I didn't want to get too excited by the prospect of a burger smothered in pork al pastor cooked trompo-style, on the traditional vertical skewer you see revolving on many a Mexican street corner. The multi-layered wedge of pork piled onto the trompo is painted with a bright red achiote daub and secured by a whole pineapple, which oozes juice onto the meat as it twirls slowly on its axis.
It's tempting for Houstonians to romanticize pork al pastor cooked that way .
The trompo method is rare here, hemmed in by health regulations. The setup breathes outdoorsy cool. But while the results can be swell, they are just as often disappointing. Pork from a trompo can be dried out from long cooking or aggressively overseasoned, the way I've found it to be at Tacos del Julio, a Monterrey-style joint I really want to like, especially since there's one near my house. No go.
So I was delighted to find that the pork al pastor strewn across the summit of my Trompi-Burger at Taqueria La Macro, a promising new spot on the near northside, at the intersection of North Main and Hogan, shared none of those too-common drawbacks. The trompo meat gave the burger a personality that added up to way more than the sum of its parts. Please allow me to break it down for you:
*PRICE: Trompi-Burger $4.99; large mango agua fresca $1.85.
*ORDERING: Table service all the way. Find a seat inside the neat, bright dining room (pausing to ogle the trompo turning behind a glass shield), or take a seat at one of the sidewalk tables for an al fresco meal.
*ARCHITECTURE: No salad stuff. On a fat round griddle-toasted bun goes an irregularly shaped ground beef patty topped with melted white cheese, caramelized onions and a wiggly pile of pork al pastor sliced off the trompo into strips. On the side is a key ingredient to cut up and add to taste: a whole jalapeño toreado.
*QUALITY: Okay, this isn't the greatest ground beef, and mine had such a char to its crust, and such a well-done interior, that any juices had fled. But wonder of wonders: the combo of the deeply savory pork, the elemental beef, the melting bronzed sweetness of the onions and the salty ooze of cheese clicked for me on some primal level.
I ended up wolfing my Trompi-Burger, squirting on a hit of hot tart green salsa and adding sharp bits of roasted jalapeño as I went, speculating on how it would taste with some sliced avocado (which they'll willingly add to anything here for a surcharge). Even the fact that the beef-to-bread ratio tilted noticeably to the latter did not deter me from looking around for more once I had devoured every bite. Indeed, I was so jazzed that I actually sank to eating a number of the frozen french fries dunked in ketchup.
*GRADE: B plus. Cook the burger a little less and it would creep into A territory by virtue of its overall charisma.
*OOZE RATING: No drippage whatsoever.
*BONUS POINTS: Lovely mango agua fresca in a generous tumbler, delicate and full of fruit flavor at once — the perfect subtropical adjunct to the Trompi-Burger. Just as importantly, service so cheerful and attentive it made the crisp fall day seem even sunnier. And yes, beer is available.
*MINUS POINTS: Forgettable frozen French fries. Too-powerful air conditioning, which made the dining room uncomfortably chilly. And music that was far too loud, a condition made more painful because it consisted of particularly profane and misogynistic rap. My friend and I ended up retreating to a sidewalk table, where it was warmer and quieter.
*LOCAL COLOR: There's a down-to-earth northside bustle animating the scene here, with lots of customers from the mostly Hispanic neighborhood and an ebb and flow from traffic at the convenience store next door in the corner strip mall. Everything's shipshape in the dining room, and the welcome is one of the most enthusiastic in town. You're pretty much guaranteed to leave smiling, and planning your next visit, and speculating about which of the very fine little tacos you'll order, or how the new huarache on the menu might taste.
(Taqueria La Macro, 1822 N. Main @ Hogan, 713-226-8226. Monday — Saturday 8 a.m. — 10 p.m.)