July 1, 2022

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Introducing Marco Torres, Chron’s new taco columnist

7 min read

When I first met Marco Torres, at a Mexican restaurant in the Heights, he introduced himself in a way that stuck with me. “Hi, I’m Marco, taco journalist,” he said, pointing to a tattoo on his arm of a taco inside the state outline of Texas. Let’s just say, I knew who to hit up when the idea of bringing on a taco columnist at Chron came up.

Torres, 41, is a freelance photographer and writer who covers food, music and entertainment in Houston, where he grew up and where he calls home. To locals who know him and have followed his work for years, especially on social media, he’s known simply as Marco from Houston.

Today, we’re introducing “Tacos y Más,” a biweekly column where Torres will tell the story of the city through the lens of tacos and Mexican food. But first, let us introduce the man himself.

How exactly does one become a ‘taco journalist’?

I’ve been training for this my whole life. I’ve been eating tacos and eating Mexican food because that’s all we had. We weren’t extremely poor, but we weren’t anywhere near rich either. There was no going out to eat, there was food at home, you know: tortillas and arroz and frijoles and carne and sopas, all kinds of really good home cooking on the Mexican side from my parents and from my grandparents. And I never saw it like: Why can’t I go out to Pizza Hut? Why can’t I go to McDonald’s? I never saw it as a bad thing. We were being treated to food at home that other people have to go out to eat to experience.

The idea of being a taco journalist really solidified when I was hired to do the “Tacos of Texas” book. I met Mando Rayo, one of the authors, in Miami at a marketing and advertising conference for Hispanic professionals. We had a lot of mutual friends in the taco world. We got to talking, and he saw that I was about the taco life. I was always making sure I was supporting small businesses and going to my local taquerias and taco trucks and supporting that area of Houston.

And you never get tired of tacos?


Obviously Houston is so diverse and we have every international cuisine available to us. I’ve eaten all kinds of cuisines, but man, my go-to is still Mexican food and tacos. That’s still on my dinner table, three or four days out of the week. I’ll throw in some pho here and there, you know, some barbecue. But most of the time it’s going to be Mexican food and tacos, it’s just part of who I am.

I was born in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, which is right across the border from Brownsville, Texas. Some of my favorite tacos are from Matamoros: biftek tacos with fresh queso and aguacate are amazing. We came to Houston, I might have been one, maybe two, started out in the East End over by Canal Street, then moved to Navigation over by the original Ninfa’s. We stayed there until my brother and sister were born, then our family moved to the Northside, and we’ve been there ever since.

Rosa Maria "Rosie" Torres holds her son, Marco Torres, in an archival family photo. Rosie was a big inspiration for Torres, both in food and in life.

Rosa Maria “Rosie” Torres holds her son, Marco Torres, in an archival family photo. Rosie was a big inspiration for Torres, both in food and in life.

Courtesy of Marco Torres

How did you start your career?
 
I studied international studies and business administration, and minored in theology, at the University of St. Thomas. I always thought I’d be traveling overseas, working on contracts, oil and gas, things like that. The photography kind of just snuck up on me. After I graduated school and was working, I picked up a camera at age 24 or 25 and just fell in love with it.

Who did the cooking when you were growing up?
 
Mostly my mother. My mother always worked, but she would always come home and make sure we had a good meal. I would say the majority of the cooking in my life has been from my mother and my grandmother and my tías. They were probably the biggest influences. I’m definitely not a cook, I’m more of an eater. But I would always help my mother and grandmother prepare things, cutting things up. I could flip the tortillas. I wouldn’t be able to make them from scratch but, you know, I can flip them to make sure they’re well done. I was always the help.

Now that my mom passed, my dad actually knows how to cook pretty well. My dad is one of 10 kids and I think he’s the oldest or the second oldest, so he was always cooking for his siblings. Right now I live with him. Mostly, he gets up before I do and when I get up, he’s making breakfast. I try to handle lunch or dinner.
 
What do you think makes a good taco?
 
It comes down to three things, what we call the Holy Trinity. A tortilla first of all, the proteins or the veggies or whatever you’re using, and then the salsa.

If the tortilla is homemade or even bought from a local tortilleria, and they’re really well made, man, it just elevates the tacos so much. On the other hand, if you’re using subpar tortillas, your fillings have to be above average or excellent. And your salsas have to complement that. It depends on how spicy you want it, if you want more of a creamy or if you want it more smoky, whatever complements your proteins or your veggies the most. It’s all about balance. Those are the three things that make a good taco.

Corn or flour tortillas?
 
Over the years, I’ve preferred corn, especially now that I know how good corn can be with nixtamalized tortillas and making masa. When we go to Mexico, you go and get like half a kilo of tortillas for the day, and you eat those that day and if you have any left over, you make migas in the morning. You don’t keep them in the fridge, there’s no preservatives in those tortillas. Everything is made fresh and made to eat that day.

But I do love myself some flour tortillas. It depends what you’re eating—obviously eggs and bacon or eggs and papás, breakfast style, a lot of people especially in Texas like the flour tortillas. There’s also a big range of flour tortillas: Tex-Mex style, which is the thick and fluffy tortilla, then you have the more northern Mexican style, which is what my mother and my grandmother used to make. They were thinner, so they would roll easier. Slap some frijoles on them and some queso and just roll it up and eat it like that.

Lazaro Antonio Torres (left) and his son, Marco Torres. Chron's new columnist is known on social media as "Marco from Houston"—people jokingly call Torres senior "Dad from Houston."

Lazaro Antonio Torres (left) and his son, Marco Torres. Chron’s new columnist is known on social media as “Marco from Houston”—people jokingly call Torres senior “Dad from Houston.”

Courtesy of Marco Torres

What kinds of stories can we expect from your “Tacos y Más” column?

Obviously, we’re gonna have to talk about the food, but taco journalism is not just about the food. It’s more about the people who are making the food, the people who are inspiring where that taco is coming from, how your family and how your history affected what you’re doing now as a taquero, as a restaurant owner, as a chef, what led you to making me this plate of tacos.

Like myself, people don’t always end up doing whatever they went to school for. Some of these taqueros, this is like their second or third thing that they’re doing in life, and all of a sudden they’re doing something amazing with the food. It’s not just about making money. It’s about really caring about the culture, really caring about the history and the impact that food has on us.

What do you think is the place of tacos, and Mexican food in general, in the fabric of Houston’s culture?

Like everything nowadays, the availability of social media, the advent of websites and non-print publications—when somebody’s doing something great, more eyes are on them. I think right now, Mexican food and tacos are having a resurgence as people see it as a choice: Okay, what am I going to eat in Houston today? Am I going to go eat pho or tacos or crawfish? People are being adventurous and curious to go to taco trucks and Mexican restaurants that maybe they wouldn’t go to before.

On the other hand, I always tell people this is nothing new to me, as a Mexican, or to us as a culture. We’ve been eating tacos and tortillas for literally centuries, if not millennia, but now we have the ability to share it with more people. And that’s the beauty of tacos and Mexican food right now.

“Tacos y Más” by Marco Torres will drop every other Thursday on Chron.



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