The soul foods of Mexico have replaced American barbecue at the wooden building on Old Centreville Road that for years housed Ben's Whole Hog Barbecue.
The linoleum has been ripped up and the floor laid with handsome Mexican pavers. Colorful serapes hang at the windows, and bright checkered cloths in orange and red cover the tables. The 3-month-old Taqueria El Michoacano has added the foods of the southwestern Mexican state to the growing list of Latino specialties now offered in Prince William County.
Carmen and Isaul Molina, who arrived in Manassas 10 years ago from Michoacan, started in business with a single mobile catering truck, providing the street foods of their homeland to construction workers. Now the Molinas have three catering trucks and use the Taqueria as their cooking headquarters, offering meals, beginning with breakfast, as soon as the food for the trucks has been prepared and loaded.
Taqueria El Michoacano's menu relies primarily on simple Mexican favorites -- taquitos (soft tacos), burritos and Mexican tortas (overstuffed sandwiches made on soft rolls), made with a variety of pork, beef and chicken preparations -- and adds several entrees featuring the same meats. Nothing on the menu is more than $11.
This is true Mexican food, not Tex-Mex derivatives. And though the Molinas make prepared foods for their catering trucks, everything at Taqueria El Michoacano is cooked to order.
At dinner, you will begin with a basket of fresh, hot tortilla chips, served with a piquant green salsa that is mostly chilies. A milder tomato salsa is also available. For a first course, begin with sopes or garnachas. Both are boats or tartlet shells made with masa (corn flour). At the Taqueria, the sopes are round, the garnachas oval. Both may be topped with any of several meat preparations, including chicken and chorizo (Mexican sausage), which here looks more like cooked ground beef but has a pleasant spiciness.
These appetizers, which in Mexico are generally called antojitos (corn-based dishes), are little jewels. The freshly made, hand-shaped and meat-filled crispy shells are scattered with lettuce and a sprinkling of cheese.
The taquitos, unlike the rolled and stuffed corn tortillas found in most Tex-Mex eateries, here are soft tacos: steamed white corn tortillas topped with a choice of meat, mixed with onions, cilantro and tomatoes. Al pastor and carnitas are two preparations of pork. Al pastor refers to pork shoulder that has been marinated and then slow-cooked in a sauce. Carnitas, small cubes of pork, are a specialty of Michoacan. Carne asada and barbacoa are both beef, the former broiled and the latter slow-cooked in a sauce. Other choices for taquitos include chorizo, chicken and beef tongue.
The same meats may be wrapped in a larger flour tortilla and served as a burrito, stuffed into a soft roll and made into a torta, or ordered as the central component of an entree selection, which also includes fluffy tomato-tinged rice, savory refried beans and a crisp salad accented with onions, tomato and cilantro.
Plato El Michoacano includes slices of grilled chicken, chunks of barbacoa and a slice of grilled rib meat. At $11 it is the most expensive selection. Two other combination plates -- two taquitos and a pupusa, or a burrito and a taquito -- cost just $7.
Menudo (tripe soup) and posole (hominy soup) are offered only on Saturday and Sunday. Breakfast items, which may be ordered at any time of the day, include huevos rancheros (sunny-side-up eggs served with tomato sauce) and a breakfast burrito with egg and chorizo.
There is also a selection of American-style sandwiches such as turkey club, steak and cheese and cheeseburgers.
Soft drinks and several brands of Mexican beer are available. But my favorite is Coca-Cola in glass bottles, imported from Mexico; it is made the old-fashioned way, with cane sugar syrup.
Taqueria El Michoacano is spotlessly clean, and service is friendly. It's a great spot for an authentic Mexican food experience.
Taqueria El Michoacano 7422 Old Centreville Rd., Manassas, 703-361-6688. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays through Tuesdays, and Thursdays and Fridays; 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturdays. Breakfast dishes are $4.99 to $5.25, taquitos are $2.50 each, burritos are $5.75 each and entrees $9.99 to $11. Accessible to handicapped individuals.
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Taqueria El Michoacano features a bar and flat-screen TV, center, along with traditional taquitos (soft tacos), far left, and sopes (round corn shells) with various toppings, above.