When Maudie's is discussed, it is usually in the context of their enchiladas -- the classic gringo Tex-Mex, gloopy-cheesed, covered in chili con carne and sprinkled with raw, diced onions. Opinions vary about this sort of cuisine, but even fans of it tend to agree that Maudie's doesn't put up Austin's best attempt. One is more likely to be directed to any number of places for these sorts of enchiladas: Enchiladas Y Mas, Dart Bowl, Jorge's, El Gallo, La Reyna, El Patio, possibly even Tamale House, among many others. Even amongst Austin or Texan Tex-Mex chains, like Chuy's, Trudy's, and Pappasito's, it cannot be said that Maudie's is winning the hound's war.
Then I had a realization: what if we're doing this wrong? What if what Maudie's is good at something outside of what we all consider their traditional wheelhouse? My favorite items at Chuy's aren't Mexican. Same with Trudy's. And I never need to eat at Pappasito's again, except I (embarrassedly) confess that I adore their fajitas.
With this bolt from the blue, I decided to test Maudie's more traditional offerings: tacos. One Tex-Mex crispy beef taco as a control of sorts, and then three traditional tacos. Here is what I found.
* Crispy beef taco
Accompanied by fresh lettuce, tomato, adorned with shredded american cheese, heavily loaded with a spiced beef cooked very nicely -- definitely not overcooked, juicy but not too wet. I was surprised that this spiced beef wasn't insipid; I suppose my expectations were low. The taco shell was crisp and not slightly stale (impressive, given its origin, see below). Frankly, if you like this sort of taco, this is close to the ideal of american gringo crispy beef tacos. This is what Taco Bell, Del Taco, Taco Villa, et al are advertising and never deliver.
I don't usually eat crispy beef tacos, but in my limited experience, I have to admit that Maudie's variant is above average. If you have to eat at Maudie's and you're a fan of the cuisine, I think this taco won't piss you off.
* Tacos al pastor (corn tortilla)
I doubt the pastor is made on a trompo, but I wouldn't doubt that it is marinated for a couple days before being fry chopped. One or two pieces tough or stringy, most moist and tender. Decent flavor but far from Austin al pastor superstars (Rosita's, El Meson), vaguely reminiscent of Curra's forgettable al pastor. Cilantro and diced onion on the side, very fresh; lime slice on the side as well. They went heavy on the diced pineapple; too much for me, requiring minor taco surgery. I suppose the opposite problem (too little) is worse.
The taco came double-wrapped in corn tortillas as is the norm and the serving is generous: there was enough pork y pineapple that one could take the outer corn tortilla off and easily make a second taco, and the pork isn't greasy enough to disintegrate the inner tortilla.
I was taken aback by the corn tortilla, as it was surprisingly unoffensive. It won't be confused with El Meson anytime soon, but not bad for what I was at that point assuming store-bought.
In the final score, better than average for Austin Mexican restaurants, although far below a handful of revered locations, and firmly behind a couple dozen more non-deific joints. About tied with Curra's, and admittedly better than my beloved Mi Ranchito. (Their pastor is surprisingly weak, as is their chorizo.)
* Carnitas (corn tortilla)
This was a good mix of chewy and crispy, texture was good. Maybe not my ideal, but it might be yours, carnitas consistency preferences are intensely personal. The porky-ness of the carnitas is there, and enjoyably subtle. Somehow, the pork is not as succulent as it should be. There is some greasiness, but overall this is less greasy than the average carnitas trailer taco. It came with the side of cilantro, diced onion, and lime slice. These were all fresh. Like the pastor, it came double-wrapped, same corn tortilla, which meant it was better than I was expecting.
The carnitas was decent. I was surprised. Certainly miles away from Mi Ranchito and Angie's, but a little better than numerous trailers that inexplicably half-ass this staple. That being said, at least a dozen places in Austin do a much better job.
* Carne guisada (flour tortilla)
Can a carne guisada be dry? There was plenty of stew, but the beef broke apart to reveal soft, dry beef. The carne guisasa itself is composed of stewed beef, green peppers, trace onions, black pepper, and stew broth.
How can beef be tender-yet-dry-yet-soaking-in-stew? I don't know what sort of molecular gastronomy is required -- some El Bulli wizard is probably in the back of Maudie's right now with Richard Blais, diabolically microwaving liquid nitrogen while shooting it with a laser, wringing their hands together and cackling something about finally making something that is simultaneously wet and dry.
However they did it, they did it. They shouldn't have. Additionally, the tortilla was dry. Now, I've had many worse packaged flour tortillas; this hadn't achieved leathery status as of yet, but it was definitely heading into that toughness that flour tortillas inexorably migrate towards every moment of their lives after they're made. It came with diced onions and tomatoes on the side, as well as cilantro. Again, the veggies were fresh.
Final assessment: I wouldn't want to be the one to tell the cooks, but i've had much better at Taco Cabana. If you're a fan of this dish, avoid.
* Tortilla origins
After I was done eating, I grilled a waiter about the tortilla suppliers. The corn tortillas are shipped from a lady (or a company named after a lady) in San Antonio, every other day, but he didn't remember her name. Sysco delivers the flour and crispy taco shells.
* Maudie's aggregate GPA
I sort of wish I hadn't done this. Frankly, I wasted a glorious Sunday morning dining opportunity by eating four tacos at Maudie's and received no great insight. Unless I want to take a Roman approach, I can't get that back, and none of the tacos blew my hair back. Most of the taco joints I patronize aren't open on Sunday, and it was better than McDonald's or Taco Cabana. I score Maudie's below Chuy's, Trudy's, and Pappasito's. I like it more than local chains El Mercado and Serrano's, whatever that means. Final score: not worth it.
9911 Brodie Ln, Austin, TX 78748
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