As I crossed the Gateway International Bridge from Brownsville, I saw an imposing white gate with “Bienvenidos a Mexico” written on the front of the structure. I felt joy. Next was Matamoros, a city in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which I last visited in February 2020. I was accompanied by Nathan Burkhart, a native of Brownsville and Tejano (he was also part of the 2020 tour), and my friend Rodrigo Bravo from San Francisco. Antonio. My happiness turned to excitement as we passed through the gate and entered a square with a tall abstract sculpture in a vaguely Mesoamerican style. We met Oscar Zertuche, who grew up in Matamoros, went to school in Brownsville, and was a longtime friend of Burkhart’s. That day, he took the 4 of us on a tour of some of the best taco eateries in Matamoros. We came hungry and were not disappointed.
Our first stop was Mi Pueblito which has been running since 1994. The restaurant was filled with the aroma of smoke from an open grill under a decorative thatched roof supported by rough-hewn wooden beams. There were green parrots in open cages near the toilets. I watch a child carefully feed one. The chirping and chirping of birds, and the occasional wingbeat, underscored our mezcal aperitif, which we drank alongside chips and guacamole, served in the same bowl as the umber salsa. The salsa gave the avocado puree balls a wonderfully invigorating effect. I considered bringing the bowl to my mouth and sipping what was left like the last bits of soup. However, before I could do that, I hiccupped from the spice.
Then we drove to Los Tacos de Chicho. A brick building, painted bright blue and decorated with traditional Mexican signage, hung on the outside wall with a menu of taquerias. A trompero (trompo master) was quietly working on his vertical fire-roasted pork grill. We quickly ate our traditional al pastor and bistec tacos before moving on to the next stop I always look forward to, El Último Taco: Los Originales.
El Último Taco: Los Originales, founded in 1982, is perhaps the most famous taqueria in Matamoros. Its name should be familiar to anyone who lives in the Rio Grande Valley or has been to Brownsville. It is often confused with the taqueria north of the Rio Grande, which bears almost the same name. It’s unfortunate. Marcela Araujo, daughter of Los Originales founder Jaime Araujo, urged her father for years to trademark the name in the US. However, Araujo Sr. never did, as Marcela told me in May 2020. But Los Originales is best known for its claim to create the city’s signature taco, the estilo Matamoros taco (commonly referred to as the Matamoros taco). it in iconic border taco.
Taco estilo Matamoros starts with two tiny corn tortillas dipped in oil and warmed up on plancha. The filling is usually beef – bistec, tripitas, mollejas, barbacoa or other types – with a wedge of avocado and a heavy dose of queso fresca. Fatty slices of caramelized onions, served as a side dish, should be added to tacos before basting them with salsa de chili de arbol or salsa verde seasoned with serrano. Onions add a sweet balance to salty tacos. These are magnificent, edible representatives of the Tex-Mex cattle country. it puro norteño ate in two bites.
A bright orange-red pig horn on a trompo stands in the corner of El Último Taco: Los Originales. You might be tempted to order tacos al pastor, and I won’t stop you. They’re not bad, but they’re not a specialty. El Super Taco has a much better al pastor, which has a flame-lit spiced pork top inside the display case. It is obscured only by the trompero, which cuts the meat with quick surgical movements. The taqueria menu is painted on the walls, but as you probably realized when you walked in, your first taco should be taco al pastor. Order at least one more taco, preferably a bistek.
Pastor tacos are served rolled into coated paper tubes to keep their shape. (El Último Taco: Los Originales and Otro Rollo, along Brownsville’s legendary taco boulevard, Southmost Road, also serve their al pastor tacos this way.) El Super Tacos are tightly rolled, and each is about the size of two half-smoked cigars. nearby.
We ended the night at Patio 1826, a northern Mexican style steakhouse. A dressier crowd gathers in the indoor dining room, while the side yard has an outdoor grill and tables with more casually dressed patrons. Our group sat in the latter. It wasn’t the first time I’d visited Patio 1826. However, this time the soundtrack of the Rat Pack covers, tinged with nineties electro and pop songs played through the speaker system, was new and didn’t fit with the atmosphere of the place.
However, the odd choice of music didn’t stop us from enjoying local specialties from the menu, such as the succulent aguja from a short plate of beef. Agujas literally translates as “needles”. The narrow slices of steak are more like thick strips of raw bacon. Grilling time writhing beef just like bacon. However, unlike well-cooked strips of pork, aguja is juicy and pliable. They are perfect for corn tortillas.
Sliced aguja tacos served with bone marrow were a different matter. There was almost no marrow in the sliced femur, and what we managed to scrape off didn’t have that rich quality that envelops the mouth. Slightly better were the frijoles con veneno, fried beans with asado de puerco, a brownish-red pork stew popular in the northern Mexican states. In Patio 1826, the asado was not as harsh as elsewhere in Tamaulipas and in the neighboring state of Nuevo León.
The up and down trip at our terminus didn’t dampen the spirits, although some of us complained about overeating as long as we didn’t walk too quietly to the car. We talked about which taquerias to visit next. We chuckled at uneven sidewalks and randomly parked SUVs and BMWs. Our mood was bright. Why shouldn’t they be?
Despite a record number of migrants and a reputation as a center for the fight against drugs, Matamoros, which I visited, is different from the violent city of the 2000s and early 2010s. This is not the city where restaurant owners fled to open a business north of the Rio Grande. Rather, it is a city whose citizens and public figures are proud to have their homes recognized as a magical pueblo. Obtaining the coveted classification will boost tourism and commerce, and improve the city’s reputation. The name Matamoros will be used in the same conversations as San Miguel de Allende, Patzcuaro, Tulum and Santiago – I believe that this should already be the case.
El Ultimo Taco: Los Originales
Calle Bustamante entre 5 y 6, H, Zona Centro
Los Tacos de Chicho
Avenida Alvaro Obregon 6, Jardin
Calle Cinco 13, Zona Centro
Calle Rio Bravo 107, San Francisco
El Super Taco (Sexta)
Calle Sexta 1618-C Tecate Bar, Modern