Living in Austin means you can look beyond Mexican restaurants and trailers for tacos. Especially if the person calling the shots in the kitchen is from Texas. This Dallas-raised chef shows proper respect for his creation, making doughy corn tortillas like tamales with elastic pull. They may be served in a New American bar-restaurant hybrid, but many Mexican restaurants around town pulling their corn tortillas from a bag would be wise to take note.
The kitchen mixes the cornmeal, grits and cornstarch to create a gluten-free dredge that gives a granulated crackling to the juicy fried chicken thighs. The flash fry puts a sandy texture on the chicken that is much more appealing than the fierce, brittle shells you find on some oily deep-fried chicken. (The make-your-own tacos are $10.50 at lunch and $12.50 at dinner.)
There’s no accompanying salsa, but the layering of flavors proves the chef’s skill.
The chicken from chef Chad Dolezal at the Hightower arrives in a bowl glistening with a sweet orange oil and colored with red squiggles of Fresno chili and the bitter snap of bok choy. Pick the accompaniments from the bowl and slather them across the smooth corn tortilla to create a bitter, sweet, spicy and crunchy base for the chicken. As with so many of the dishes at this neighborhood hang in East Austin, the chicken tacos remind me of high-end stoner food – flavorful, aggressive and never precious.
1209 E. Seventh St. 512-524-1448, thehightoweraustin.com
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner: Daily, 5 p.m. to close. Brunch: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.