I remember my dad stepping into my grandma’s house, holding several large brown paper bags. That’s a pretty vivid vision. I remember everyone being excited. I remember seeing everyone in the house suddenly scramble for plates or napkins or at the very least a place to sit. I remember my mom calling for me to come get my food. I remember tearing open the aluminum foil the way I tore open wrapping paper at Christmas. I remember this exact scenario playing out over and over again, with different faces, different plates, different tastes, and different locations, but I always remember relishing it. And even though now, more often than not, it’s me or my friends walking in holding the large brown paper bags, I still relish and light up a smile whenever I have Taqueria Del Sol.
Growing up, my family didn’t eat out much. It wasn’t for economic reasons or anything like that, it just wasn’t something we did. When we did eat out, it was often because my sister and I begged for McDonald’s, usually based on whatever toys they happened to be giving away. We were just happy with the admittedly delicious and prepared-just-right dinners my mom or occasionally dad cooked up. But nobody wants to be in a kitchen ALL the time, not even my Master Chef stay-at-home mom. And then there were the family gatherings, and while I grew up on a regular diet of fajitas and carne asada, it simply couldn’t be done at every birthday party or holiday or just-because-it’s-Saturday. I remember my dad often suggesting we order out from Del Sol, I remember the idea catch on like wildfire. And that’s because the food was always delicious, satisfying, affordable, and perfect.
It still is.
I’m your very modern, very run-of-the-mill twenty something. I have a job, I have a hobby, I have a social life. By virtue of those things, I have regular outings with friends at whatever new trendy places open up, or at the very least a few regular drink spots. Heck, ever since I’ve started this writing gig, I’ve gone and visited new places out of sheer necessity, approaching restaurants like one would approach his or her office. The dining booth is my cubicle, the menu is my memo, the plate is my assignment, and I’m very good at my job. Going to new places, trying new things, having new experiences, that’s what my job is about. That’s what this very website is about! But it’s easy to forget that “new” means “new to me”, and more importantly “new” doesn’t always mean “now”. I sometimes forget that the local places I’ve known about all my life are just as viable for exposure on this site as whatever Johnny Come Lately places pop up around Houston. It sounds cheesy and may very well be misinterpreted by others when I say this, but Taqueria Del Sol is a pillar of my upbringing, and is now, just like back then, held in my highest regards as a favorite of mine.
Look, no place will ever be all things to all people. That’s just reality. But Taqueria Del Sol is one of the few places that I will tell everyone, everywhere, you just have to visit. Some love it, most like it, few deride it. But I tell EVERYONE to go. And that’s because it truly is affordable, well-prepared, unashamed Mexican comfort food. From the very moment of walking in through the front door, the sights and scents of cooks frying up a juicy bouquet of meats slams your senses. The very air of this cozy establishment is mouth-watering, enticing all patrons to step up a little bit closer, let eyes wander a little bit further, and (on some of the busier times) wait a little bit longer for the payoff.
Nothing on this menu is unique. It’s all stuff you see plastered on every menu of every Mexican restaurant in every city, ever. You’ll find flautas, essentially a crispy taco rolled as narrow as a tortilla will roll. You’ll find enchiladas. You’ll find dinner plates, you’ll find gorditas, you’ll find burritos, you’ll find tacos. The vital difference here between Del Sol and other Mexican places is, while those dishes are normally reserved as the “safe” choices for less adventurous eaters, Del Sol makes them stars. Everything is made with affection, with nothing but unbridled, unhindered taste in mind. And it doesn’t even start with the entree; it starts the very moment your server brings you the complimentary tortilla chips and salsa. Oh, the salsa! Rarely does the salsa stick around long enough for the ordering of actual dishes, often vanishing before everyone’s eyes as the relentless diving kamikaze tortilla chip assault from all hands at the table scoops mound after mound after savory mound of the red flavor explosion. And even once the once bountiful mound of chips in the bowl has been reduced to crumbs, and the inevitable request for more chips and salsa has been placed, and even going beyond all that and actually ordering the dishes, the flavorful tide just keeps coming.
The menu is, as expected, split into dinner plates and a la carte entrees. Every entree is tasty, I can personally attest to. Still tasty, but admittedly far less memorable, sides of beans (ranchero or refried) and rice accompany the dinner plates. I’ve come to more or less live on the a la carte side, picking based on my particular cravings for that day (and often, going against all kinds of better health judgment, order a mix of different items). Everything I’ve ever had here is a winner, and I don’t make that bold of a statement lightly. The tortas, Mexican style sandwiches, come between a bolillo bun, grilled alongside the meats. This allows for the bun retaining some of the juicy, flavorful oils of the meat itself, giving the bun a savory taste and crunch of its own, not to mention a little bit of a tantalizing sheen (you’ll find the vast majority of the dishes here are, for lack of a better word, shiny). And that’s good, because the sandwich comes with your choice of meat and a slathering of sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, and guacamole. The burritos, massive and stuffed to the point of bursting, are filled with your choice of meat and a veritable dinner plate’s worth of rice, beans, and cheese, with lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and sour cream on the side. The gorditas are the most napkin-wasting dish of them all, with every succulent bite creating a flood of the meats’ oils, cascading down hands and wrists and falling to the plate. The truth is, I can go and on. The tacos are amazing. The quesadillas are heavenly. And please, for the love of God, never forget to order and try the OTHER red and green salsas. But nothing I can write, no words on this article will live up to the joy of that first bite. Or second. Or third. Or even your last, as you walk out towards the entrance only to catch the aroma coming from the adjacent Del Sol bakery, Panaderia Del Sol. I probably should’ve mentioned that earlier. And you’ll be able to, since the majority of these dishes mentioned here range at about $5. That’s not a typo. I’m not omitting anything. For a table of five, you’d be hard pressed to exceed a $30 tab. It’s an amazing feat of quality, economics, and sorcery.
I don’t know if I have a favorite restaurant. I don’t know if I ever will. But I often get asked to choose somewhere I would go if I could only ever have ONE place to go. And maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe it’s my dad’s influence, as Del Sol is his answer to that very question. Maybe it’s the sense of home away from home I get from here. Maybe it’s the simple joy of the large brown paper bag.
Whatever it is, my answer to that question is, at least from the age of 8 or so up to my current 27 years, Taqueria Del Sol.