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La Michoacana: Mex-Mex, Not Tex-Mex

Todd Krainin

By Todd Krainin
Sept. 14, 2011 at 4:14 a.m.

Jalisco-style barbacoa taco, left, and a suadero gordita at La Michoacana. Note the morsels of soft queso fresco and the total absence of processed American cheese. Dairy that glows nuclear orange is an automatic Mexican food fail.

Just when I was ready to abandon my search for real Mexican food in Victoria, I discovered a traditional taqueria inside of a Houston-based supermarket chain in an odd corner of town.

To my surprise, the meals served at La Michoacana Meat Market aren't Tex-Mex, but Mex-Mex, with flavors that recall the kind of street fare you'll find in border towns from Matamoros to Tijuana.

Its modest kitchen churns out popular, unpretentious standards and the cooks seem blissfully unaware of common culinary pecados like tortillas filled with hamburger meat and processed neon cheese. Even the little trays your tacos are served on are Mexican to the styrofoam core.

The prices aren't far from Mexico, either. A hefty taco stuffed with lengua, suadero (Fridays only), cabeza or al pastor will set you back $1.39 on a corn tortilla or $1.59 for flour. A dinner plate of Jalisco-style barbacoa ($6), which is better than their regular barbacoa, bathes in a smoky red stew that instantly recalls my favorite restaurants in Mexicali. A carnitas-stuffed gordita, generously blobbed with crema and queso fresco, is simple and satisfying comfort food.

The colorful salsas, though hotter than usual, have their rewards. Even the normally cool guacamole has a kick. The heaping spoonful of seedy green salsa that I spread over my quesadilla caused my nose to run, which is exactly as it ought to be.

The bad news is that the dining room is a supermarket, and not an attractive one at that. Prepare to scarf down your chicharrones while seated in between metal security bars and cartons labeled "papel sanitario" at the end of Aisle 2. This makes La Michoacana one of the rare Mexican restaurants where it's a plus if you can't read Spanish (although a little menu Spanish is advisable).

There are no gargantuan margaritas here, only Mexican Coke and the usual varieties of aguas frescas. You don't get starter chips at your table. Inconveniently, you must pay first, not at the food counter (which would be sensible), but at the cash register, standing in line with all the other supermarket shoppers. Makes you wish they had a "10 items or less" line, but they don't.

Is the drab atmosphere and inconvenience worth enduring for the authentic flavor? If you're a discriminating carnivore who craves the real deal - I am, and I do - then the answer is absolutely yes. But hey, I'll eat just about anywhere to enjoy food like abuelita used to make. And I don't even have an abuelita.



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