By Jason Gatsby, TSB Chow Hound
While searching for an address in McKinney, I ended up taking a wrong turn and found a genuine “hole in the wall” taqueria on N. Tennessee St. I was suddenly happy about my wrong turn and my eyes lit up at the site of the pale green building that read Taqueria Hernandez. The small building conjured up countless memories of my favorite taquerias and taco trucks in California. As I exited my car, I noticed bars in the windows and a pawnshop across the street. No frills. No outrageous neon signs. No margarita specials, and no chips and salsa. Taqueria Hernandez provides traditional Mexican cuisine; prepared by Hispanics, served by Hispanics and where English is a second language.
Upon entering the Taqueria I realized I was one of three Caucasians in the restaurant. The vast majority of customers being Hispanic only affirmed the legitimacy of Taqueria Hernandez. I closed my eyes and embraced the smell of homemade gorditas, refried beans, and Mexican rice. With two women in the kitchen, one smacking masa between her hands and the other rolling enchiladas, all I wanted to do was enter the kitchen and learn the craft that they have perfected throughout the years.
Speaking Spanish is not required at the taqueria, but it does help. The servers are kind and charming, all while doing their best to accommodate their patrons. The weekends and lunch hours can be uncomfortably busy, so be ready for slower service. All beverages are served either out of a bottle or a can, with the exception of the Agua frescas. Mexican coke ($1.50) in a bottle is a favorite of mine thanks to the real sugar and the absence of high fructose corn syrup. Arritos ($1.75), a naturally flavored Mexican soda and Agua frescas are also available and are particularly refreshing on a hot day.
The menu is small and relatively inexpensive. Specials are offered daily, but sticking with an assortment of Tacos, Sopes, Gorditas, Burritos, and Tostadas is always a safe bet. Hernandez is known for their Menudo ($5.99), a Mexican delicacy, which is a soup made with beef stomach and hominy in a red chili broth. The soup is accompanied with fresh lime, chopped onions, fresh jalapeños, tortillas and chopped cilantro. The beef stomach, known as honeycomb tripe is soft and gelatinous, but be beware, Menudo is not for the faint of heart. If you’re brave enough to order it, season it to your liking with the accompaniments, and don’t forget the tortillas for dipping.
The menudo was not a hit with my fellow diners who were not particularly fond of the texture or the aroma. Like many foreign recipes, it’s an acquired taste.
The tacos, gorditas, and sopes are all under two dollars. The tacos are the most uncomplicated way to experience Mexican food. They come with two homemade tortillas topped with your choice of meat; Barbacoa (Beef Cheek), Bistec (Chopped Steak), Carnitas (Pork), Chicharrones (Pork Belly), Chorizo (Mexican Sausage), Fajita Beef or Chicken, Lengua (tongue), and el Pastor. All tacos are garnished with the classic cilantro and onion.
While there are many options to choose from, Hernandez is commonly out of at least one of the meats. My favorite, the el pastor, is pulled pork that is seasoned with pineapple and onion. It’s the perfect combination of rich succulent meat and a sweet marinade.
Although the carnitas were dry and could have been reconstituted with pork fat, a hefty douse of hot sauce helped and also add some much needed moisture. The barbacoa is essentially barbacoa de cabeza, or barbecued beef cheeks. Similar to el pastor the barbecue provides sweetness to match the gelatinous texture of the beef cheek. If you’re feeling adventurous try the barbecoa or the lengua but the el pastor, chorizo, and fajita meats were our favorites.
Gorditas (“the little fat one”) are delicious corn tortilla pockets filled with your choice of meat and topped with lettuce, sour cream, and cheese. The masa dough is both crisp and soft providing a heartier meal than the tacos.
The flautas ($5.50) and enchiladas ($5.50) are served on a large plate with beans and rice. My eyes continue to assume my stomach is much larger than it really is. After consuming three tacos, a full plate of rich stewed chicken wrapped in homemade tortillas with Mexican rice and beans that have an essence of pork seemed like a bit much, but after one taste I forgot I was beginning to feel full. The enchiladas are not covered in sauce, but rather the tortillas are dipped in a homemade salsa and quickly warmed before being filled with your choice of meat.
Hernandez opens at 9 a.m. every day of the week and serves breakfast daily, but is primarily a lunch spot. The menu is small with four items, but I recommend the Huevos con Chorizo ($4.99), a combination of scrambled eggs and Mexican sausage. Like most people, I leave for work before 9. In turn, I tend to treat Hernandez as more of a weekend brunch spot.
If you’re looking for fried ice cream or sopapillas you’ll have to go somewhere else. They do have popsicles and a gumball machine if your mouth is on fire from consuming too much salsa.
Taqueria Hernandez is all about the food. Don’t go expecting four start service. The entrees most likely won’t come to the table at the same time. There are usually two women in pumping out food to feed the masses, so go ahead – eat when your food arrives and don’t wait for your companions to get their food.
I encourage you to try something new and outside of the box. You may be pushed out of your comfort zone, but that’s what culture is all about.
Over All: 2 and a quarter stars
Food: 2 and a half
Beverages: 1 and a half star
Service: 2 stars Photo: Chicken enchiladas, top photo: Menudo
Atmosphere: 2 and a half stars (originality)
FOUR STARS = Extraordinary; THREE STARS = Excellent; TWO STARS = Good; ONE STAR = Fair; NO STARS = Poor
$ = Inexpensive: entrees $10 and under; $$ = Moderate: $11-$17; $$$ = Expensive: $18-$24; $$$$ = Very Expensive: more than $25