500 Tacos: Cafe Mueller by H-E-B
An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Cafe Mueller by H-E-B
Hours: 10:30am-10pm Mon-Fri; 10am-10pm Sat-Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 08.24.15
Judged on its own, H-E-B’s Cafe Mueller is a respectable fast-casual operation, with credible barbecue, sandwiches, sliders, tacos, pizza, pasta and pints of Texas craft beer and wines by the glass. Judged against the backdrop of grocery store cafes, it’s even more impressive, part of a league created by Whole Foods and by H-E-B’s own Central Market.
The taco: Asian pork
The things that make Cafe Mueller’s BBQ work —the ability to roast primal cuts of meat low and slow and the liberal appreciation of cracked black pepper — make these pulled pork tacos rise above the vaguely sweet-soy-sesame glaze that comes standard with the “Asian” label. The menu calls it Korean spicing, but it’s only as “Korean” as the docile pickled purple cabbage on top could be called “kimchi.” Label spanking aside, these tacos taste just fine, presented in a smart stainless steel accordion taco holder with cilantro, lime and a sambal aioli that works too hard, because plain old sambal would have done just fine. Cafe Mueller also does al pastor and brisket tacos in groups of three. No mixing and matching. ($7 for three)
► Tortillas: Commercial-grade 3.5-inch white corn tortillas, doubled up.
► Queso: I’ve thrown enough birthday parties and patio cookouts with queso made by melting a can of Ro-Tel into a pound of H-E-B’s Easy Melt cheese to recognize this style of queso. It’s fine for what it is — thick, creamy, slightly spicy cheese paint for crumbled store-brand chips — but Torchy’s across the street has nothing to worry about.
► A taste of BBQ: Cafe Mueller’s brisket beans — whole pintos in a spicy pot liquor of tomato and peppers spiked with the cafe’s full-fat Texas brisket — were good enough to make my Top 16 Austin BBQ Sides. They still are. ($3/cup)
► Salsa: H-E-B is proud of its roasted green salsa, to the point that it’s all they serve at Cafe Mueller. It’s medium-hot, tangy and full of flesh and seeds. On this visit, though, it had started to go south, bubbling with the early stages of sour fermentation.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)