Better known as the Taco Journalists, Austin-based duo Jarod Neece and Mando Rayo will showcase the culinary diversity of Space City on the debut episode of their new show The United Tacos of America.
Premiering tonight on the El Rey Network, the episode focuses almost entirely on the way that Asian and Mexican flavors have come together to create some truly delicious, and perhaps most importantly respectful, fusion cuisine in Houston. “We saw Houston as kind of a test caste for how you can riff on and work with techniques and ingredients that lend themselves to different cuisines,” Neece says. “The beauty of Houston is that it’s super diverse, it’s the future of America in that way, and that diversity is reflected in the tacos.”
Neece wasn’t exactly a stranger to Houston, either. Born in Beaumont, he lived in Houston for several years and attended Lamar High School. He describes Space City’s al pastor scene as “unrivaled,” but really wanted to dig into less traditional tacos in the city, especially those with Asian influence. “We definitely wanted to look at the influence of those Asian flavors and Mexican flavors and how they represent the city,” Rayo says. “It’s different styles, different folks sharing their experience in that way together.”
Scope out the restaurants featured on tonight’s episode of The United Tacos of America and more notable moments below:
La Calle Tacos
Rayo and Torres link up with Houston taco evangelist Marco Torres to learn more about the classic tacos of Mexico City — birria, suadero, al pastor — from La Calle owner Ramon Soriano, while talking about the city’s taco scene and how it’s shaped by Houston’s demographic diversity.
Oh My Gogi
The outpost of Oh My Gogi inside Downtown tiki bar Kanaloa gets the spotlight in this episode, which focuses heavily on the fusion between Asian and Mexican flavors. co-owners Mark Tiu and Jervis Dulay serve up a feast of kimchi stir-fry, sweet and sour chicken, and bulgogi beef tacos, along with their chicharrones that are sprinkled with a spicy sriracha dust. “These young guys are cooking a new style, even though they’ve been around a while,” Rayo says. “It really epitomizes how reflective the taco scene in Houston is of its own demographics.”
Notable, non-restaurant moments:
— The episode kicks off with a mercado visit with Cesar Cano, a MasterChef season 9 finalist from Houston, where the trio picks up chiles and other ingredients for a dinner at Cano’s home. There, Cano prepares a vegetarian mushroom taco with toasted pasilla pepper sauce and topped with a peanut-chile “Asian crumble,” which Neece says “blew his mind.”
— No trip to Houston would be complete without a visit to Chinatown. Guided by “foodie” and local publicist Isabel Protomartir, the duo scores a slew of ingredients for Filipino dishes, including jackfruit and fish sauce. Later in the episode, Protomartir preps a shaking beef taco with herb and onion slaw for the crew, and it looks beyond delicious.
— MasterChef winner and the Blind Goat chef Christine Ha joins Neece, Rayo, Cano, Torres, and Protomartir for a seriously epic taco feast at Cano’s home. There, she dishes about growing up in Houston and how the city’s culinary diversity shaped her cooking.
— Speaking with Eater, Rayo dished on his favorite Houston taquerias, which include Brothers Taco House, La Macro, and the Boombox Taco truck.
The Houston episode of The United Tacos of America debuts on the El Rey Network at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, October 15.