Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Tacos of DeSoto Park

Posted By on Wed, Jul 23, 2008 at 2:27 PM

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In this week's feature story about St. Louis' Latin American soccer league, I briefly mention the Hispanic cuisine to be found on Sundays at North St. Louis' DeSoto Park.

Here's what I had to say in the article:

The smell of Mexican food wafts across DeSoto Park, emanating from food vendors who, on soccer Sundays, throw up tents around the fields to cater to hungry players and their families.

With a propane-powered griddle for warming tortillas and a barbecue to grill large cuts of flank steak, one family cooks authentic asada tacos: They chop the meat into small pieces on a wooden block and sprinkle it with onions and cilantro. Others sell traditional Mexican street fare including bags of fresh fruit and chicharrones -- crisp-fried pork skins.

After the jump, more about tacos at DeSoto Park...

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All told, there are about five different food vendors that set up shop at the park each Sunday, usually starting at about 10 a.m. and closing around 5 p.m.

The asada tacos to which I refer are made by a family who sets up on the main field, the one closer to Carr St., along N 20th. I spoke with them briefly but they were hesitant to give out much information about themselves. They said they'd been selling food there each Sunday for the past five years and that they don't have a restaurant anywhere around town.

The man who operates the grill is named Tonio (as in Antonio) and he barbecues like a champion, managing about 15 different cuts of flank steak at once. He pulls the meat off with tongs and finely chops it on a wooden block with a cleaver. Either his son (who is a spitting image of the old man) or daughter fills the tacos while his wife manages a stack of tortillas on the griddle. They sell for $2.50 each.

I love tacos. A lot. These are hands down the best I've had since moving to St. Louis a year ago. The meat is lean but still sweet with grease, and they have the cilantro/onion ratio in the garnish down pat.

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They also sell tacos de chicharron, al pastor, cabeza, and pollo (pictured, with hunks of garlic and onions in the pan). Of these, I only sampled the pollo, which was good but not as fresh or savory as the asada. The other three are cooked beforehand and kept warm in a crock-pot. I was skeptical of the cabeza left simmering all day in the pot.

There is another taco stand located just up the way from the first along the second field. They just started selling about three weeks ago so I didn't get a chance to try their product. All I can say is their set up is nowhere near as impressive as Tonio's. They sell asada, al pastor, cabeza, and lengua.

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I can't leave out the popular mobile fruit vendor (pictured) who will ask you if you want cayenne pepper sprinkled on your fresh fruit. Say yes, it's a sweet/spicy combo that's strangely delicious, especially on the mangos.

Finally, there's a group that sets up on Carr St. which sells chicharrones and raspados (snow cones). Both of these were pretty standard, but there's nothing like a cold snow cone on a hot day. Test your Spanish knowledge by guessing the flavors on their sign.

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- Keegan Hamilton

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