Monday, January 29, 2007

El Hidalguense - Mexican goat and lamb

I have two quandries about goat and lamb. First, why do so many Americans prefer flavorless meats, such as chicken breasts and ground beef, over meats with strong natural flavors, like goat and lamb? Goats were one of the first animals domesticated by humans, about 10,000 years ago, and in many countries, goat meat remains a staple. I much prefer flavor of goat and lamb meat, but in this country I am in the minority.

Second, why is lamb so cheap and goat so expensive? If you go to ordinary supermarket chains in areas like southwest Houston, you will find lamb at much lower prices than beef. Yet goat, or cabrito, is much harder to find. And it is more expensive. Although I have had reasonably priced goat stew at La Sani, a Pakistani restaurant, most goat dishes in Houston are $18 or higher. Cadillac Bar has grilled cabrito (baby goat) for around $20. The goat at The Great Greek is a little more. It has become my quest to find good, inexpensive goat meat in Houston

My quest takes me to El Hidalguense on Long Point, between Antoine and Silber. There are promising signs. The restaurant's front wall panels proclaim each year the restaurant has won the Houston Press award for "best cabrito." Inside, the furnishings are cheap, a Mexican game show is on TV, and the air is heavy with the smell of goat and lamb.

Everything on the menu is cheap, with one exception. Cabrito is $17.99. I want to try it, but I just can't pay that much for lunch.

So I order lamb barbacoa en salsa verde for just $4.99. First, they bring a fried taquito with a bowl of red salsa. This is the kind of salsa I love -- no vinegar, no tomatoes, no onions, just reconstituted chili pepper in its own juices. It is deep red and tastes earthy and moderately hot. The taquito is fine, but it really is just a salsa delivery vehicle.

Then comes the lamb. It is a tender, stewed lamb, strongly flavored. I know the beef barbacoa here is made from the head of a steer cooked over hot coals. I am not sure whether the lamb barbacoa is made from the lamb's head. Regardless, this dish is excellent because the lamb flavor is matched by the heat and spice of salsa verde. After eating a few corn tortillas with the barbacoa, my mouth is on fire. A side of mashed pinto beans helps. Unlike most Tex-Mex beans, these don't have a lard or bacon flavor, or fatty texture. They seem to be flavored just by cooking broth.

As I enjoy this wonderful meal, I try to console myself for not getting goat. I tell myself that stewed lamb brains in green salsa is even more exotic than grilled goat. I remind myself that lamb tastes a lot like goat. Plus I ask myself whether this wonderful stewed lamb may even be better than the goat. But because the goat is a lot more expensive, and because I am a little too cheap, I am not going to find my answer today.


misha said...

The goat at El Hidalguense is expensive, but it's excellent. I'd recommend it over the lamb any day.

Right next to El Hidalguense on Long Point is Vieng Thai, which is one of the best thai places in town by a mile. Try that too.

anonymouseater said...

Thanks for the comment. It is funny you mentioned Vieng Thai. I have heard good comments about it for years, but I had it confused with the nearby Vung Thai. When people said Vien, I heard Vung. When I saw it next to El HIdalguense, I knew I had to try it next.

Anonymous said...

not speaking of goat or lamb, but speaking of mexican, have you ever eaten at chacho's on westheimer? th place thats packed at 2am.
this is my favorite mexican food spot right now, everything is always fresh, tasty and authentic. i took my mom there and she said the cheese enchiladas tasted just like her mom's( whose she has never been able to duplicate) she also couldnt believe it was a homemade corn tortilla, as they are thick and fresh. we love the place, wondering if you have been.

anonymouseater said...

Thanks for the comment on Chacho's. I have not been there. I associate it with burritos because I have a friend who loves their burritos. Because I am not a big burrito fan, I have not been interested in going. It is funny how a minor impression like that will affect my choice of a restaurant.

a. said...

try the menudo, its very good, i try to taste menudo at mexican restaurants here in houston, looking for something that compares to my cousin's restaurant el azteca in austin. their menudo is the best. la tapatia does a good job too.
whats great about chacho's is their grilled meat tacos, incredible. the salsa bar is amazing, they make fresh corn and flour tortillas, and the shredded chicken plates are amazing. never tried the burritos. im also stuck on the aqua frescas.

you should also do something on colombian and venezuelan restaurants in town.

there is also a brazilian restaurant i've always wanted to try on westheimer, across from the new phoenicia bakery(amazing)

so glad your back blogging, now if we could only get you published!