Watching the slow expansion of a Houston-area Mexican dining establishment is one of the joys of long-term life in the metropolis. Today, La Mexicana is an institution in the Montrose area, complete with three indoor and one outdoor eating areas and a bar. On my first visit there, in the 1980s, it was a cramped grocery store with four tables. Little by little, as the reputation of its delicious offerings spread in first the immediate and then the surrounding communities, La Mexicana grew into the bustling restaurant with the palapa hut out front Houston (and savvy diners nationwide) knows and loves today.
You can see that process in action at El Gavilan Taqueria in East Aldine. In only three years since opening, the original yellow taco truck has sprouted not just a shade canopy but now also has four walls, a reach-in refrigerator, a small bar, and a cash register. While the setup is now more like that of a breezy icehouse or Mexican beach bar than a true restaurant — the large windows have yet to be filled with glass panes — full-on enclosure seems gratuitous. After all, El Gavilan (Spanish for “sparrowhawk”) has landed in one of the prettiest and most peaceful perches in Harris County — the front lawn of a park-sized residential lot directly across Aldine-Westfield from East Aldine’s own Shangri-La: Keith-Wiess Park. The taqueria is set well back from that busy thoroughfare and shaded by two fragrant magnolia trees — time passes most peacefully as you wait for your order to be freshly prepared.
Beans and seven meats comprise the fillings of their tacos, burritos, tortas and gorditas, and you can get flour, corn or handmade corn tortillas. We opted for the handmade corn for two carne asada gorditas and a plate of tacos al pastor, which come accompanied not by beans but instead by a sprinkling of fried potatoes, one of which accidentally found its way into one of my tacos with the happy result of me discovering that I like a couple of papas fritas in a taco al pastor. Speaking of that al pastor, El Gavilan’s recipe calls for a chunkier pork preparation than most taquerias; the Sparrowhawk’s variety melted in your mouth in a darker red spice mix than normal. The gorditas come with sliced onions and tomatoes and shredded lettuce on the side and El Gavilan offers two kinds of green salsa: the tomatillo-based type and the thicker, spicier yellowish green sauce often doled out in squeeze bottles at popular chains like Arandas. (As usual, we preferred that variety — tacos al pastor with that salsa and a generous squeeze from a juicy lime is perhaps my favorite food.)
All of it was delicious, if a bit on the pricey side for a semi-enclosed taqueria: $19 for the five-taco / papas fritas plate and two thick gorditas, but with the appetite we’d worked up hiking Keith-Wiess’s lake trails we didn’t mind paying an extra dollar or three, especially because this establishment does little to take you out of that tranquil state of mind the park puts you in. (Other specialties of the house include roast chickens, hamburguesas Mexicanas, and homemade tamales.)
Dine-in is already available here, and if you are prepared to take that step in the pandemic, I can think of few better places to do so, thanks to its lack of enclosure (eating in is practically a picnic) and the fact that it was not crowded in the slightest on our visit. In addition to to-go orders, El Gavilan offers delivery via Grubhub and Doordash.
Taqueria El Gavilan
12225 Aldine Westfield Rd
Houston, TX 77093