To make a taco special, Gaston Romero added sliced nopalitos atop the seasoned meat.
You know the prickly-pear cactus? he asked. This is the leaf of that plant.
It's like a vegetable. Some people say it tastes like a string bean, said the chef's sister, Betsy Romero, who with her brother co-owns the Pizza King restaurant on Blackman Street in Wilkes-Barre.
Pizza King? Why is a pizza place serving Mexican food?
We started out as an Italian place, Gaston Romero, 28, said. But while customers were waiting for their orders of pizza, hoagies or calzones, some of them became curious.
Pizza customers would come in and wonder what we were making for ourselves, Romero said. They would say, ‘How come you don't have that on the menu?'
Nowadays the Pizza King, also known as El Rey Azteca, has an extensive Mexican menu filled with flavors you might not expect.
Lots of tacos in America are Tex-Mex, ground beef with lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream, Romero, who was born in Tepexpan, near Mexico City, said. We don't serve them that way here.
Instead, alongside a soft tortilla filled with spicy meat and cilantro and topped with the nopalitos, Romero added sliced red radishes, two cebollitas de cambray, or large green onions, roasted to a tantalizing sweetness, a slice of lime and an array of three sauces.
Try the sauces and choose the one you like, Romero urged a visitor. Squeeze the lime juice over the meat. Take a bite of the onion, a bite of the taco, a bite of the radish …
I don't think I should take it out of your hand and show you the right way to fold it, Romero said with a smile. He then brought out a fresh tortilla and gave a folding lesson.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays continue to be big pizza days, Romero said, and between 6 and 8 p.m. those days there is a special. If you call by 6 p.m. to order a pizza, it costs $6. Call by 7 and it's $7. Call after 8 p.m. and pay the regular price of $9.95.
Friday is also a good day for selling pizza, Betsy Romero said, but on the weekends, the Mexican food is the big seller.
I have specials every day, and I can bring out little samples and give you a taste test, Gaston Romero said, showing off a plate of braised pork ribs in adobo sauce with rice, black beans and cheese as a special one day last week.
Among the ethnic dishes Romero likes to cook are pozole, a traditional soup made with hominy and pork, and mojarra frita, or fried fish.
We take off the gills, and we take out the insides, but we leave the head on, Romero said. To a Mexican, this means the fish is fresh.
I don't know if I should say this, he said with a disarming smile, but we make a soup with pig's ears. There's lot of cartilage in the ears so they give a lot of flavor.
Adventurous eaters likely are eager to try that fish and that soup; the not-so-daring crowd might prefer to stick to the American side of Romero's menu, where they can find salads, hoagies and pizza with such familiar toppings as green peppers, onions and pepperoni.
They also can find such gourmet toppings as ham and pineapple, chicken wings with sauce, and even mixed fajitas pizza topped with shrimp, chicken, steak and veggies
But the Mexican side of the menu is where you might discover new and interesting flavors.
These is a chile de arbol, a chile pepper that grows in a tree, Romero said, pulling a slender, dried red pepper from a mesh bag. The bag weighs four pounds, and he goes through two of them each week.
You also can find such sweet treats as Mexican candy, Jarrillo sodas that contain pure cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, and of course, desserts.
I'm working on flan and pastil de tres leches, Romero said, describing a cake made with three kinds of milk— condensed, evaporated and regular.
We asked Romero to share a recipe for any of his specialties, and he was willing. The problem is the ingredients, such as specific chile peppers, might be tough to find for the average Northeastern Pennsylvania shopper, he said.
So, instead, we're providing a recipe for Grilled Cebollitas, the large green onions that provide a tasty accompaniment to a taco. It comes from othersideofthetortilla.com.
1 bunch of large green onions (the kind with the little bulb on the end)
Fresh-squeezed juice of one-half to one whole lime
Salsa Maggi (similar to Worcestershire Sauce)
Grill the onions until they start to get grill marks and the bulbs appear to be cooked through.
Leave the green stem tails on, but you won't eat them.
Once you've removed the onions from the grill, put them on a plate or in a bowl and squeeze the desired amount of lime juice over them.
Add desired amount of Salsa Maggi over the top and let the onions sit in the juices for a few minutes. Pick up by the stems and eat the bulbs.
What: Pizza King restaurant, also known as El Rey Azteca
Where: 512 Blackman St., Wilkes-Barre
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except Monday