Tacodeli is a small chain of Texas taquerias founded in Austin by Chef, Roberto Espinosa and Co-Owner, Eric Wilkerson. The chain prides themselves on using quality ingredients from local farmers and ranchers. They source high quality meat from HeartBrand Ranch including USDA organic & certified humane pork, akaushi ground beef, and no antibiotics & all vegetarian fed chicken. A friend of mine who was a big fan of the original Tacodeli in Austin suggested we go there for lunch recently. He claimed they were the best tacos in Houston. That is a pretty bold claim considering all of the great tacos you can find in Houston, but I had to find out for myself.
The first thing that I noticed about Tacodeli is that the line to the register wrapped around the entire dining room — a promising sign considering there are so many places you can get great tacos in this town. The line moved fast though, and it gave me time to look at the vast menu. There are seven different beef tacos, six chicken tacos, three pork tacos, four seafood tacos, not to mention the six vegetarian tacos.
There was a taco listed as a special that really caught my eye called the Pollo En Pipian Rojo. It’s made of shredded chicken served in traditional red Pipian sauce made with spicy chipotles and toasted pumpkin seeds, avocado and garnished with toasted sesame seeds. Pipian is part of a larger family of ground sauces known as moles, and it has a very distinctive, nutty, earthy flavor. Moles are time consuming to prepare and aren’t something you see at the ordinary taco stand, so I had to give it a try.
From the beef column, I couldn’t choose just one taco so I went with the Cowboy and the Picosito. The Cowboy is made with dry-rubbed beef tenderloin, grilled corn, caramelized onions, roasted peppers, guacamole, and queso fresco. El Picosito features grilled beef tenderloin, chipotle sesame sauce, avocado, and queso fresco.
From the pork tacos, I went with the Al Pastor — organic pork shoulder in red chile adobo, cilantro, and onion.
After you order at the register, you move down the counter to to get drinks and to the self-serve salsa bar. The salsa is in large pump dispensers. All of their salsas are made in house daily. There were four pumps labeled: Salsa Verde, Salsa Roja, Salsa Doña, Salsa Habanero. I got a small cup of each.
I used the typical paleo hack of ordering my tacos in a bowl instead of tortillas. Although, if you are on a gluten-free diet and don’t mind the carbs, Tacodeli offers organic, gluten-free corn tortillas. The friendly staff brought the tacos to our table, and I started with the Pollo en Pipian Rojo. The shredded chicken had a generous amount of the orange Pipian sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds. The sauce has a rich earthy flavor from the pumpkin seeds and smoked chillies. It has a nice kick to it so make sure you have a full glass of water at the table when you dig in. The spicy sauce contrasted nicely with the cool slices of avocado. The chicken was tender and juicy. The next taco that I dove into was the Pastor. The bite sized pieces of pork were slow-roasted to perfection and complimented by the red sauce, onions, and cilantro. I also poured some of the Salsa Doña on the pork. Salsa Doña is excellent. It is made mostly of jalapeños so it is really spicy, but has thick creamy texture. This stuff is excellent. I wanted to take a pint of it home. The other salsas were good also, but I barely got to try them since the sauces that came on the tacos were so good. I didn’t want mess them up.
The beef tacos were excellent as well. The Cowboy featured tenderloin, and tender is the operative word. The beef was tender and flavorful. It fell apart on my plastic fork. The grilled corn relish and caramelized onions offered some sweetness to compliment the spicy and smoky beef. This is a great taco, but the El Picosito was even better. The chipotle sesame sauce is fantastic, but it didn’t overpower the beef. The avocado and queso fresco helped to cool down the spicy, salty sauce. I could have had another one, if wasn’t already four tacos into my meal and completely stuffed.
Tacodeli is very good. Do they have the best tacos in Houston? I’m not sure about that. Picking the best taco in Houston is like asking a parent to pick their favorite kid. I will say the Pollo en Pipian Rojo is the best taco I have had in a long time, and is certainly my favorite chicken taco. Their Pipian sauce is really something special. I hope it makes its way to the permanent menu. Even their more basic tacos are excellent because of their top-notch ingredients, and the care with which they are made. I’ll be back for sure, but it will have to be for lunch or breakfast since they are not open for dinner. If you are in the mood for excellent tacos with authentic and interesting sauces, I highly recommend Tacodeli.