Taco Tuesday: Smoked gouda on a taco?

A breakfast taco with steak, egg and smoked gouda cheese at the new Taco Joint on East Riverside.
A breakfast taco with steak, egg and smoked gouda cheese at the new Taco Joint on East Riverside.

I dig cheese. I could eat a wheel of it for breakfast, follow that with a salad at lunch and come back for more cheese at dinner. So, you’d think that this steak, egg and cheese taco would be right in my wheelhouse (pun intended). While I love the smoky taste of the gouda cheese (yes, that’s crumbled gouda piled atop that not photogenic taco above), the texture of the cheese and scrambled eggs, toasted at their golden edges, was too homogeneous for me.  I wanted some crunch, some variation. The eggs and cheese blanketed strips of juicy grilled meat. The bright orange habanero salsa, with its sweet sting, gave some complexity to the taco ($2.95), but not enough to save it for me.

While I was lukewarm on the breakfast taco (which is served all day), there is also a lunch version called the Señor Crockett, served with onions, peppers and beef. Now we’re talkin’. I mistakenly ordered the breakfast taco, after hearing our social media and engagement editor, Eric Webb, rave about it.

“Smoked gouda is addictive on its own – and on burgers, and as a chip flavor and slice by slice. But it’s not a flavor you ever find in Mexican food. Pairing it with beef on the Señor Crockett taco makes the smoky flavor pop, and  the bell peppers cut through the gooey texture like a fresh, zesty knife. Those homemade tortillas are an added bonus,” Webb told me in an email.

I guess I have to go back.

A seared fish and Street taco from Taco Joint.
A seared fish and Street taco from Taco Joint.

While the breakfast taco didn’t thrill me, I really liked the oily seared beef, sweet caramelized onions, floral cilantro, dusting of queso fresco and broad wings of avocado on the Street Taco ($3.75) at the new Taco Joint on East Riverside.

The Taco Joint makes its own flour tortillas, and they finish the thin, oil-sheened rounds to a toasty finish on the grill. The crunch added the satisfaction of nicely seasoned Seared Fish Taco ($3.75) that came buried beneath a little too much queso fresco and honey-lime slaw. Grab the spicy and creamy avocado salsa from the salsa bar for that one.

Taco Joint. 134 E. Riverside Drive. Facebook.com/TheTacoJoint

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Taco Tuesday: Lengua and fajita and egg in North Austin

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This taqueria has its own sign on the façade of the building it shares with a gas station, market, convenience store and cell phone vendor but not its own entrance.

Enter through the convenience store and make your way to the back for some excellent, coarse corn tortillas and a red-and-yellow menu dotted with tacos that pack flavor and value.

The various meats can be ordered in taco, quesadilla, burrito and gordita forms. The half-dozen tacos all run $2.15 and the lengua was a perfect version of the form, supple and smooth with the brace of iron and a shower of cilantro and onions putting a piquant floral coat over the meat.

Order the salty, seared fajita beef topped with egg. They don’t scramble the egg; they fry it on the flat to a puffed over-medium and chop it in strips, the gold mineraly yolks cooked just to the point where they don’t ooze. Top them with a fierce creamy jalapeno or ruddy chile de arbol.

Get these tacos, along with some very friendly service, at the Tierra Linda Taqueria in the La Familia Market in North Austin. Grab a Mexican soda and some Taki’s (or fresh fruit) from the market on the way out.

Tierra Linda Taqeuria

8540 Research Blvd. 512-419-9190

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 

Taco Tuesday: Pork belly with fried parsley and mandarin, and ribeye with Takis     

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Fair or not, many taco places that pile on the ingredients get slapped with the label of ‘gringo tacos.’ I would imagine more than a few people would call the tacos from this taqueria ‘gringo tacos,’ or (GASP!) ‘hipster tacos.’ Label them however you want, but that doesn’t mean you saddle up your high horse and run away from these tacos sight unseen.

And you have to like the attitude here. They have a sign that reads, “sex sells, unfortunately we sell tacos.” I see it as a slight shot across the bow at locals Torchy’s Tacos. And, like Torchy’s, this place also layers ingredients and masking sauces to excess at times.

It doesn’t always work, as with a cloyingly sweet and mild diablo shrimp taco (top middle) topped with jalapeno jack cheese, cilantro and cream tomatillo ($2.99). And a dried out crispy duck taco (top right) buried beneath viscous, salty hoisin sauce ($3.75) and cucumbers needed more fat and more restraint.

But the creative offerings at this taco stand with a massive and varied menu are sometimes right on point.

Sometimes less is more, as with the simplicity of this crunchy, nicely seasoned crispy beef taco ($1.99, bottom right), and Tyson’s Tacos whimsy is sometimes a welcome thing. Seared pork belly supple with fat served with fried parley, pickled onions and mandarin slices (top left) is a nice balance of salt, sweet, tang, fat and crunch ($3.25), and I love the addition of the colorful and fiery crumble of Takis (think Flaming Hot Cheetos, gringo), jalapenos and sriracha to a ribeye taco cooled by cilantro ($3.50, bottom left).

Find your favorites and get a plate with lard-laden beans and fluffy rice for the very reasonable price of $8.99. For all of the novelty with the inventiveness with the tacos, bagged tortillas (both corn and flour) are a little depressing, but hey, you can earn a free taco just by playing the ukulele provided. And that almost makes up for it.

Tyson’s Tacos. 4905 Airport Blvd. 512-451-3326, tysonstacos.com

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Taco Tuesday: Breakfast taco with egg and machaca

La Pachuca taco (front) is a winner at breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner.
La Pachuca taco (front) is a winner at breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner.

I don’t know if the La Pachuca taco ($3.25) is named after the capital of the Mexican state Hidalgo or after a rebellious woman from the 1940s sporting zoot suit-inspired style. Either way, it works. The taco with eggs, queso and machaca beef deserves a place of importance on this food truck’s menu and has some brassy swagger to spare.

Mellizoz, which originally opened up South First in 2008 under the name Izzoz, added the taco to its menu last year. But the components have been there all along. A little ingenuity brought fluffy scrambled eggs from its all-day breakfast menu, braised beef from the Slowrider finished on the flattop and a little bit of queso to create the Pachuca. A judicious amount of queso and moisture from the eggs helps rehydrate heaps of shredded beef full of steak flavor, with a coarse chop of tomatoes and onion bringing enough acid and bite to the party. The trailer offers two salsas. For this taco, grab the mild spice of the red, which has mineral heat of a hot rock helps give the beef-and-egg taco the flavor of a taco made with leftovers following a cowboy cook-out the night before.

When you stop by the Caribbean blue truck with the taco-loving Aztec warrior mural, make sure to grab an Old School crispy beef taco, as well.

Mellizoz Tacos

1503 S. First St. 512-916-4996, mellizoztacos.com

 

Taco Tuesday: Grit-fried chicken taco (gluten free)

Grit-fried chicken tacos. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Grit-fried chicken tacos. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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.

The Hightower 

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.

Taco Tuesday: Confession time: I was wrong about Capital Taco

Capital Taco at 1901 S. Lamar Blvd. (Photo by Matthew Odam)
Capital Taco at 1901 S. Lamar Blvd. (Photo by Matthew Odam)

I’ve eaten at hundreds of establishments around town. I’ve spent hours reading menus, digesting branding and analyzing curb appeal. It has given me the ability to do some quick-glance analysis about places. I think Malcolm Gladwell must have a chapter about it in one of his books.

Often I’m right. Quite often I’m wrong.  And, I’m just as happy being wrong as I am being right.

All of which is to say, I was wrong about Capital Taco.

I don’t even know what it was about the trailer that I was suspect of. Probably several things at work: The fire-engine-red trailer looked a little too pristine, too boring. Its name and logo seemed too cute, too generic, almost like a taco trailer plucked from a movie set. And it was sandwiched between Austin’s Pizza and Corner Bar, neither places I choose to visit with much frequency. It all just seemed a bit forced, a bit odd, a bit … off.

Yep, I was wrong.

When I see a food trailer menu as big as the one at Capital Taco, I get a little nervous. Can they really pull off ginger chicken, brisket and migas tacos? Here they can. The order started with the standard first question: Do you make any of your tortillas? The nice gentlemen answered “no,” but with a grin that seemed to say, “I understand they are usually better that way, but wait until you taste what I’ve got cookin’.”

He was right to grin. I have little use for white meat chicken, but this bird was wrapped in a flour tortilla bursting with bold flavor, from the fierce little bits of piquant ginger to a tart salve of sour cream, floral cilantro and chunks of ripe mango that could be at home in a first-rate fruteria.

The brisket taco at Capital Taco (Photo by Matthew Odam)
The brisket taco at Capital Taco (Photo by Matthew Odam)

Having good neighbors can mean an extra set of eyes on your place when you’re gone, or a cup of borrowed sugar when you’re in need. For Capital Taco and Brown’s BBQ, it means one of the best brisket tacos in town. Capital’s taco packs lean and fatty cuts of the excellent meat from the neighboring bright red trailer, and isn’t afraid to leave its own mark, shoving the $4 taco full of hunks of avocado, shredded mozzarella and pickled jalapenos. It’s a delicious mess. And almost enough to make a meal in and of itself.

Ginger chicken taco from Capital Taco.
Ginger chicken taco from Capital Taco.

I saw the words “turkey” and “mole” and got a little worried. I envisioned slightly dried and stringy meat in a thick, heavy-handed sauce. What I got was juicy shreds of turkey bathed in nimble mole whispering notes of winter spice and chocolate. The pickled jalapenos and cilantro brightened the dusky dance of meat and sauce.

And, though the breakfast hour was behind us, given the accomplishments of the other tacos, I had to try the migas. Good call. The robust twirl of eggs dotted with tomatoes encased crunchy tortilla strips and gooey cheese. A touch more salt and pepper and we’re talking one of the best of its kind in town.

Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. I had intended to hit another taco place this morning and found out it had closed. So, after some quick thinking and recalling a Twitter exchange between two taco lovers I respect, I decided to hit the nearby taco trailer. Capital Taco is the closest taco purveyor to my house. I have driven by it thousands of times without stopping. I won’t be making the same mistake in the future. Being wrong never tasted so right.

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Taco Tuesday: Pueblo Viejo on East Sixth Street

Al pastor (left) and Guaca Taco at Pueblo Viejo on East Sixth Street.
Al pastor (left) and Guaca Taco at Pueblo Viejo on East Sixth Street.

When your trailer sits in the shadow of the popular El Milagro Tortillas on East Sixth Street, you can be forgiven for not making your own tortillas. What’s easier than just running across the street? And when you make salsas as diverse and compelling as Pueblo Viejo, nobody’s gonna spend too much time bemoaning tortilla quality, even if the corn version crumbled liked baked clay.

The five salsas, which you can purchase in five-ounce cups, run from the smoky dusk of an exceptional black habanero to the morning glow of creamy  jalapeno, with a fresh tomato sauce with onions and cilantro streaming through the middle ground.

Breakfast tacos runs $2.50 at this massive trailer hitched to a pick-up truck just east of I-35, and the bacon on the Don Chago is deserving of a breakfast plate real estate. It crackles at ends just shy of burned on a taco creamy with avocado and beans almost liquefied by lard. The spinach on the vegetarian Mi Madre is as bright as an emerald and flexes with iron muscle not sapped by the sauté, with slivers and slices of jalapeno supporting soft mushrooms with their fibrous crunch.

(Top left to right): Tomatillo, creamy jalapeno, orange habanero, sala roja and black habanero salsas at Pueblo Viejo)
(Top left to right): Tomatillo, creamy jalapeno, orange habanero, sala roja and black habanero salsas at Pueblo Viejo)

Choose between chicken or steak to supplement your Guaca Taco ($3.90). The beef didn’t have much blush to its interior, but remained tender, with caramelized onions wrapping their sweet embrace amongst the mash of ripe avocado and expressive spinach. I ordered the Guaca in the puffed, spotted flour tortillas, and the sweet pork of an al pastor freshened by cilantro and diced raw onions was just juicy enough to re-hydrate the disappointing corn tortillas.

I’m going back for: Guaca Taco with steak, with a side of orange habanero salsa and black habanero salsa.

Pueblo Viejo

910 E. Sixth St.

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

512-373-6557, Facebook.com/PuebloViejoATX

1700 E. Sixth St. (at the Grackle)

Hours: 6 p.m. to midnight daily

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