This is the ninth 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.”
In this part I finish up with the last two places on East Riverside and will now move south on Montopolis and Pleasant Valley in search of more deliciousness [with some advance guidance from scrumptiouschef]. In this installment of the series I review one restaurant with its own taco truck and one taco truck with its own unusable restaurant.
[Rosita’s] Al Pastor, 1911 East Riverside Drive
Located in the shopping center with the Bingo parlor near the intersection of Royal Crest Drive, Al Pastor is a friendly place, though you can’t tell when you walk up to it because the interior is hidden by the silver-colored reflective lining on the front windows. The medium-sized dining room is shaped like a square, with a large TV in the far right corner and a to-go counter in back. Although much of the staff speaks Spanish, non-Hispanic customers are not unusual here, especially at lunch.
Al Pastor is, as you might expect, well known for their tacos al pastor, which is their best dish, but I sampled a range of other offerings over a few visits.
The housemade flour tortillas at Al Pastor are one of the two best versions that I’ve had in Austin (the other can be found at Don Luis) . Of course, even the best flour tortillas in Austin taste mediocre compared to the best in San Antonio. Nonetheless, the thick and tender tortillas at Al Pastor are usually good, although I’ve had them when the flour-to-shortening ratio has been off, producing tortillas with a gummy interior and an overly-floury exterior—likely the result of adding a ton of flour when working the too-sticky dough. That time I ended up with a handful of dusty residue. It tastes like AP uses Crisco as their shortening, not lard or bacon grease. Thus, overall flavor is lacking, but the tenderness, size, and texture of the tortilla are fine. Their corn tortillas are not as good, so I almost never order them.
The chips are of the awful store-bought variety. They have also been slightly stale on a few visits. The fresh-tomato-based salsa with green chiles and cilantro is watery but hot; likewise, the avocado-based green salsa was quite spicy. Due to the poor quality of the base ingredients (tomatoes and avocados, respectively), neither salsa was very good. The guacamole was of the type seasoned with cilantro, tomato, and onion. There was no citrus flavor to it. The use of ripe but flavorless avocados produced a bad version of this dip.
As for sides, the refried beans seem to have a touch of bacon grease in them, though they could use a lot more. They have good texture as well and only need a little salt to be pretty good. The rice contains both diced carrots and pickled chiles. There was no chicken-broth flavoring or salt, and the texture was on the wet side. The rice was fair.
Carne guisada—I eat tacos with this filling all the time, and most of the time the carne guisada is just so-so. It was just so-so at Al Pastor, too. The small pieces of meat were very tender, and there was a lot of “gravy,” but there was nothing outstanding about this dish. If you order tacos with carne guisada, make sure to ask them to hold the lettuce and tomato. I didn't, and found it pretty gross to have limp lettuce mixed in with my guisado.
Lengua guisada—The tongue was tender but not seasoned: just plain, small cubes of boiled tongue.
Al pastor—A few of us have discussed the al pastor at this restaurant in earlier threads (for example, see: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/30459... ). I’ve also covered this subject in my review of the taco stand in the same parking lot, that has the same name and is run by the same folks, in the first installment of this series:
Here I’ll just say that theirs is the best of this type of “faux pastor” because they use more flavorful seasonings (chile and citrus), along with chunks of onions and pineapples, plus slices of green peppers, in the dish. I use “faux” as a neutral descriptor to describe “al pastor” meat that is not cooked on a trompo [vertical spit], since “al pastor,” or shepherd’s style, specifically refers to the use of the spit. When the same cut of meat is instead sautéed or cooked on a griddle, technically it’s puerco adobado. However, it’s referred to as “al pastor” all the time.
Chicharron—The texture of these pork rinds was too soft for my tastes, and though chiles were present, there was no heat. Very bland and wet.
Picadillo—This consisted of loose ground meat such as you might find seasoned with a “taco mix.” They did not use a mix to season their picadillo; however, it was very plain.
Chorizo con huevo—This was okay, though there was not enough chorizo and too much egg. In addition, the chorizo was rather flavorless.
Chorizo con frijoles—The lackluster quality of the chorizo was more apparent in this simple taco (as the eggs, which add more flavor than the beans do, mask the sausage a bit). This was not a good version of the classic dish.
Barbacoa—This was of the greasy, shredded, cheap-roast-beef variety. Greasy does not equal good, in this case. Still, this was more flavorful than any other filling besides the al pastor.
The Al Pastor restaurant is among the better large, full-service, eat-in taquerías with continuous hours that I’ve covered so far in this series, though they're not great at many things. For me, the al pastor is the only dish here that really stands out.
El Taquito, 500 East Riverside Drive
Note: I’m not sure if there’s any connection between this taco trailer and the El Taquito Express at 9316 North Lamar or the place in Pflugerville.
As I pause to consider some of my favorite spots since starting this series—La Hacienda, Taquería Piedras Negras, Abarrotes Mexicanos, La Regio Montana, El Regio, and now El Taquito—I realize that I’ve had what I consider the very best Tejano/Tex-Mex chow at meat markets, take-out spots, and taco trucks. Only a handful of the “restaurants” were really remarkable: Seis Mesas was my favorite (and it’s the smallest, almost like a take-out counter), though El Meson, Janitzio, and Al Pastor have some very good options, too.
On to the chow.
The tortillas used for all tacos at El Taquito are store-bought, but the corn ones are good, if a little thin. They don’t automatically double up on tortillas when making the tacos, but you might want to pay extra for this, especially if you get your tacos to go. Otherwise, they can get a little soggy. All tacos come with cilantro and onion unless you request otherwise.
My favorite taco was the tripitas. The crunchy bits of fried, chewy tripe tasted great with some hot salsa. Granted, tripe is an acquired taste, and it is not for everyone. I, however, loved their version of this dish.
I also enjoyed their carnitas taco. Their version consisted of shredded pork with a nice, fatty flavor. The pork wasn’t crispy, though maybe it had been originally. While not on the same level as the carnitas tacos at La Hacienda, these were nonetheless quite satisfying.
Other taco fillings included a savory version of al pastor that was not sweet, spicy, or citrus-y, but was flavored with a touch of vinegar and a good dusting of brownish-red chile powder. These seasonings are much like the ones used in San-Antonio-Tejano-style chorizo. Lastly, their standard barbacoa tacos were the good kind of fatty and greasy. These tasted very good with a shot or two of their green salsa.
I met someone there who was from McAllen and apparently drives down from UT several times a week because he considers El Taquito's tacos amongst the best in town. Other folks who live or work on the east side seem to agree. So do I. This is my idea of a solid, fall-back taco source with down-home good, traditional taco fillings—like the barbacoa, al pastor, carnitas, tripitas, picadillo, and bistec—plus something called a “gringa”—all for $1.49 each. I didn’t get to try their breakfast tacos, but I will soon.
Behind this taco truck is a brick-and-mortar restaurant of the same name that has been completed for a long time. Despite the “Opening Soon” banner, I’ve heard that the owners of the taco truck—and the fully-furnished restaurant—are not close to opening it. Apparently, this is due to permit issues. It’s too bad, too, because their chow is really good, unlike the junk served across the street at established restaurants Taquería Puerto Vallarta and Baby A’s.
I found out that the neighborhood association had been trying to shut this place down back in 2002, but the owners of El Taquito got a permit to continue to operate as a trailer (http://mjl.kellogg.home.att.net/nuzju... ). I can’t help but wonder if similar issues are tying up the permit process. If you have any pull with City Hall, or just know something about permits, maybe you can help these people. Their success would benefit us chowhounds, too.