A Texas taco hunt with some crawfish on the side

Published 10:46 pm Saturday, June 2, 2018

My toes pushed hard off the running board of our SUV, sweat dripping from my forehead, as I strained my arm to reach the zipper of our overloaded rooftop carrier. The family and I were heading to a wedding on Lake Conroe, just outside of Houston, Texas. Though the nine-hour trip would likely be arduous with a one and 4-year-old, I was excited about all four kids glimpsing a bit of the U.S. they’d never seen.

Even more exciting was the prospect of crossing the South Texas border and finding a lone taco stand whose authentic flavors would blow the boots off my wife and kids and have us pining to return for weeks on end.

I was a gush with anticipation as we crossed from Louisiana into Texas, entering the promised land. Serendipitously, hunger erupted in our bellies, and my eyes began to peer across the landscape as keen and focused as an old west bandit searching the horizon for the inevitable posse. We passed one stand after another, but my wife shot them all down due to hypothetical safety issues concerning location and exterior shabbiness. I told her she was judgmental and it was what was on the inside that was important, not the outer appearance.

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As we pulled through McDonald’s drive-through, it was disturbingly apparent my wife did not share my affinity for taco hunting. In light of that revelation, I reluctantly ordered a grilled chicken sandwich and angrily discarded the bun in direct rebellion to no one letting me stop at a taco stand.

We soon arrived at our destination, Bentwater Country Club on the north side of Lake Conroe in Montgomery, Texas, taco-less.

Even so, my mood had reverted to a pleasant state as we heartily greeted family and dove headfirst into the wedding festivities. My taco hunt would have to wait.

On Sunday morning, I arose, slightly groggy from the previous evening’s celebration but verily anticipatory re-start of the hunt I was certain would soon ensue. Once again I was disappointed when my mother declared we would all be going to a popular area establishment called Poppas on the Lake.

I was downhearted, but Poppa’s quickly lifted my spirit with its lake-back attitude and exemplary service. The giant pink building of metal and wood housed an atmosphere that was a blend of Panama City meets Texas bikers having an affair with a country club. The view was great, the food was ok — but the crawfish, wow. In my experience, crawfish can be categorized three ways: these suck, these are OK., and these are damn good. Poppa’s crawfish were damn good. They had the perfect blend of flavor and spice that lingered on your lips long after all the heads had been sucked. My only brief relief was to sip on the cool Hopidillo IPA — a Texas-born microbrew I’d fallen in love with since rolling into town. Poppas was a fun time for all ages, but it still didn’t fulfill my lust for roadside taco discovery.

Come Monday morning, cars were packed, and salutations ensued. On the road, again, we were heading to South Alabama and would be utilizing more back roads than before. This would surely be prime taco stand hunting territory. This time, I would not be denied. But once more, as the shabby shacks arose in their decrepit glory, they were again quickly shot down.

I was in a bad state until I noticed every shiny gas station sporting “taco” advertisements alongside the typical fried chicken and pizza fare.

The Taco Stop sign radiated in green and yellow letters from the far-right side of the large cement gas station. Excitement filled my belly with the anticipation of authenticity. Still yet, the possibility of stale unauthentic corporate fare loomed large on my mind. I turned to my wife, begging and pleading for access to what seemed to be a nice, albeit risky, comprise to the taco stand dilemma. She gave me the thumbs up.

I shot into the parking lot and quickly ran inside. As I looked over the Hotbox, a light beam shot through the metal rafters and heavenly voices resounded in song from the ceiling above. It was all homemade, down to the tortillas. I even had to utilize a bit of my butchered Spanish as the older chef, and I had a hard time understanding one another. I hugged her and thanked her for allowing me to partake in what I was certain were protein recipes passed down from generation to generation.

When I got back to the car, my wife was delighted to see the giant smile on my face and relieved my journey was at an end.

I anxiously opened the “pork” taco I’d ordered. I wasn’t exactly sure what type of pork it was – pieces were lost in translation. Biting into the beast, the flavor was phenomenal, but the texture was abysmal. I wondered if it was pork cheeks and took another bite, but there was no meat to be found in the filling. Upon further inspection, to my chagrin, I discovered I was eating soggy pork rinds in a beautiful savory salsa verde.

I, instantly, abhorred my aversion to gelatinous textures, but I’d taken the risk, and I accepted the outcome in the spirit of adventure.

Plus, I was only out four bucks for the two pork rind tacos. The rest of my crew loved their beef and chicken creations, but there would be no weeks on end pining for tacos.

On the bright side, Poppa’s on the Lake left an impression as I am presently pining for some spicy crawfish and Texas-born beer.

Rhes Low lives in Oxford with his wife and kids. Follow him on Instagram @rhesvlow and exploringlife0to20.com