The best way to discover that mom-and-pop taquerias are your happy place is to move to Texas. Or Manassas. Since leaving Houston, I’ve become enchanted with the Mexican-restaurant-heavy neighborhoods of Prince William County. Need a mangonada? They’ve got ‘em. Lots of them. Panaderias? You’re in luck.
But my favorite slice of Tex-Mex life that I’ve found so far in Virginia is at La Jarochita, a one-stop shop for bread, tacos and pastries in a shopping center on Grant Avenue in Manassas. How did I know it was the real deal? Check out this menu:
Yep, had I been so inclined, I could have had a taco filled with eyes or lips. I was hoping to see the rotating trompo that I knew they had, but the counter staffer told me in Spanish that it wouldn’t be turning until the next day. I still ordered an al pastor taco, as well as tacos filled with beef barbacoa and a pork carnitas too. I was delighted that I was also able to get a Topo Chico, the Mexican mineral water that was my staple in Texas.
It turned out that, despite its deep-red color and a pleasant hint of cinnamon, the pork in the al pastor was the least exciting of my taco fillings. The barbacoa burned brightly with a chile-heavy braising liquid that kept the meat moist (but thankfully not drippy) inside its pair of griddled corn tortillas. But my favorite was the fatty, crispy pork of the carnitas, simple enough, with a squeeze of lime and a topping of onions and cilantro, to be a perfect blank canvas for the zippy green salsa and smoky red one that came with the tacos.
Finding serious street tacos is a major coup, but when I can finish the meal with a legit piece of tres leches cake, my week is made. I chose the chocolate flavor, topped with light, foamy cream and filled with more of the same, as well as sweet and tangy jam. The texture struck the perfect balance between moist and fluffy, with nary a hint of the soggy, wet-cake burst of milk that I try to avoid when tasting that style of cake. No question, I was in my happy place.
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