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BROWNSVILLE — Street tacos.
Nothing speaks Mexico so much as the ever present tacos sold along the busy streets of Nuevo Progreso or Saltillo or Morelia or Mexico City.
That’s why Tacos Puente Viejo is such a delight to the eyes and the ears and the palettes of the patrons clustering around the tables. I have never heard of this place but I’m glad I did, one night when I was out Ubering.
My young passenger requested a ride to Tacos Puente Viejo at 2235 Central Blvd. and she spoke excitedly about this new venue, the kind owner and the owner’s plans. She spoke also about the delicious street tacos and the friends she would meet there. This was obviously a favored destination for she and her friends.
I inquired quickly if this was indeed an independently owned establishment, and her answer sealed the deal. This was indeed a place I must visit on my own time to explore and discover it’s enticements, and when I stopped to drop off my passenger and saw the wooden structure with its lights and playful signs, I was even more intrigued.
So, I arrive at Tacos Puente Viejo on a Saturday night while the sun’s presence is still casting a brief reminder of the day it is now leaving behind. I step into a refreshing new color scheme and an innovative layout that I have not seen at least in recent memory.
Spotless white walls and pleasant lighting create a sense of optimism and a joyous and happy time. Neon lights in soft blues and purples spell out playful messages.
“Cuantos voy a pedir hoy?”
Later when I write this story I’m frustrated because I cannot type an upside-down question mark and I think there is nothing worse than a culturally illiterate keyboard. I go on Facebook, though, to find out if my keyboard is indeed culturally illiterate or am I a technologically illiterate writer.
I receive quick answers about symbols and keyboards and am happy that I can now write a correct sentence in Spanish.
“¿Cuantos voy a pedir hoy?”
What a fine experience now to write a correct sentence in Spanish with the upside-down question mark.
The walls have more pleasant signs: “La vida es major con tacos.”
“Life is better with tacos.”
That is certainly true.
There’s a simple and joyous menu at the table with listings of tacos: papas, carne, chicharron, bisteck pastor, deshebrada, etc.
The listing at once reminds me of my favorite taco stand in Saltillo and so does the menu, which in Saltillo is placed on the wall. Technically the stand in Saltillo is indoors, but it has all the energy of a street taco stand. In earlier years the stand was open with no walls and anyone could walk in and out easily, but the pandemic made it necessary to put in walls.
The tacos at Tacos Puente Viejo are very much the same street tacos found across the border, which I appreciate. However, the dining area and its décor have the vibe of a newer place perhaps in the sprawling suburban areas of Saltillo or Morelia, or of perhaps the ever present VIPS found everywhere even in the historical centers.
Street tacos make a fine meal, but I’m having dinner and I think I need something more. In the middle of the taco listing I see a fajita plate and fajita plates always grab my attention. I’m hungry for fajita plates the moment I see them. The mere mention of a fajita plate flips a switch in my head and I can’t not order them.
And so I order the fajita plate and while I wait, I take in more fully my surroundings.
Spanish pop fills the room and a young man and two women are engaging in playful conversation powered by the anticipation of a young Saturday evening. They leave empty plates and head out the door and a woman in a blue shirt and jeans and blonde hair streaming down her face walks in with a phone pressed to her ear. She keeps the phone to her ear even after the waitress brings a tray and places bowls of lime sections and grilled onions.
The woman in the blue and the blonde hair keeps talking into her phone even with the menu staring right at her and I wonder how anyone could think of anything else when looking at a menu with tacos and fajitas.
Meanwhile, an older man and a woman sit quietly and a male waiter speaks to them with familiarity and it appears this newer place already has some regulars.
Now three children and a young woman enter the dining room and gather at the table where the blonde woman in blue finally removes the phone from her ear and engages her new company in animated conversation. They speak in strong Spanish over the menu and quickly place their orders.
All the conversations I’ve heard tonight are in Spanish, from the waiters to the waitresses and the customers. I always appreciate the color and the sound of this language wherever it is spoken, but this Spanish here tonight is fast and articulate and bold and I feel power and the passion of it and I can for a moment the presence of Mexico City all around me and the tacos sellers around the zocalo and a rather funky gal declaring, “Soy una chilanga.”
But I’m not in Mexico City. I am at Tacos Puente Viejo in Brownsville and a plate of sizzling fajitas and onions and green peppers beckons me to start eating.
This has been a fine evening and I eat my fill and head into the night to begin Ubering and meeting new passengers with new stories and new experiences.
The following day I come in for lunch about the time Sunday services have finished, I do see a few people in fine clothes coming in or leaving. This time I order two tacos pastor and two tacos deshebrada. They arrive at my table within the same time period as my taco stand in Saltillo on the same kind of plate.
For a moment I’m in Saltillo enjoying my tacos and listening to the old man playing his guitar.