This is the thirteenth in a multi-part series documenting my mission to try all the off-the-beaten-path authentic Tex-Mex taquerías, taco stands, panaderías, and take-out counters on Austin’s predominantly Hispanic Southeast and East sides. I’m using the term Tex-Mex to refer to Tejano or Mexican-American cooking. I’m not focusing on what some people call “gringo Mex.”
My fellow chowhounds, I have hit the taco-truck motherlode.
This report covers food options at La Pulga, a weekend-only flea market behind the "El Gran Mercado" shopping center at 1500 South Pleasant Valley Road at Elmont Drive. By my count, there were maybe 15 to 20 food trucks and trailers there this past weekend, none of which I'd seen before in my previous explorations around town. (There may be more, when the weather's better.) These trucks were selling main courses such as carnitas, gorditas, tortas, and tacos; beverages like licuados and jugos; snacks such as cocteles [fruit cups] and elotes [delicious grilled corn with chile and cheese]; bags of fried chicharrones; Central-American chow like Salavdoran pupusas and Honduran food; and that interesting Southwest U.S.-Sonoran hybrid called "Mexican hot dogs." And much more. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.
For those of us who love good, simple, traditional Tex-Mex, Mexican, and Central-American chow, the food opportunities will be the main attraction. The flea market, of course, also sells clothing, Tejano music, toys, shoes, produce, and plenty of other new items such as you might find at a Super Walmart or similar store. However, here, patrons purchase what's needed while socializing and feasting in a Spanish-speaking commercial and cultural zone. It feels a little bit like a street market in another country, but not that "exotic" and unfamiliar. The potential to learn about new foodstuffs, traditions, and foodways, however, is just as high.
Because of the wealth of options available, I wanted to share the good news with my fellow taco-truck-loving chowhounds as soon as possible. I haven't hit all the food trucks. In fact, it would take me months to do all of them justice. So, I'd like to make Part 13 of my series a collective endeavor. If we all pick a truck and try almost all of their options, or if we check out every available version of one type of food (like elotes or menudo), we can come up with a great list of what's available. Scrumptiouschef, I bet I can count on you to get there as soon as you possibly can. Twill, crippstom, Carter B., rudeboy, Bat Guano, Nab, Knoblauch—and any other fellow chow-explorers whose love for this kind of food is slipping my mind—are you up for the challenge? If so, just chow down to your heart's content one of these weekends and add your report to this thread.
A tip on ordering: All of the very friendly vendors speak Spanish, as do their customers, who consist mostly of Mexican-American and other Hispanic young families and groups of teenagers. There's often a youngster working side-by-side with older family members who can explain your needs to them, or someone at a nearby stand who can translate for you. You can also do what I saw two Indian gentlemen doing and just point at what looks good to you.
One other note: The vendors might still be nervous about previous attempts by the city to shut them down. Of course, as soon as chowhounds get near good food, it's usually obvious that we're only there to eat. When I was taking notes on the chow options, though, I made a couple of people nervous—until I explained myself.
Below I give a list of the food options available this past weekend. From the entrance on Elmont Drive, I moved around the periphery in a U pattern, first checking out those trucks that were parallel to Elmont Drive, then those on the back row (which is parallel to Pleasant Valley), before making my way up the other side of the U. After that, I just wandered around the middle starting at the part closest to the Mercado building and moving towards the back. Unless otherwise noted, the food trucks that I saw were open when I went by around 2 to 3 P.M. on Saturday and Sunday. Some of them didn't have names, so I just noted in quotation marks some of the prominent details.
* Carnitas Santa Rosa [closed when I went by]: carnitas—in tacos, tortas, and by the pound
* Mari Susi: tortas de milanesa y jamón [a toasted sandwich made of a breaded, fried beef cutlet with ham on top]; menudo; [beef] barbacoa; barbacoa y consomé de borrego [slow-roasted lamb barbacoa and the soup made with its drippings]; guisos [stews or stewed taco fillings]; tacos; quesadillas; sopes [thick cornmeal cakes in the gordita family but topped with the filling of your choice plus refried black beans, and other items] huaraches [similar to sopes]; atole de chocolate [also called champurrado, this is a drink of masa harina barely sweetened with chocolate, brown sugar, and cinnamon—imagine a good "thin gruel"; this is often drunk for breakfast or on special occasions]
* Taquito Original de Fajitas: fajitas; elotes
* Taquería Mary: menudo; tacos
* "Hot Dogs - Hamburgers" [closed]: regular hamburgers; Mexican-style hot dogs [these almost always include bacon, sometimes crema (a Mexican-style crème fraîche) or mayonnaise; sometimes the hot dog and bun are topped with ketchup and/or spicy mustard, diced tomatoes, chopped onions (sometimes grilled or fried), jalapeño slices, diced pineapple and mild cheese; other possible toppings are crumbled chorizo, guacamole, slivers of carrots in escabeche (or pickled in vinegar with chiles), avocado- and tomatillo-based green salsa, or even American-style pickle relish]
* "Rica's Tostada": tortillas y gorditas hechas a mano [both flour and corn tortillas, as well as gorditas, are made by hand]; menudo [their own recipe]; tortas; platos [plates]
* La Catradita: comida hondureña [Honduran cooking]
* Rico's Tamales: Michoacán-style tamales
* Unnamed white taco truck: no details
* "Estilo Mexico": jugos [juices], raspas [snow cones], cocteles [fruit cups], mango en chile [fresh mango sprinkled with chile powder], licuados [blended drinks made with milk and any kind of fruit]
* Carnitas Los Dos Amigos: carnitas—any way you want them
* Yellow truck with menu scrawled on the side in green marker: typical fare of tacos, tortas, etc.
* Tacos Flor: specializing in bistek and barbacoa; fajitas; pambazos [probably meaning the version that is like a torta, or Mexican sandwich, but it could mean the traditional preparation of bread dipped in guajillo sauce and fried, before being filled] ; tortas
* Pupusas Salvadoreñas: pupusas [probably the Salvadoran version of the gordita, but these are sometimes made with rice flour instead of corn masa]
* Fruit stand next to the Salvadoran place: elotes; cocteles; jugos; aguas frescas; raspas
I also saw at least one roaming paleta cart at all times (though the rain on Saturday may have decreased the demand). Bags of fried chicharrones the size of mini-pretzels were available at several stand, and most people were munching on them as they walked around. Drinks were available at almost every stand and mainly consisted of Mexican sodas and brightly-colored aguas frescas in large glass jugs.