If you want to buy a cheap, wood-frame house, and you don’t mind living in the shadow of the largest merchant producer of foundry coke in the United States, then Tarrant is a good option for you.
There are plenty homes for sale in this part of Alabama for under $40k.With all this cheap housing, Tarrant serves as a sort of de facto blue collar bedroom community for nearby Birmingham.
Enter the taco truck scene. If you’re working in a steel foundry, driving a coal truck, or running a piledriver you need three squares a day, and you need them to be hot, fast and cheap.
My home, New Orleans is the finest eating city in the U.S but you’d starve to death here if you held out for good Mexican food. There is none.
So when I pointed north toward the Deep South last month, I was firmly vectored in on eating multiple tacos on my brief visit.Tarrant did not disappoint.
My first stop was Los Primos, an outsider fantasy art dream of an old lunch wagon with a vaquero embracing a maiden painted on the backside. A rangy group of military guys is on queue with most men getting a half dozen tacos apiece to tide them over til they can hit the mess hall for supper.
The asada taco will not leave you misty eyed for the late night street tacos of Ciudad Acuña anytime soon. The meat has been chopped so fine that it removes the signature chew of good beef steak.The carnitas are another matter altogether. The pork has been carefully roasted then shredded so there are little crispy bits mixed with the tender flossy strands. Cilantro and onion are standard garnish, and each taco comes wrapped in doubled-up, store-bought corn tortillas.
Service is smiling, and carefree. The gals in the truck are happy to be making food for a big group of hungry Americans. All the good old boys holler their compliments as they wolf down their lunch, and peel out of the parking lot in their Dodge and Ford pickup trucks.
My coyote (tourist guide) beckons me back to the car with promise of another truck just up the road a piece “Not quite as good but definitely worth a visit” he claims.Gorditas Mary served me one of the finest al pastor tacos I’ve ever put in my mouth. Anywhere.
Al pastor is tricky. You have to give it a thorough marinade for the flavor to penetrate the pork shoulder but if you leave it in too long the meat gets shaggy from the brine. Gorditas Mary walks the tightrope with aplomb. The pork here is juicy and redolent with achiote and pineapple. Unfortunately the tortillas are store bought but when the meat tastes this good I don’t even care.
A lengua taco is not of the same caliber as the al pastor.The counter lady is all smiles as she busys herself taking orders and firing off tacos, and gorditas out of the service window. At the end of the meal she inquires as to her skill, and as we broadly compliment her she blushes gratefully.
Tarrant is the wild, wild west. Drug dealing is common and done out in the open. Gun fights are frequent, hookers brazenly walk the side streets, and the big coke plant puts off giant, intense flares when the company brass sees fit to burn off some emissions.There also happens to be a thriving immigrant community carving out their version of the American dream. They’re resourceful, bootstrapped operators running hard for up to 16 hours a day selling tacos for a couple bucks apiece under the hot Alabama sun, and the evening’s fall.
Alabama’s food scene is all the better for it.
1400 Pinson Valley Parkway
1800 Pinson Valley Parkway