One of the questions we're most often asked is "Where should I eat?" We're setting out to answer that question.
With the imminent arrival of Torchy's Tacos to the Woodlands, we feel that it is time to help our readers find the very best tacos in the Woodlands area. We've visited Torchy's, and we're proud to confirm that taco lovers have much better options in the area.
Here is our list of our favorite places to eat tacos in the Woodlands area. This list represents our ideas about the best tacos in the Woodlands, Spring, Conroe, and surrounding areas.
Cabo Baja - If you're looking for something different, Cabo Baja offers tacos with a distinctly California accent. The emphasis is on fresh, light tacos. Our favorites include the grilled shrimp tacos, the fish tacos (either fried or grilled), and for those who want more food, the outstanding burritos.
Chycho's - Chycho's began as one of Houston's uncountable taco trucks, but evolved into a brick-and-mortar location 10 minutes from the Woodlands. Traditional tacos are the draw here; our favorites are the fajita, chicken, and pastor. Chycho's grills its meat over charcoal, and the distinctive flavor is infused into the meat. Bargain seekers visit on Tuesday and Wednesday, when tacos are only $1 each.
Hello Taco - Hello Taco serves traditional Mexican tacos in an environment that's friendly and inviting. Ingredients are high quality, and those who prefer nontraditional toppings can be accommodated as well. Patrons watch their tortillas being made just before they're used as the foundation for a delicious lunch or dinner.
Blue Mug Cafe - Now under new ownership, this casual bistro on the far west border of the Woodlands offers some excellent seafood tacos. Shrimp tacos were our favorite; the housemade sauce added just enough heat to the perfectly grilled shrimp.
La Palma - This blue collar taqueria in central Conroe has been a preferred destination for those wanting authentic tacos in a brick-and-mortar setting. Pastor tacos are our favorite, and the plate of grilled onions shouldn't be ignored.
Tacos are one of the foods that defines the state of Texas. From the largest city to the tiniest towns, tacos are one of the foods that are enjoyed by everyone young and old. And with this sort of demand, tens of thousands of taco spots have popped up, all promising Mexican goodness wrapped in a hard or soft shell.
We'd been hearing rumblings about a great spot not far from Old Town Spring. Chycho's Tacos is located on Aldine Westfield Rd., in a lightly commercialized area that was bustling with activity when we visited mid-week at 8pm.
The festive exterior was welcoming, as was the proprietor, Edwin Santos. We were greeted with a smile, and when we enquired about his al pastor tacos, he insisted on offering up a sample of his roasted pork. It was very good - dark, savory, with gentle heat from an ancho chile rub. We were sold, and ordered. On a whim, we decided to sample one of the fajita tacos, remembering that it is one of the most popular choices among our readers.
We then retired to the adjoining pavilion, a festive, spotlessly clean place with holiday lighting and a beer garden vibe. In short order a staff member called our name and delivered our tacos.
The plate of tacos appeared, and we were immediately greeted by a delicious, smoky aroma. It was time to dig in. The tacos al pastor were as we anticipated - rich, savory pork flavor, just enough heat to add interest, a very well prepared meat. On top, the typical fresh onions had been replaced with sweet, lightly grilled onions, a substitution we applaud. A sprinkling of cilantro and a dash of lime completed what are very good tacos al pastor.
After demolishing these tacos, we dug into the remaining fajita taco. As good as the al pastor is, the fajita is the star of the show. The beef had the signature flavor of charcoal broiling, with a subtle hint of mesquite to add complexity. This is superbly prepared fajita meat, and combined with the grilled onions, cilantro, and a spritz of lime it created a delicious taco, one we'll be trying again very soon.
We generally don't focus on cost at HTownChowDown, but we'd be remiss if we didn't discuss it here. Regular price for the tacos is $1.49, but on Tuesday, they're $0.99. That's easily one of the best bargains in town for high quality, delicious tacos.
If your idea of tacos begins and ends with a certain high-profile Austin import, you owe it to yourself to visit Chycho's and discover how good real tacos can taste.
Chycho's Tacos | 23206 Aldine Westfield, Spring TX 77373 | 832-566-3022
Taquerias are a big thing in Houston, thanks to our vibrant Latin American community. Even the worst ones are pretty good, and the best ones are excellent. They're almost all family run, small operations, and in many cases the ability to speak Spanish is very helpful when you visit. We think it's part of the charm, but some less adventurous souls are put off by this.
For these folks, fast food tacos were created. From Jack in the Box tacos (which we admit to liking) to Taco Bell to Taco Cabana, different approaches to offering tacos to the terminally unadventurous have been tried, with mixed results.
Our biggest complaint: None of these chains offers a truly excellent taco.
We'll be back.
Hello Taco | 25114 Grogan's Mill Rd. | Spring, TX 77380 | 832-819-4MEX | hellotaco.com
As the Woodlands area attracts more international corporations (We're looking at you, ExxonMobil) we're happy to see more restaurants appearing that appeal to more diverse tastes. We love Tex-Mex, but it's hard to get excited about yet another place touting their amazing fajitas and strong margaritas.
A case in point is Tandoory Taco, a new restaurant serving Indian fusion food. Tucked into the sprawling strip center on Sawdust that houses several independent restaurants (including The Olive Oil and Corkscrew BBQ).
Tandoory Taco is a bright, unassuming restaurant, with counter service and ample seating. An owner is on-site and involved, always a good sign. Don't go in expecting traditional Indian decor; casual is the motif, with brightly painted walls adorned with a collection of signs proclaiming a variety of slogans, none of which have anything to do with the food or the concept. It's an endearing and funky touch.
As much as we like less popular (in Texas) cuisines, it's a fact in the restaurant industry that they can be a tough sell in a more conservative market. Tandoory Taco faces this issue head-on:
How do you make Indian cuisine more accessible to the Texas palate?
Alex (Yash) Nagal is a partner, and the general manager. He's an avid foodie, and a chemical engineer. Nagal's concept is to provide an affordable, high-quality meal in an inviting setting. Food is his passion, and his enthusiasm is palpable. His approach is a clever one, and one we've not encountered before. Put freshly prepared Indian dishes into individual portions, and serve them in a soft flour tortilla.
This approach is a clever one. Tortillas are the preferred flatbread in Texas, where Indian cuisine embraces naan, the thicker, fluffier, slightly sweeter cousin. Tandoory fuses the two traditions, serving portions of freshly prepared Indian favorites in a soft flour tortilla.
We love the concept, but as always, execution is the difference between success and failure. A restaurant's success starts in the kitchen, and we were eager to investigate further.
Tandoory's kitchen is helmed by a young 28-year-old chef who knows Indian food, and isn't a man who cuts corners. He prepares all of the sauces from scratch, including Tandoory's signature Agra Tikka sauce, a bright, fresh, creamy tomato sauce that's enhanced with fresh Indian spices. High quality ingredients abound.
At Alex's suggestion, we sampled items incorporating the Agra Tikka sauce. First up was The Patriot. tandoori chicken (in this case, the darker, richer meat from the leg) is marinated in yogurt and spices, cooked in the traditional clay oven, and served with onion, a variety of mild peppers, and avocado. We enjoyed this taco - the traditional Indian flavor of the tikka sauce was balanced by the peppers and the rich tandoori spice.
Next up was The Brit, which swapped the tandoori chicken for a milder version made from the white breast meat, and prepared without the tandoori spices. The excellent tikka sauce was front and center on this taco; we feel it will appeal to those who prefer a slightly milder (but still very flavorful) dish.
We really enjoyed both tacos, and were impressed by the subtle differences between them. Clearly the chef knows his cuisine, and understands how small changes can result in significantly different dishes.
We're looking forward to returning and sampling the other menu items as soon as we can.
Tandoory Taco | 407 Sawdust Road | Spring, Texas 77380 | 281-203-5060 | tandoorytaco.com
When a foodie thinks about Austin, what often comes to mind is a quirky, casual spot that serves good food in a somewhat offbeat setting. Ever since Austin was just a college town and a hippie hangout, it's had its own sensibility that is slightly out of step with the rest of Texas. In a good way, of course.
So how will Torchy's be received in Houston, a town known for its hundreds of family-run taquerias? We went to find out.
|Dining room at Torchy's Tacos|
|Green Chile Pork taco at Torchy's|
Our first surprise was the relatively small size of the tortilla, which was generously overflowing with fillings. The second surprise was the tremendous amount of cilantro - no folks, that's not lettuce in the photo. Biting into the taco confirmed the over-abundance of cilantro, not surprisingly. When we raked off 3/4 of it, we were left with a fairly bland taco; the mild pork flavor was lost beneath the onions and the remainder of the cilantro. We can think of a number of taquerias around town that put this semi-traditional taco to shame. On to the next one.
For many folks, Tex-Mex means fajitas, so next up was Torchy's Beef Fajita taco. The ingredients are right out of Tex Mex 101: Marinated, grilled skirt steak, grilled onions and peppers, shredded cheese and pico de gallo.
|Beef Fajita tacos at Torchy's|
Biting into this taco, we were impressed by the tender quality of the fajita beef, but we found ourselves wishing for a bolder marinade; the beefy flavor was very mild. At the suggestion of staff, we added their avocado hot sauce - a creamy combination of tomatillos, avocados, and roasted jalapenos. This certainly added some heat, but now all we tasted was the sauce. We think the solution is a bolder marinade, not a saucy disguise.
Our final taco was the one we'd repeatedly heard great things about: Torchy's Trailer Park taco. Fried chicken chunks, green chiles, shredded cheese, pico, and lettuce are the standard toppings, and at the advice of a Torchyphile we know, we ordered it "Trashy", with the lettuce removed and a dollop of melted queso on top.
|Trailer Park taco at Torchy's|
This taco was a hot mess. Good quality fried chicken, but utterly bland pico de gallo and a morass of cheese made me think of a KFC chicken bowl, not Austin's most-talked-about taco. A dab of Torchy's poblano hot sauce helped, but we're firm believers that you shouldn't have to fix a dish by smothering it in sauce to make it good. The result was certainly edible, but it's not something we'd seek out again.
To say we were disappointed with Torchy's would be an understatement. Like many things from Austin, the reality doesn't live up to huge level of hype. On the plus side, the ingredients seemed to be high quality, but on the minus, Torchy's can't be bothered making fresh tortillas. The individual tacos look good on paper, but spotty execution and weird proportions of ingredients leave you with a taco that just tastes bland. The result is a mediocre experience by Houston taco standards.
That may be good enough in Austin. In a Tex-Mex mecca like Houston, Torchy's is going to have to up their game.
Torchy's Tacos | 2411 South Shepherd Dr. | 713-595-8226 | TorchysTacos.com
Over the past few years, The Woodlands has developed a strong dining scene. While it still has more than it's share of generic chain restaurants, there have been several notable independents calling the area home. Hubbell & Hudson, Eden Cafe, Capri, and Crust Pizza Co. are examples of the kinds of places that would be notable wherever they opened, and are causing foodies to make the trek out past 1960.
What the area has been lacking is the kind of tiny ethnic restaurants that one finds all over the Houston area. We were excited to see someone bucking this trend - a tiny taqueria / taco truck on Gosling called Casa del Sol.
We'd passed Casa del Sol several times driving down Gosling, and finally stopped in to check it out. We were immediately taken by the quaint, relaxed atmosphere. Seating is in a covered outdoor pavilion, very inviting on a comfortable spring day.
The kitchen is housed in a food truck parked semi-permanently beside the pavilion. The feel of the spot reminded me of one of the tiny cantinas in Mexico's costal towns... a welcome change from the slick atmosphere that even the independents build in The Woodlands.
Having never visited before, we wanted to sample a variety of tacos. A brief chat with the proprietor gave us our game plan: One each of al pastor, barbacoa, and beef fajita.
I first dug into my benchmark - the taco al pastor. Served on a freshly-made corn tortilla, quarter-sized chunks of roast pork were liberally sautéed in a deceptively spicy chile pepper sauce, and topped with the traditional fresh chopped onion and cilantro. Biting into this taco was a revelation - the tender chunks of pork were considerably larger than what we typically find in an al pastor taco, and the seasoning was kicked up a notch, starting with a savory, rich note and building to a slow burn. The cup of horchata provided a welcome relief from the heat; I said a silent thank you to the friend who first suggested this beverage with Mexican food many years ago.
|Tacos al Pastor at Casa del Sol|
Next up was the barbacoa. Prepared in the traditional manner using the cheek meat, it was incredibly tender without venturing anywhere near mushiness. After the tang of the al pastor, the barbacoa's subtle smokiness was almost lost, but a quick shot of the housemade red salsa got my tastebuds' full attention.
Finally the beef fajita was up. Knowing The Woodlands, this is probably the most oft-ordered taco, and it does not disappoint. Beautifully charred beef, still moist inside, was accented with a hearty squirt of lime juice and the chopped onion and cilantro. This taco will please the Tex-Mex aficionado, and will remind him just how boring the tacos are from the big national chains. Yo quero, indeed.
|Beef Fajita Taco at Casa del Sol|
We really enjoyed Casa del Sol, and recommend that anyone who loves Mexican food stop by. For what you'd spend at Taco Bell, you can enjoy something far more authentic, and most importantly, far more delicious.
Casa del Sol | 22507 Gosling | Mo-Sa 7a-6p, closed Su
(4 mi south of Woodlands Parkway, just past the train tracks)
On the monthly visit to Sam's Club, we noticed a new eatery in the Portofino shopping center, across the freeway from the Woodlands. Called Wahoo's Fish Tacos, it's a West Coast (in this case, California and Colorado) fast casual chain offering a variety of Cali-Mex dishes in a faux surf-shack setting.
We decided to sample the fish tacos, which is their signature dish. The very personable counter guy took our order, and withing five minutes this came out:
Ryan Granger, owner of the Park Grill, has announced his new Mexican restaurant and tequila bar, Bodegas Taco Shop. It is scheduled to open on February 27 on the corner of Caroline at Ewing.
Bodegas will feature a variety of chicken and beef tacos, with over ten salsas to top them. Desserts will be offered as will a full bar.
We're not sure if they're actually food, but we love Jack in the Box tacos. And now Jack is returning the love, offering a coupon for two free tacos next Tuesday, February 24th.
It's part of their "Save Jack" marketing campaign. We do hope Jack gets better, but if his recovery means free tacos, we hope it's a very long, protracted process.
One of the more interesting and unique restaurants in Houston is Peli Peli. Specializing in South African cuisine, the upscale restaurant brings new ingredients and dishes to the diverse Houston restaurant palette.
Peli Peli Kitchen is the fast casual concept that brings the flavors of South Africa to Houston in a more relaxed, affordable setting. It has opened on the west bound I-10 feeder at Campbell, easily accessible from downtown or the west side.
(Disclaimer: The team at PPK was so anxious for us to try their new restaurant they invited us to a special tasting, sent their corporate jet to whisk us from the Woodlands to Houston’s near west side, and plied us with their well selected house wines and craft beers before sending out course after course for our degustation. OK, they didn’t send the jet.)
The team behind Peli Peli is an experienced one. Partners Thomas Nguyen, Aiki Kong “Michael” Tran, and Executive Chef Paul Friedman, bring their expertise in operations, marketing, finance, and of course cuisine and menu development.
Stepping inside the bright, airy space, your eye is immediately drawn to the beautiful original artwork that covers different surfaces throughout the restaurant. The seemingly abstract art represents different aspects of the business, from the partners, to South African references, to interesting details that reflect the concept and sensibilities of the Peli Peli operation.
But how’s the food? We previewed several of the dishes on the well curated menu. Here are our first impressions.
First up was one of PPK’s breakfast dishes, the smoke salmon rosti. This South African take on a large breakfast taco includes smoked salmon, chopped hash browns, sautéed spinach, goat cheese, capers, a poached egg, hollandaise, and PPK’s signature peppadew peppers, wrapped in fresh naan.
It’s one of the most exciting takes on a breakfast taco we can remember tasting. Chef Paul skillfully combines the smokey salmon, creamy hollandaise, warm, comforting hash browns, and the zesty zing of the peppers. It’s an entirely new flavor profile, but one we’re already craving again.
Next, we sampled one of PPK’s cleverly conceived sandwiches. Warm, slightly sweet brioche was combined with hearty slices of pork belly, rubbed with hickory mesquite and slow roasted. Combined with fried onions, cilantro, and peppadew peppers, the balance of this dish was delightful. It’s the perfect grab and go lunch for those in a hurry but not willing to compromise on flavor.
This classic from the American South was slow-cooked until the incredibly tender meat falls off the bone. The subtle, layered flavors are sure to delight any aficionado of southern cooking
We’ve always enjoyed Chef Paul Friedman’s South African fusion cuisine at Peli Peli, and are impressed by how the team has edited and distilled the essence of what makes that restaurant wonderful into this new elevated fast casual concept. If you’ve been to Peli Peli you’ll love this place; if you haven’t, it’s an accessible, affordable introduction into the bold flavors and wonderful experience of South African cooking.