First Look at La Calle

Downtown's newest restaurant specializes in Mexico City style tacos and more

Downtown's newest restaurant brings Mexico City style tacos and more

La Calle downtown tacos
Gringo tacos come loaded. Photo by Eric Sandler
La Calle downtown tacos
Customers can watch their tacos being assembled. Photo by Eric Sandler
La Calle downtown tacos
An order of five street tacos costs less than $10. Photo by Eric Sandler
La Calle downtown tacos
A wall of TVs plays Telenovelas. Photo by Eric Sandler
La Calle downtown tacos
Tortas can be ordered with two different meats. Photo by Eric Sandler
La Calle downtown tacos
Tostada with shrimp ceviche Photo by Eric Sandler
La Calle downtown tacos
La Calle downtown tacos
La Calle downtown tacos
La Calle downtown tacos
La Calle downtown tacos
La Calle downtown tacos

Houston may have a wealth of taco options — everything from high-profile imports like Torchy’s and Velvet Taco to homegrown taco trucks like Tierra Caliente and El Ultimo (to name two of hundreds of options) — but the dish’s popularity means new restaurants can always garner attention with a creative twist or two. A new restaurant in downtown Houston wants to bring authentic, Mexican-style tacos and gringo tacos together under one roof.

La Calle Tacos and Tortas is the first restaurant from Mexico City native Ramon Soriano Tomka, who brings a wealth of experience in the restaurant business from chains like Burger King, TGI Friday’s, and Joe’s Crab Shack. Tomka tells CultureMap that he hasn’t found a restaurant in Houston that faithfully recreates the tacos he eats at street stands when he’s in Mexico.

“You can find taco trucks which will serve authentic tacos, and that’s what I want to do in an establishment,” Tomka says. “I brought recipes from the best taco stands I know. I was born and raised over there, so I took the carnitas from one place, a marinade I really like from another.”

The one-time home of Hong Kong Diner on Franklin Street has been transformed to mimic the street stands that inspired La Calle. A stuffed dog hangs out over the dining room, and a wall of vintage TVs displays telenovelas. It's bright, kitschy, and fun.

Almost everything at La Calle is made in house. For example, the carnitas are made by combining roasted pork shoulder with rib meat. Aquas frescas are made from whole fruit and real sugar instead of fruit purees and cheaper corn syrup. Pillowy, fluffy flour tortillas are housemade, but the corn tortillas are not — Tomka says housemade corn tortillas don’t hold up well for to-go orders.

Those ingredients get utilized in the very straightforward menu. Choose a protein (carnitas, asada, chicken, pastor, barbarcoa, shrimp ceviche, or nopales) and a starch (corn or flour tortillas, torta, tostada, or a plate with rice and beans). Starters include elotes, ceviche, and chips with either guacamole or salsa.

Prices are reasonable: five corn tortillas that can be mix and matched with a different meats (say, two chicken and three barbacoa) cost about $9. Even the tortas can be half one meat and half another. Each style comes with recommended toppings, but diners can customize as they wish.

“We recommend people have the default ingredients. If someone wants something else, they just ask for it,” Tomka says. Each dish also comes with the option of “pilon.”

“Pilon is a word that we use a lot in Mexico. The translation would be ‘baker’s dozen,’” Tomka explains. “It’s a little extra. If you want some guac, some rice, beans, whatever, you just tell them. They add it. There’s no extra charge.”

That’s right. In a world  where guacamole is always “a little extra,” La Calle serves it for free. Diners nursing a hangover can also ask for a cup of soup made with the braising liquid from the barbacoa for no charge.

Instead of eating at La Calle to recover, diners can also eat there to try to head off a bad morning. The restaurant stays open until 3 am Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, which makes it a perfect last stop after imbibing at the bars around Market Square and on Main Street.

Ultimately, Tomka says he'd like to have 10 or so La Calles scattered around the Houston-area, but he's starting small. So far, diners seem to be responding. Tomka says he had one customer come in five days in a row, which just goes to show that even though Houstonians have many high-quality taco options, there's always room for one more — if it's good.