of Airport Boulevard. There’s a fruteria called La Fruta Feliz, a hair salon, some kind of store, and a small club in that same strip-shopping center. The club is called Discoteca El Rinconsito, and the taquería is located right next to it (hence its name).
When I found TER today I was actually looking for El Centenario, which scrumptiouschef had just recommended to me (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/40664... ). I think I may even have seen that other taco trailer, on the other side of the parking lot, closer to Manor Road. But once I saw the sign on El Rinconsito that said “tortillas hechas a mano” [tortillas made by hand], I would not, nay could not, be deterred.
As I approached to check out the menu printed on the side of the trailer, I could see that the woman inside was hand-rolling, shaping, and warming flour tortillas as customers placed their orders. Since she literally had her hands full (of masa), she looked relieved when another woman came out of a nearby shop to help her take orders.
I had to try some, naturally. I ordered one carnitas taco and one with carne molida on flour tortillas, plus two more (lengua and tripas) on corn, for good measure. I figured that if I didn’t finish any, I could just have them later in the day. I'll share a tip with fellow taco lovers: Keep a small hard-sided cooler with you at all times: It will keep your tacos hot for at least a couple of hours.
First things first. The flour tortillas were hot and tasty. They were a little gummy, as if they'd cooked too fast, but that's a minor quibble. After all, they went straight from the bowl to the board to the comal [griddle] to me. These relatively thin tortillas are not the thick and tender, pillowy variety made with baking powder (and given time to rise) that are more common in San Antonio. These also tasted as though they were made with Crisco, not lard—and definitely not bacon grease or butter. Their corn tortillas were also good. They seemed like they were made with water and masa harina [dried corn-flour], not masa fresca [fresh corn masa, usually found at a molino, or mill, where they grind their own corn]. I would guess that their corn tortillas were made without adding lard and/or chicken broth to the masa. Neither kind of tortilla noticeably lacked salt, which is a good thing. Of the two, I found the flour to be superior.
Taco Fillings Sampled:
The flavor of the carnitas came from the pork being boiled in its own lard until tender; other than that, I just tasted salt and pepper. The final product was gray and soft, which suggests that they skipped the next step of frying the cooked pork in a little more lard until the surface is nice and crispy. I should have known better. Fried items are often not the best things to order from a taco truck. With a little salsa, this taco was good enough. I certainly snarfed it down quickly. To be honest, however, this wasn’t among the best versions of carnitas. Yet the taco was satisfying, greatly due to the freshly-made flour tortilla.
The taco with carne molida, on the other hand, was absolutely delicious. Carne molida means ground meat. Sometimes the type of meat is specified. [For example, res = beef; puerco = pork, borrego = lamb, etc.] In this part of Texas, a similar kind of taco filling is often called picadillo [minced or chopped meat], where the meat used is usually ground beef. By either name, this taco filling consists of seasoned ground meat—often with diced potato, such as TER's version contained. Their meat-and-potato mixture was sautéed with crushed whole tomatoes, bits of onion, a few specks of jalapeño, and your Mexican spices (oregano, cumin, and garlic). I couldn't stop wondering if there were a touch of ground pork in there, too. There was an undertone of something spicy-sweet, like allspice, that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Their use of whole tomatoes rather than sickly-sweet tomato paste was a nice touch, too. This is the kind of simply but lovingly prepared dish that a Mexican-American grandmother (who is an excellent home cook) would make. I'm making myself hungry again just talking about it—and I'm really full. That's how good this taco was to me.
The fried tripas [tripe] taco was not very good. Some pieces were crispy; others were less so. Part of the problem with this dish was the frying itself. The tripe was coated with flour that didn't cohere well to the tripe. It felt like I was eating a separate layer of fried flour at times, which added a dusty textural element that I could have done without. I like the tripas at El Taquito more—in terms of both flavor and texture.
The lengua guisada [stewed tongue], on the other hand, was excellent. The flavorful small chunks of meat were stewed until tender and simply spiced (salt, pepper, Mexican spices). Their version wasn't saucy at all; however, the meat was moist, not dry. The excellent flavor came from the cut and good quality of the meat.
An orange-red salsa made from dried red chiles that packed a very strong front-of-the-tongue burn; a less-spicy, simple, green salsa made of pureed, canned green chiles; a Mexican lime, halved; and salt and pepper packets were packed as accompaniments. My four tacos came to $6.50. There was no printed price breakdown, but I'm guessing that the tacos on corn tortillas are $1.50 each, and the flour ones are $1.75 each. I don't mind paying a little more for the extra labor.
Other lunch and dinner taco fillings include beef and chicken fajitas, [pork] al pastor, chicharrones, carne deshebrada [shredded meat], and bisteck [steak]. I’d bet that the carne deshebrada and the chicharrones are good. All are available either with lettuce and tomato (a terrible choice, in my opinion) or cebollas [diced onion] and cilantro (there you go). I should warn you that their onion is chopped, not finely diced. They use white onions, so some of the larger pieces have a very strong taste. Taquería El Rinconsito's sign states that enchiladas, tostadas, burritos, tortas, and gorditas are also available. In the morning they serve breakfast tacos of huevo, chorizo, bacon, and papas [potatoes].
It takes a while for the woman to make fresh tortillas, so prepare for a bit of a wait. You can call ahead to place an order, if you're that well organized. The numbers listed were 476-0015 and 476-0006. Both of the ladies working today spoke Spanish, and the customers in front of me did, too. With a little extra work on their taco-ordering vocabulary, English-only-speaking customers should have no problem making themselves understood.
If, like me, you don’t call ahead and you find yourself with some time to kill, why not check out La Fruta Feliz in the same shopping center? This sparkling-clean, large fruteria makes fresh aguas frescas that are so much better than the ones from a mix. Pureed fresh fruit and water beats powder any day. I ordered a sandía [watermelon], but piña [pineapple], mango, melón [cantaloupe], and other fruits are available. My large (like 32 ounces) agua fresca was $3.50, and it was so worth it. They also make cockteles [fruit cups], licuados [milkshakes], jugos frescos [fresh-squeezed juices], and raspas [snow cones]. If you get a fruit cup, be sure to get it the traditional way—topped with fresh-squeezed lime juice, chile powder, and salt. On the counter there were three big glass jars with various kinds of green chiles and zanahorias [carrots] en escabeche, which means pickled. I didn't try any, but they looked really tempting.
Are you still reading this? Go check these places out!