The Tyler Loop Taco Tour: La Michoacana Meat Market

For our second Tyler Loop taco tour outing, we hit La Michoacana Meat Market on Beckham. The local franchise of this popular Texas meat and grocery chain opened here in 2003, and it’s been an anchor of northeast Tyler’s Hispanic barrio ever since. The original La Michoacana was founded in Houston in 1986, and today, with nearly 140 stores across the state, it’s the largest Hispanic supermarket brand in the U.S.

Joining Chris and myself were some excellent Loop readers with diverse tastes and backgrounds:

Needhi Vedartham is a co-organizer of the local networking startup Embark Women and a recent grad of U.T. Tyler’s Master of Electric Engineering program. She came to Tyler in 2015 as an international student from India, and is the brave sole vegetarian to join our taco panel.

A truly terrible picture of this week’s taco panel.

Marc Loredo has lived in Tyler since the mid-90s and is active on several local nonprofit boards, including the Hispanic Professionals Association of Tyler. He’s a self-described taco snob, “raised on my abuelita’s homemade tacos,” and a founder of last year’s inaugural Dia de Los Muertos event in Tyler.

Joffre “JD” Meyer is a semi-retired writing teacher who taught at Texas College for many years. A local advocate for Tyler Transit, he doesn’t drive or own a car. He’s written about Tyler tacos in the past, and recommended La Michoacana to us.

On to the food!

Driving past La Michoacana on Beckham Avenue, you may not realize there’s a full-fledged taco bar and several other sit-down dining options inside. Ethnic grocery stores often double as casual destinations for fresh authentic fare, and the hot bar at Michoacana includes several appealing guisados, or stews, along with spiced taco meats.

The hot bar at La Michoacana

A word about ordering tacos at La Michoacana: if you’ve never been or don’t speak Spanish, it can be a bit confusing at first. Here’s how to do it.

Start at the cash registers, where, along with the meat counter, you can communicate easily in English. Let the cashier know how many tacos you want and whether you want corn or flour tortillas; don’t worry about fillings yet.

The cashier will take your payment and hand you an order slip. Go over to the hot bar and hand it to someone behind the counter. Note that not everyone working in the dining area speaks English, but your order slip is all they need to get your plate started. If there’s a line, it may be a few minutes before they come back to you.

The dining area at La Michoacana

When you’re up, let them know what kinds of fillings you want. Options include the usual favorites — carnitas, barbacoa, carne asada, etc. — but you can also ask for one of the rich, saucy meat stews in your taco. If something looks good but you don’t know what it’s called, just point. At $1 to $1.50 per taco, experimentation isn’t overly risky.

Vegetarians could ask for beans (“satisfying and filling,” says Needhi) or nopalitos, aka diced, spiced, and sautéed cactus. Beware that the cactus packs serious heat; Needhi dug into some emergency flan halfway through her taco. But she called it “surprisingly tasty” and would recommend, as long as you’ve got something cooling on hand.

Barbacoa also got high marks here from our tasters. Marc called it “very tender and juicy, not too salty nor greasy.” JD suggests adding nopalitos and shredded cabbage from the self-serve toppings bar to your barbacoa for extra texture and crunch.

Overall, our tasters expressed more interest in La Michoacana as a supermarket and meat counter than a taqueria. Marc’s family already shops here regularly, and Chris and I are likely to start. The store is bright and cheery, impeccably clean, and has a great array of Mexican and Central American ingredients, marinated and fresh meats, and attractive produce. Storemade salsas, breads and pastries, and desserts also caught my eye; the generous, comforting slice of tres leches cake I grabbed for dessert on our way out was the highlight of my meal.

Our next Taco Tour stop is El Norteño Restaurant on the other end of the barrio. In the meantime, read more about how Tyler’s northeast Hispanic barrio came to be, and the role La Michoacana has played in U.S. consumers’ growing taste for goat over the years.

And if you visit the taco bar at La Michoacana, or enjoy tacos anywhere in Tyler, please snap a pic on Instagram and tag it #tylerlooptacotour!

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Tasneem Raja is the Executive Editor of The Tyler Loop, a nonprofit journalism startup that explores policy, history, and demographics in Tyler, Texas. She is an award-winning journalist who has reported for NPR, The New Yorker, the Atlantic, Mother Jones, and other national outlets. A former senior editor at NPR, she launched a popular podcast exploring issues of identity and race with NPR's Code Switch team. At Mother Jones, she specialized in data visualization and led a team that built the first-ever database of mass shootings in America. She's a pioneer in the field of data-driven digital storytelling, a frequent speaker on issues of digital journalism, and a die-hard fan of alt weeklies, where she got her start as a local reporter. She lives in Tyler with her husband, her stepson, and two imperious terriers.
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