Out front of La Banqueta three panhandlers sat in the sun. One asked me for change, while another cleaned his fingernails with the corner of a scratch-off lottery card. The third sat silently and gazed out towards Bryan Street. Inside the restaurant, a flat grill belched heat while a mountain of red pork steamed away on one side, and a smaller mound of chicken cooked on the other.
I wanted the pastor, but the short man working that counter said I couldn't have it, so I ordered three suadero tacos before I changed my order to five. (They looked small.) Then I grabbed two mineral waters from the reach-in tucked around the corner. It was hot and I was thirsty. Today would be a day of excess.
The first mineral water was gone in an instant. The second was about half spent when my tacos arrived, fanned out on a plate like daisy petals with two limes where the yellow center should be. I picked up one of the wedges and gave it a firm squeeze and watched it rain acid as I drew circles over the plate. I picked up one of the small double-stacked tortillas and took a first bite, a bite so large nearly half a taco disappeared.
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It was salty: good salty and sparsely seasoned. The brisket wasn't muddied with too much cumin or other spices but flavored simply by the heat of that flat grill instead. Some pieces were tender and fatty, others had a bit of chew, and still more had gotten to know the hot metal more intimately, rendering down into crunchy, desiccated bits of salty meat like brisket bacon.
With the first bite gone, my games began. A second bite, laced with a creamy green salsa and the first taco disappeared. Then I drew and arc of fiery red salsa and another taco vanished. "I use them both at the same time," said Shea, the dude sitting next to me who fancied himself a connoisseur. We'd been talking tacos and Tijuana while we waited for our meals. His idea was a good one and another taco disappeared.
It was the fourth taco that got me, sitting there at a tiny bar attached to a wall on one side of the taqueria while the cooks worked on the other. The place was the size of a business card. A woman fished massive pieces of prickly tripe like hedgehogs from a boiling pot, while two other workers took orders and made little mounds of meat inside Styrofoam containers. I realized there would be no fifth brisket taco. My belly was full of brisket and fizz.
As I rose in defeat I saw strips of onion had been added to the mountain of pork. I couldn't have the pastor, because the pastor wasn't ready. That's OK, though -- another taco for another time.