500 Tacos: Cabo Bob’s Burritos

 
 
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
 
Cabo Bob’s Burritos
2828 Rio Grande St. (map), 512-432-1112;
Also at 500 E. Ben White Blvd. (
map), 512-432-1111, www.cabobobs.com
Hours: 10:30am-10pm Mon-Sat, closed Sun
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 02.06.15
 
While taco projects elbow their way into the Austin food scene, each one towing a celebrity, novelty pedigree or farm-to-table creed behind it, Cabo Bob’s has surfed under the radar. Maybe it’s because the place felt like it sprang fully formed from a multi- location hivemind when it opened five years ago on Ben White near the interstate. It had tight surfer graphics, a slick lacquered motif and a logo like a souvenir shop from “The Little Mermaid.” But you can’t judge a burrito by its branding. Cabo Bob’s is an Austin business from birth, and things have gone well enough for them to open this second location near UT. The view from under the radar can be pretty sweet.
 
The taco: Deluxe fish taco
When the name of a place evokes Cabo San Lucas and the various parrotheads and Sammy Hagar fans who call that piece of Baja home, you bet I’m ordering fish tacos. Against my will, really, because they’re usually awful. Cabo Bob’s turned that corner for me, laying down a basket of three on three different flavors of tortilla — buttermilk, cilantro tomatillo and ancho chile — with fish straight from the fryer, two chunky blocks per taco, with a crunchy shale of breadcrumbs. It’s generic whitefish, but the bigger pieces mean the centers are still flaky, moist and clean. They’re built out like a beach shack lunch, with a chop of mango and pickled cucumber, tomato and onion, plus cool if overprocessed guacamole and bouncy, semisoft white cheese. Think of the cabbage as a thatched roof, and the red, white and green tortillas as the flag waving from it. ($8.49 for three)
 
 Cabo a la carte: The standard order is three to a basket, but Bob will make single tacos to your liking. And there’s a lot to like on the beef taco ($3.25), built from chunks of tenderized fajita with the familiar and welcome aroma of charcoal (there’s a bag by the front door). It’s dressed out with sweet sautéed onions. I liked the grilled chicken ($2.89) even more, with the same charcoal signature but a more thoughtful finish of guacamole and mango pico de gallo. You’ll see below why the smoky cheddar tortilla was the right play for both.

 Tortillas: Cabo Bob’s makes four varieties of flour tortillas right in front of you: pale yellow buttermilk, dappled green cilantro tomatillo, angry and mottled red ancho chile and chalky orange smoky cheddar. The cook presses a ball of dough the second it’s ordered, then tosses it on a spinning comal for a char, patting down the air pockets as they arise. The results are charmingly irregular, with spots like a newborn palomino and shapes ranging from deflated football to amoeba to the whimsical: the cilantro tomatillo formed its own construction paper heart. Each was properly oily and gossamer by turns, warm and steamy without going fluffy. But only the smoky cheddar had a flavor to call its own, a perfect backyard blend of cheeseburger and Kingsford.
 Salsa: There are six, if you count the vinaigrette. And you should, because its oil-and-vinegar sharps would add grace notes to anything it touched. A pureed jalapeño comes closest to the taqueria standard, while a pair of hot-then-hotter “66 Red” sauces are like a cross of barbecue and Tabasco sauces. The two that do the most work are the most unlikely: chipotle crema and Ancho Rancho. Both are dressings more than salsas, opaquely calm in their peach-tone base but strikingly different on the finish, the crema going to a clean, luscious smoke like a Dominican cigar, the ancho bringing the twang of ranch dressing smoked over a Coleman charcoal grill.
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The 500 Tacos Project
 
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)