500 Tacos: Azul Tequila

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Azul Tequila
3815 Dry Creek Drive (map), 512-334-9973, www.azultequila.com
Hours: 11am-10pm Mon-Thu; 11am-midnight Fri; 10am-midnight Sat; 10am-10pm Sun
Also at: 4211 S. Lamar Blvd. next to Target (map), 512-416-9667
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 08.12.15
When I put together Austin’s 55 Best Restaurants a few years ago, Azul Tequila came in at No. 53, one of just a handful of Mexican restaurants that made the list in a town with hundreds of them. It made the list for dishes like cochinita pibil, a chile relleno with sweet almond cream and a plate of roasted goat with guajillo chiles. They opened a second location in 2014 here on Dry Creek Drive, taking over an itinerant spot that once hosted the Jo Ellen’s Tacos, Cat Mountain Grill and the Hub before that. Azul Tequila transformed the space into a clean urban tableau of natural wood and slate blues, with broad shaded patios and a full bar. The taco menu explores familiar territory — fajitas, tacos al carbon, carnitas, pastor — as well as sampling the restaurant’s specialties, like albondigas and chicken with dark mole and mole pipian. The menu groups tacos with the brunch dishes, but they’re available all day, every day. You can mix and match two with rice and beans for $8.50 or order them separately for $3.
The taco: Chicken in mole pipian
The family behind Azul Tequila also runs Papalote Taco House, with locations north and south. Their strength is bringing modern touches to classic tacos and more adventurous options like turkey mole, tinga de res and fried cauliflower. Azul Tequila isn’t as adventurous, but you won’t find mole pipian at many other places. It starts with dark and white chicken, roasted tender and roughly pulled. The pipian is like France meets Mexico, a pumpkin seed base with a rich, creamy texture and sharp pepper heat that will surprise you. It’s underprovisioned in its corn tortilla, and utterly unadorned, unless you get the plate with rice and beans and dress it yourself. ($8.50 for two with rice and beans; $3 a la carte)
 More mole: If the mole pipian is a white velvet opera glove, Azul Tequila’s traditional chicken with dark mole is a leather driving glove: soft and supple, with smooth and sweet control and a growling cinnamon and chile afterburn. ($3/$8.50 plate)
 Pastor and carbon: Although I like the achiote twang of the tender pork al pastor, the texture is nothing like the singular shawarmy charm of pastor. Instead it’s torn in shreds and pieces with seared edges, like pork carnitas if a premade “pastor” packet had been mixed in. A chewy steak al carbon taco was only partially redeemed by cooked-in tomatoes and onions, but it had less meat than a street taco. ($3 each/$8.50 plate)
 DIY tacos: Azul Tequila’s excellent roasted goat and cochinita pibil each would make better tacos than any in this report. Order the plates with extra tortillas and get busy.
 Tortillas: Handmade corn tortillas are thick and strong, with full maíz flavor, but both chicken mole tacos soaked through and separated at the folded edges. Flour tortillas come from a bag.
 Salsa: The bright tomato-and-onion red table salsa goes well with thick, golden, house-fried tortilla chips. A salsa verde that came with the al pastor is a diluted interpretation of taco-truck tomatillo sauce, with bright citrus and medium heat.
 Something cool and green: Austin loves to talk about the smooth, sweet avocado margarita at Curra’s. Azul Tequila makes a good one, too. Less sweet, less whipped, more pulpy, more true to the avocado. ($7.50)
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)