500 Tacos: Cafe Hornitos

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Cafe Hornitos
3704 Interstate 35 N., Austin (map), 512-524-4195, www.cafehornitos.com
Hours: 6am-11pm Mon-Thu; 7am-11pm Sat; 7am-10pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 11.25.15
Much like Taqueria Los Altos down the road, Cafe Hornitos toils away in the shadow of I-35’s upper deck, serving from dawn to dark seven days a week. And like Los Altos, it’s cheap and filling and friendly. But that’s where the positive comparison ends, which might explain why I was the sole customer for most of an hourlong weekday lunch.
The taco: Crispy Taco Grande
When a taqueria makes its own corn tortillas, then deep-fries those same tortillas for its plus-size crispy taco shells, that taco should always be part of your order. The shell’s as strong as comic-book armor, but air bubbles keep it light and crisp. The armor protects ground beef simmered with onion and celery and a slow-building peppery heat. In true Tex-Mex spirit, lettuce, tomato and shredded American cheese finish the job. ($7.99 for three)
 The lunch special: Hornitos lets you customize lunch by choosing one or two entrees — that crispy taco, a fajita taco, an enchilada or burrito, tortilla soup — and   two sides, including rice, beans, salad, even queso or stuffed jalapeños. The crispy taco’s a winner; the fajita taco’s a dried-out shadow of itself. No onions or peppers, just dessicated beef skirt with lettuce, tomato and cheese. The basic Velveeta queso’s served in a little red taco-salad bowl, and the stuffed jalapeños are deep-fried bombers with burled shells and molten cheese centers. ($5.99 for 1 entree and 2 sides; $6.99 for 2 entrees and 2 sides; served 11am-3pm Mon-Fri)
 For breakfast: Hornitos sells breakfast until 11 a.m. weekdays and all day on the weekends, including tacos by the twos and threes for prices you might pay for one in the modern Austin taco market. Two migas tacos need more crunch to balance the load, but they compensate with a fresh egg-cheese-and-pico scramble punctuated by sharp serrano peppers. ($4.50 for two)
 Tortillas: The cafe makes its own corn tortillas, but they’re pale and flimsy. Still a better choice than the waxy storebought flour tortillas.
 Salsa: The table sauce is a stems-and-seeds red with medium heat heavy on the onions. On request, they’ll bring a warm, tangy tomatillo enchilada verde sauce.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)