Sunday, March 18, 2012

South by Southwest 2012: Taco Roundup

Posted By on Sun, Mar 18, 2012 at 4:10 PM

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The taco is evolving in Kansas City — I am personally partial to the gourmet flavors being exported from the Port Fonda and Westport Street Fare food trucks, and El Camino Real in Kansas City, Kansas, and even the tacos that cost a dollar at Jalapeno’s on Mondays. But in Austin, Texas, the taco is something else entirely. It is ubiquitous and malleable, the foundation upon which meals and menus are built. I’ve been in Austin for South By Southwest for seven days, and I have eaten at least two tacos every single day. There were a couple of days where I ate five tacos. The only end in sight with these tacos is my imminent return to Kansas City.

Here are some brief thoughts on the tacos I ate in Austin.

Coreanos

My favorite tacos. Coreanos does Korean BBQ-Mexican fusion, very similar in nature to Westport Street Fare. The food is served out of a truck at Seventh and Neches, which is smack-dab in the middle of all the SXSW madness. The El Scorcho tacos ($2.50) are simple and unstoppable. Any meat (I almost always go pork), plus onion, cilantro, cheese, and the El Scorcho sauce, which really puts it over the top. Squeeze that lime all over them. Oh my God, I am so hungry again.

Torchy’s Tacos

Another popular Austin taco place. Recommended: the Crossroads (brisket, jalapenos, grilled onions, jack cheese, avocado), and the Democrat (barbacoa, avocado, onions, cilantro, queso fresco). Not recommended: the Republican (I didn't try it; it's probably delicious). Also, the queso dip was outstanding. Not quite as good as the queso at Chili's, but pretty good.

Taco Deli

This joint is out north of downtown, around the Hyde Park neighborhood, and has a clean, crisp, chainlike atmosphere — like a funkier Starbucks or Panera. I visited twice. The first time, I ordered the mole sirloin taco. “The mo-lay?” the cashier asked. I had pronounced it like the brown things on your skin. She then went into a long warning/explanation of all the ingredients in their mole sauce. I remember hearing the word chocolate. “We’re really proud of our mole, but it’s got a pretty unique taste, and not everybody loves it,” she said. “I’ll have it,” I said, and then I took one bite and realized she was right and I should not have ordered anything with the word mole in it. The breakfast tacos on my second trip were more my speed. The Otto (refried black beans, bacon, avocado, cheese — plus I added an egg) was marvelous.

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Maria’s Taco Express

It took an hour by bus to get to Maria’s, which is 25 blocks south of downtown Austin. I came to see Kansas Citian John Velghe and his band, the Prodigal Sons, play an afternoon showcase curated by Austin legend Alejandro Escovedo. I arrived around 3 p.m. and hadn’t eaten a bite all day. I immediately ordered three gigantic tacos — two Al Pastor and one barbacoa. In my experience, Al Pastor tacos tend to come with pineapples on them. But that has not generally been the case in Austin, which is disappointing. It’s all about pineapples and pork, y’all. I was willing to forgive the lack of citrus on account of the large portions, old Dr. Pooper machine (pictured), and the easygoing, ramshackle vibe both inside and outside, where everyone was relaxing and drinking margaritas and eating tacos, just like you always imagine they do in Austin.

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