This is the third in a multi-part series documenting my mission to try all the authentic Tex-Mex taquerías, taco stands, panaderías, and take-out counters on Austin’s predominantly Hispanic Southeast and East sides. I’m concentrating on places that are off-the-beaten track rather than the well-known ones. I’ve skipped from East 7th Street and Springdale Road (which I covered in part 2) all the way down to Burleson Road, which currently marks the southernmost edge of my intended area of coverage. From Burleson, I’ll begin working my way north on Montopolis and Pleasant Valley, to the area around East Oltorf and East Riverside, and then finally back up to César Chávez Street. And maybe a bit beyond.
I wanted to try a taco trailer with “Hugo’s Tacos” written on the side that I kept seeing in the parking lot of the Club Zota de Oro, but it was never open. Maybe I’ll happen on it later in my travels. In this report I’m covering one tortillería just off Burleson Road and two taquerías on Burleson Road.
Fiesta Tortillas, 3800 Promontory Point Drive
This tortilla factory on Promontory Point, just off Burleson Road, supplies corn and flour tortillas to mediocre chain restaurants all over town. Don’t hold that against them, though. The tortillas they sell on-site aren’t bad if you eat them while they’re still hot, on the same day they’re made. They’re thin, which is typical of commercially-pressed tortillas. They weren’t as rich as I’d like, but I was happy to make a couple of tacos with them when I got home. They had become pretty bad by the next day. For mass-produced tortillas, that’s about all you can expect.
If enough people want to form a collective and buy tortillas in bulk, Fiesta Tortillas will custom-make tortillas according to our specifications. For me that would have to include some lard (or butter, or perhaps even bacon grease).
Casa Moreno, 4606-B Burleson Road
Family-owned and operated Casa Moreno serves food until 2 P.M. Monday through Saturday. In theory. When I went at 1:00 one recent Saturday, I was watched suspiciously by a middle-aged man standing near the front door. I asked if they were closing. He said no, they were going to, but not now. What should you do if someone simultaneously eye-balls you and holds the door open? Leave fast. I figured this out too late, though. I can understand wanting to close on time; I can even understand being disappointed when a customer shows up when you’d been counting on leaving early. But a restaurant only gets one chance to make a first impression.
On to the food at Casa Moreno. Breakfast there was not-bad to fine. I had the huevos rancheros (for $5.50, which is a bit expensive compared to other taquerias on the east side). The fresh ranchera salsa was sweet. The beans had great texture and average flavor (they tasted vegetarian). The cubed and fried breakfast potatoes were delicious. They’d taste great fried up with some chorizo and served in a taco. Speaking of tacos, the flour tortillas are homemade. They were soft and very thick, to the point of being doughy, and quite large in circumference. It was a nice change of pace from the thin flour tortillas most places serve. And they are certainly better than store-bought. But they, too, were on the bland side due to the shortening they use. And their large size made the lack of flavor more obvious.
You might not notice the taste of the tortillas, though, given how much filling they put in their tacos. Unfortunately, most of the filling is over-cooked egg in the egg-with-meat breakfast tacos. The chorizo con huevo ($1.65) seemed to be about 3 eggs stirred up with a couple of stingy tablespoons of tasteless chorizo. Rather than being soft-scrambled, the eggs were fried to the point of turning brown on one side before being broken up in the skillet. This taco was large but not very good. The same thing was true of the machacado. They serve other Tex-Mex breakfast plates such as migas ($5.35) and machacada ($4.95), which are also available as taco fillings. Breakfast taco options include chicharrones ($1.65) and the usual egg-plus-one-item fillings. For meat fillings, barbacoa and carne guisada are available. On Fridays and Saturdays they serve menudo ($4.15 for a small, $6.15 for a large).
Tex-Mex lunch classics on the menu include flautas, gorditas, chicken enchiladas, carne guisada, fajitas, steak a la Mexicana, and pollo asada. This restaurant also serves many items that cater to the workers at the nearby industrial and office complexes: suicide taco, dip compuesto, pancakes, along with various combo platters (taco plate, enchilada plate, Mexican plate, Muchos Nachos) ranging from $5.50 to $7.95. They have a lunch buffet for $5.95 Monday through Friday.
Though my young server was very friendly at CM, I experienced yells of impatience coming from the kitchen area that appeared to be related to my order (since I was the only customer); a zealous attempt to put all the chairs on the table—-except, pointedly, the one I was occupying; and a general feeling of being in the way. I couldn’t help but compare this to my experience at Seis Mesas, where everyone made our party feel welcome although we arrived 30 minutes before their official closing time of 2. They even took a large take-out order right at 2, completely unconcerned about the time.
Breakfast at Casa Moreno wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t really exciting, either. Given the positive experiences I’ve had elsewhere, and the many interesting places I’ve yet to explore, I only plan to return to Casa Moreno if I’m with someone who insists on a Tex-Mex lunch buffet on Burleson Road.
La Pasadita Nightclub & Taquería
I drove by this place a few times before I figured out that they served food. This bright, cheerful spot takes up half of the floor of the La Pasadita nightclub, which is, of course, closed during the day. There is also a drive-through window for anyone who wants tacos or other food to go. Hours of operation are from 6 A.M. to 3 P.M. Monday through Saturday.
When I stopped in for a late lunch one weekday afternoon, I was again the only customer. But I didn’t have to wait long to find out that these ladies cook up some good food. I was given chips, salsa, and asked what I wanted to drink right away by a friendly woman. La Pasadita offers lunch specials for $4.99 of dishes such as enchiladas, crispy tacos, and carne guisada. All specials come with the usual rice, beans, and tortillas. I ordered the carne guisada. And when my plate arrived, not ten minutes after I placed my order, I proceeded to wolf everything down like I hadn’t been near food in a week. It was all very good. The carne guisada was on the tough side, as though it was quick-cooked rather than long-stewed, like other versions I’ve enjoyed recently (at Taqueria Piedras Negras and Seis Mesas). LP seems to be using a tougher cut of beef, like round steak, instead of chuck—-or sometimes even delicious sirloin. But, the guisado at La Pasadita was very flavorful, seasoned well with chiles in addition to the usual onions, tomatoes, beef stock, cumin, and Mexican spices. The sauce was worth mopping up with the last bit of tortilla. And their Mexican rice is the best version I’ve had yet in Austin. There’s always something wrong with the rice at Mexican restaurants—-it’s either too bland and dry; or alternatively, it’s too wet and tomatoey-sweet. La Pasadita’s version was perfectly cooked: fluffy, but still a bit moist, with a deep flavor suggestive of a broth base. The beans at La Pasadita were frijoles de olla (or beans cooked in the pot). They were tender, just soupy enough, and on the spicy side. They weren’t refried, but they also weren’t full-on a la charra beans, which contain more chiles in addition to bits of meat like salt pork or bacon. The tortillas and chips at LP are not made in house. Just this once, I thought the flour tortillas had more flavor.
Lunch tacos ($1.25 each) include carnitas, barbacoa, carne guisada, fajitas, lengua, and possibly picadillo. I’ve tried the barbacoa and the beef fajitas, which were both topped with chopped onion and cilantro. The barbacoa was okay. It wasn’t the best in town, but it tasted good enough with the toppings and a bit of their red salsa. The fajita taco was not fajita meat. Instead, the taco featured dry cubes of the same cut of beef used in the carne guisada. The pieces of meat were tough and still tasted like the flour they had dusted it with before “browning” in a skillet. I use the term browning loosely, as the meat was actually gray. Unfortunately, they were sold out of the other taco fillings. Tacos at La Pasadita are on the small side, due to the size of the tortillas they use. Yet they’re still a steal at $1.25 each.
Breakfast tacos (also $1.25 each) come with your choice of eggs with bacon, beans, potatoes, chorizo, or ham; or beans with chorizo, cheese, or bacon. Plates are available, too, such as $4.50 for a plate of huevos rancheros for $4.50 and steak and eggs for $6.50.
Running the kitchen at La Pasadita seems to be a family affair. A young woman in her early teens was starting that day as a cashier; an older female relative of hers was showing her how to ring things up. This older woman also seemed to be the cook. I must find out her trick with that rice! So, I plan to return to La Pasadita when I’m in the neighborhood. I have a good feeling about their breakfast choices.