The setup of Erick's Tacos is different. The part of the kitchen where you get your tacos is housed in a mobile unit on one side of the dining area. The other part, where you order your raspas and licuados, is on the other side.
In between is a former garage with no fourth wall or door. That means you are sitting in the heat of the day while you eat some incredibly spicy tacos. Only a few overhead fans keep the air circulating.
Yet no one seems to mind.
Maybe it's because the tacos are so good. Maybe it's because the Mexican Coke is almost as icy as a raspa. Maybe it's because the scene feels just right.
Whatever the reason, I found myself looking forward to a return visit almost as soon as I had finished the first.
On that discovery day, I encountered a slight language barrier as the cook spoke no English and my Spanish was a bit rusty. I somehow managed to get the plate of tacos al pastor on small corn tortillas that I had wanted. The appearance was dazzling to the eye, as the tacos arrived showered with an abundance of cilantro and onion.
With a squirt of lime juice and a squeeze of fiery green salsa, they tasted even better than they looked, and the tortillas were so hot they singed my fingertips.
The heat of the seasoned pork and a welcome touch of grease made each bite reveal depths of flavor that went beyond the usual world of Tex-Mex. I washed it down with a Mexican Fresca made with real sugar instead of corn syrup or nasty chemical-tasting artificial sweeteners. The zing of the soda's grapefruit flavor was a perfect complement to chiles.
Who needs air conditioning with food this good?
I was so pleased with the meal I returned with a friend the next night. This time it was for tacos made with a mixture of chorizo and bifstek while he had tacos al carbon covered with crumbled white cheese. We ordered the dinner plates for $5.50, which came with four mini-tacos, grilled onions and one of the hottest cooked jalapeños in some time.
The tacos al carbon were pristine compared with the others, dripping in chorizo juices. Yet I wasn't sorry with my order.
While some might blanch at the mention of the grease in a few of the tacos, it helped me understand the popularity of Erick's. The place is busiest, one employee told us, after midnight, after folks have been partying and need a little fortification to face the next day. The tacos de cabeza are probably a big seller then. On weekends, you'll sometimes find people there after 4 a.m.
The tamales we tried -- chicken, instead of the pork that we'd ordered -- were plump, full of meat and moist without being greasy. A bit of the cilantro-heavy red salsa added a welcome bite.
Lime and chile proved an unbeatable combination whether we were ordering a fruit cup laden with fresh mango and watermelon or a corn in cup with sweet kernels just cut from the cob. The later was also slathered in mayonnaise, offering a tantalizing balance of sweet, sour, hot and spicy.
Most everything at Erick's Tacos is eaten with your hands (you can get a spoon if you need one). But good food needs no pretense.
12715 Nacogdoches Road
Hours are 11 a.m. until at least 3 a.m. daily.
$ = $10 or under per entrée
$$ = $10-$20
$$$ = $20-$30
$$$$ = $30 and up