500 Tacos: Cenote

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
1010 E. Cesar Chavez St., Austin (map), 512-524-1311, www.cenoteaustin.com
Hours: 7am-11p Mon-Fri; 8am-11pm Sat; 8am-4pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 10.20.15
Cenote is many things: coffeeshop, cafe, biergarten, wi-fi mausoleum, dirge-pop listening room. It’s also a taco bar, with breakfast tacos until 4, when a dinner menu kicks in, including carnitas, pork belly, tofu, grilled catfish and cauliflower.
The taco: Roasted cauliflower
An Arizona chef and writer I follow on Twitter named Gwen Ashley Walters tweeted last week that “Cauliflower is having its 15 minutes of fame.” Here for its measure of minutes today is cauliflower from Cenote, roasted al dente in little yellow knobs spiced like an Indian street snack, with coconut sambal in the background and a piquant combo of raita yogurt sauce and pico de gallo in the foreground. It’s not as adventurous as the crispy cauliflower at Fork & Taco, but neither is it the soggy, leaden mess of the overrated tortas de coliflor at Papalote. But it’s fresh and healthy, served on good corn tortillas with an arugula salad dressed with goat cheese and sweet vinaigrette. ($9 for two with side salad)
 Thai pork belly: If cauliflower’s having its 15 minutes, it borrowed those minutes from pork belly. But pork belly’s doing just fine outside the spotlight, thanks in part to preparations like this: sweet and seared in half-fat knobs with a light chile topnote. Julienned slices of apple and jicama are just starting to soften in the heat, bringing a half-crisp balance of sugar and acid for a dish more akin to moo shu pork than a taco, but a worthy pork-belly curtain call either way. ($9 for two with side salad)
 Salsa: Cenote makes a quaint glass bottle red sauce called Maestro Felipe’s Rojo with the sweetness of roasted tomatoes and the dusky heat of guajillo chiles. It’s good, but it stands in the squeeze-bottle shadow of Cenote’s Wawa Verde, as thick as pesto with aggressively roasted tomatillos and the high, slow-building heat of serrano peppers with a fresh herbal harmony. I wouldn’t expect a coffeeshop to have one of Austin’ best green salsas, but here it is.
 Tortillas: Cenote mentions Margarita’s organic corn tortillas by name on the menu, and with good reason. They're as pliant and full of corn flavor as handmade. But they should be doubled up to better survive their cargo.
 Taco Tuesday: After 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Cenote offers a rotating menu of $2 tacos with $2 cans of Modelo beer.
 Chai: Wishful fall thinking means a cup of Cenote’s milky hot chai, blended in-house with cinnamon and cardamom trading body blows in a fight for your affections. It’s too sweet by a teaspoon, but a nice change of seasonal pace. ($3.75)
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)