500 Tacos: Casa Maria

 
 
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
 
Casa Maria
4327 S. First St. (map), 512-444-8861, www.casamariarestaurant.net
Hours: 5:45am-10pm Mon-Sat; 7am-10pm Sun; bakery open 5am-11pm daily
 
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 08.02.15
 
Somewhere between the relentless tumult of 24-hour places and late-night taco trailers are places like Casa Maria, which opens at first light with a full-line panaderia on one side and a complete Tex-Mex menu on the other, staying open long enough for a late dinner — or a late breakfast of tacos on handmade flour tortillas.
 
The taco: Chicken mole
Mole doesn’t show up on taqueria menus very often, so when I get a shot, I take it, even if it means building my own tacos from a plate with a wide lagoon of brick-red mole over bone-in pieces of chicken. Casa Maria’s mole downplays the dark, charry spices in favor of bright sugars, sharing as much in common with red-eye gravy as a hard-core Mexican mole, with coffeepot flavors and an even, oily sheen. The dark-meat leg quarter is baked tender, just starting to harden in skinless austerity. The taco I built from this plate benefited from a dress of salty beans, grainy rice and cool lettuce and tomato. A fresh flour tortilla pulls this DIY project together. ($8.99 for a leg and thigh with rice, beans and tortillas)
 
 
 Machacado: Casa Maria makes its own dried beef, according to the menu. It’s the right mix of beef jerky flavor and robust fajita chewiness, scrambled with egg and fresh pico de gallo on a dusty flour tortilla for an outstanding $1.90 breakfast taco.
 Al pastor: Left with room in the budget for one more taco, I tossed the choice to my waiter: lengua, barbacoa or pastor? He picked the last one, and its dry, smoky adobe sear from the grill made it a good pork taco, even if it would have been picked last for pastor kickball. ($2.25)
 Tortillas: Petite, thick and dusty, these doughy handmade tortillas improve everything they touch. Storebought white corn tortillas come doubled up.
 Salsa: A fresh, balanced chop of tomato, pepper, cilantro and onion carries the red flag, while the green team is represented by a smooth whirl of roasted jalapeño.
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The 500 Tacos Project
 
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)