Two years ago I when I bought my house I had no idea what I was in for.  Sure, I understood the facts that surround a mortgage, I comprehended the idea that a maintenance man would not be coming around to replace my light bulbs, and I accepted that I would the the sole yard manicurist, however there was so much I didn’t realize I’d get out of my new curb.

I live in East Austin.  It is the new “up and coming” neighborhood in the area and has attracted many new faces.  There are neighborhoods in which the houses have been sold, the roofs have been replaced by extra stories, and the side walls now contain funky colors and hip shiny new trim.  The old residence have moved out of their structures that have been passed through generations and relocated to other areas.  I’m a bit different.  I love my house and I love my neighborhood.  I live there not because I wanted to be in the new cool zip code but because I wanted to buy a house and, though I am smart with my money and could have actually been approved for much, much more, I was realistic with what house I could afford.

I moved in July 2008 and have been so happy in my little house and on my street.  I live on a beautiful street where many are related and all look out for each other- including the new little white girl.  I did get some questions from one neighbor when I first came about when my husband or boyfriend was going to show up and received a confused look when I explained that I bought the house by myself and would be living there by myself also  (I also look much, much younger than I am so I believe that the question was posed as if I was 20 or so). I have the most amazing neighbors and am very happy there.

Driving home from a long day of work lately I am reminded how much I love being in my neighborhood.  The Christmas lights invite me down the streets as I get closer to my door.  It brings such a big smile to my face to see the multitude of colors that lace my neighbor’s houses with no rhyme or reason other than celebrating the season.  A traditional catholic manger scene lit up next to a holiday Mickey Mouse next to an illuminated agave plant- no rules or concerns for systematic matching of lights like in some of the richer neighborhoods of Austin.  Just colorful lights and happiness on each driveway.

I just bought a book that celebrates the unique character of the East side and tells the history of so many of the places which I love to go.  The book is called, “East of I-35: A Photo-Essay” by Rama Turi.  Please take a second to look at the author’s website to see more about the book.  It is a great deal, at just over $25, I ordered it a few days ago as another Christmas present to myself.

Another wonderful thing about living on the East side is the food- oh, the food!  My fiancee loves food and we have so much fun trying each and every Tex-Mex and Mexican food restaurant we can find.  The East side is full of little taco trucks, shacks, and places where the food is as close as you can get to sharing it with the cooks at their own home table.  If you are use to spotless floors, ten dollar appetizers plates, and waitstaff who’s Mexican food knowledge is based on a spring break weekend in Cancun, these places are not for you.  Referring to the establishments as a plethora is completely wrong.  A plethora is an overabundance or excess- there is no excess, it is just the right amount.  There is  a whole bunch of very unique places, each serving plates hand crafted with care from a family tradition as if you were their own relative.   You can also stuff your stomach with enchiladas, tacos, or fajitas without pulling much green from your wallet. We have our favorites that we go back to time and time again like Las Dos Mariposas, where we got coffee for two and five breakfast tacos for under $10.  There is the wonderful tortillas of Joe’s Bakery on East 7th, Colombian food brilliance at Casa Colombia, and the multitudes of taco trucks.

The taco trucks are their own special and beautiful jewel of East Austin.  Most places are as fluent in English as I am in Spanish but there is an understanding when it comes to the napolitos, barbacoa, and pollo.  It is all good and tastes slightly different from window to window.  Our recent favorite is the Al Pastor truck a the intersection of Airport and Manor where you can get five al pastor tacos for six dollars but if the truck advertises such offerings as lengua, tripas, and barbacoa, there’s an outstanding chance that it will be good.

Though we try as many as we can, we know that we haven’t even scratched the surface of tacos all over Austin.  For help and advice on this venture, I turn to one of my favorite blogs.  Taco Journalism is a great blog.  The writer has dedicated his taste buds and GI tract to seeking out and exposing the wonders of the taco world of Austin.

The blessing of a good taco truck taco becomes part of who you are and what you begin to crave once you have consumed just a few.   Visiting a taco truck before or after (and sometimes both) a race is common place for us.  When we are out of town, we search out the neighborhoods where we know a taco truck will be and try it out.  On a recent trip to Palo Duro Canyon, our craving was nonnegotiable but on the road to the race, we were not sure where to stop along the highway.  We luckily made a pass through a small town and found the familiar outline of a truck.  I don’t remember where we were but when we hopped out of our truck, our stomachs became much more happy. Below is a picture I snapped as we were waiting for our breakfast to be made.

Taco truck on the way to the panhandle.

On the way to our last Houston races, we stopped early, early in the morning at a little BBQ truck- slamming on the breaks and taking a U-turn soon after we noticed the “Breakfast Tacos” sign.  Freezing and a little bit rainy on the weekend cars coming from Houston had snow on their roofs still, we were excited that this place boasted slow cooked BBQ.  They didnt have corn tortillas (neither of us eat flour) but the cook made our tacos without actual tortillas and put them in a to go box for us.  Brisket breakfast tacos and free coffee were the best way to start our race weekend.  The brisket was so moist and juicy and played well with the fresh scrambled eggs.  As a person who recently left the full vegetarian camp due to a severe soy allergy, I have been mindfully discovering many new dishes.  It is a very wonderful thing when the chef takes such great pride in their product and respects the animal so much for the sacrifice.  This was no different.  The BBQ master was up early that morning and he served us up the brisket himself.  I finally located the name of the place and will save you my awful girl directions.  The place is called Fitties and you can find out more here.

After our Sunday races, that same weekend, we searched the Houston neighborhood near the park for a truck or two.  Luckily we came on a corner with a truck on each corner, all with lines of hungry people.  I’ll be completely honest here, you know it is a good truck when those standing outside have thick accents and dark skin.  In the same way you should never eat at a Chinese restaurant where no native Chinese go to eat, stopping at a taco truck where all patrons are have creamy white skin and drive BMWs, just sets you up for failure and if you are the type who would rather eat at these overly sterile places, you deserve each unseasoned bite.  We decided on one of the trucks, though any of the ones in the vicinity would have been as equally as yummy, and as we began to look over the menu, we saw new words we haven’t read before.  We know the basics of “unusual” meats like lengua and intestines but there were a few selections we’ve never seen before.  We asked one of the other patrons what certain selections were but they didn’t even fully know so I took a picture for  later research.

It may be hard to tell from this picture, but I’ll type and define each of the brilliant selections.  Though I was disappointed that they did not have one of my favorites, Napolitos, which is cactus, we got five five tacos and a dollar a piece for corn- one pollo, one lengua, two pastors, and one buche- which we still didn’t know what the last one was.  It was all good and tasty and held us over for our long drive back to Austin.

Here are the selection translations- but I’m not standing behind them 100% because it is all from internet searches-

Buche – pig esophagus (a bit gamey for my taste however Greg liked it)

Chicharron- pork skins

Longaniza- pork sausage similar to chirizo

Molleja- sweetbreads (didn’t specify from where but mollejas de cuello is from the neck and thymus glands, de corazon is from the heart, de panzo is pancreas)

Pollo- chicken

Suadero- thin cut beef from brisket (breast of cow) with smooth texture rather than a muscle grain.

Bisteck- (also spelled bistec) beef steak

Lengua- tongue of cow

Barbacoa- generally the way the meat is cooked, typical meat used is from the head of cow, lamb, or pork.

Trompo- another name for Al Pastor, means “spinning” after a spinning top, somewhat specific to Houston area

Pastor- (al pastor literally means shepherd’s way, meat carved from a vertical spit, often seasoned with pineapple, onions, cilantro, and lime.

Tripitas- pretty sure that this is the same as tripas which is tripe, aka small intestines

Fajitas- grilled meat, but if you don’t know this, you have a whole lot more to learn

Now if some of these make your stomach question the plate, I beg you to recognize how much care, preparation, and knowledge goes in to cooking the non-typical meats and that it takes a much better cook to make these taste as wonderful as they do.  There is a beauty in what these cooks do and it outshines any four star chef who can put a piece of premium filet mignon on grill then transfer it to a plate with a tiny selection of vegetables.  I have much more respect for these chefs and the fact that this is their food, the food their families have made for years and years, and am honored that they share it with me in each bite I happily take.