Friday, July 11, 2008

El Rey Taqueria - King of Tacos?

El Rey Taqueria is a Cuban/Mexican taco chain with three locations. It has won qute a few awards, such as the 2005 best drive thru from the Houston Press. (The Press has not given that award since 2005). The Press emphasized El Rey's rotisserie chicken.

El Rey also has a group of devoted customers who think it serves the best fast food in Houston.


Yet El Rey can feel a little overrated. There are far better Cuban restaurants in Houston. I have found much better tasting rotisserie chicken. And there are much better taquerias for basic Mexican tacos and tortas.

As an illustration, consider the flawed architecture of El Rey's tortas. The flimsy bread cannot stand up to the mass of soggy ingredients. Never try to eat one of these tortas by hand -- or while driving.

Two Great Tacos

But El Rey does serve two unique tacos that are among the best in town.

First, El Rey makes a wonderful creation called the Cuban taco. The ingredients are simple: fajita beef or chicken (beef is better), black beans, fried plaintains, and sour cream. It is a contrast of flavors and textures that encapsulates the best aspects of Cuban food in a compact taco.

This dish makes me wonder why more restaurants pair bananas with meat.

Another remarkably good dish is the tempura shrimp taco. Sure, some other restaurants sell tacos with fried shrimp and cabbage. But what makes this tempura shrimp taco the best in town is its concentrated, pungent cilantro sauce.

If you limit your order to these two tacos, then maybe El Rey does have the best drive thru in Houston.


Anonymous said...

It's an off the menu item, but for a totally different look you can order the cubano taco with pork. I usually get a cubano with beef and cubano with pork when i go. Tortilla soup is also known to be pretty good. I haven't had the shrimp tempura in a long time. Might have to check that out next time i'm in town.

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Misha said...

I've only had breakfast at El Rey and it was awful. Water logged eggs on styrofoam plates. Not my idea of a good time.

Lifeinsiliconvalley: I see you are a Manresa fan. I'll be publishing a couple of posts on two amazing meals I have had there in the last 6 months.

anonymouseater said...

LISV: Thanks. I will get the pork next time I go. I hear good things about the tortilla soup, but have not tried it.

Misha: I also did not like the breakfast tacos.

Sarah: Thank you so much for your kind offer, but I cannot accept it. I don't let restaurants comp me because then I would be influenced to say overly nice things.

Also, I rarely talk about, or eat at, large national chains like Carrabas. I am a huge fan of Damian Mandola and Johnny Carrabba and all they have done for Houston food. But these days I try to be a cheerleader for unique, local restaurants with personality, instead of nationwide chains. Besides, almost everyone in Houston has tried Carraba's. I wouldn't be telling readers anything new. I would just be marketing the restaurant chain, which is not what I do.

But thanks. And good luck with naming that wine by Ruffino.

Readers: does anyone want to suggest a name for a Ruffino wine to be sold at Carraba's?

Rubiao said...

The Ropa Vieja plate at El Rey isn't bad either. I don't know many places in Houston to find a good one for a decent price, but theirs counts. The shrimp tempura taco is sometimes good, but sometimes tastes really really odd (frightening). I think I would rate it as the best drive through in the neighborhood (the Washington one).

anonymouseater said...

Hi Rubiao. I agree that El Rey's ropa viejo isn't bad. But I preferred the ropa viejo at Cafe Piquet, Latina Cafe, and El Meson. You might want to check out those restaurants if you haven't already.

I hope I don't ever get odd tasting shrimp at El Rey. That does sound frightening.

JC said...

The best thing to get at El Rey is the chicken tortilla soup. Also the rotisserie chicken enchiladas are good.

foodprincess said...

I totally agree that the Cuban tacos rock, just reading your description makes me want to jump in the car and get one. I also like their chicken tortilla soup, which is full of chicken and for me, a meal in and of itself. There are better places to get tacos but El Rey stands on its own with these two dishes.

It looks like I need to trip the shrimp tacos as well.

foodprincess said...

I meant try the shrimp tacos - lol.

anonymouseater said...


Tripping the shrimp taco?

Maybe thats what happens if you get some of that shrimp that Rubaio said tastes "really really odd."

Anonymous said...

Like your blog...glad your taking us along on your food journey. Its giving me some vicarious yummies as well as idea for new culinary adventures.

Anonymous said...


I heard you met my dad the other night at Randy's (Kevin). I enjoy your blog, though i don't get to read it as often as i'd like. Im sure you're familiar with the 'so many blogs, so little time' conundrum.

Yes, Manresa was great. Really just an incredible experience from start to finish. The kitchen tour we gto from the Maitre d at the end was just the icing on the cake.

Saw you made it up to the Bay Area recently and hit several great places that are on my list. What'd you think of Incanto? I'm a pretty fearless eater, but my girlfriend is a bit squeamish so we haven't had a chance to get over there yet. Being a young professional limits how often we can hit the area's top restaurants, so we end up being pretty diligent in selecting where to go.

Love the blog. Cheers!

Lyn said...

El Rey has some quite addicting cantalope juice. Not sure if it is fresh squeezed or not, but it is pulp free and delicious. Compliments the tacos well.

alex said...

Wow. The food is really delicious! I will definitely look for this restaurant in our houston dating getaway!

alex said...

Tacos! The best fast food of all time! I will definitely look for this restaurant in our Houston dating getaway!