500 Tacos: Cheke’s Takos

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Cheke’s Takos
504 W. Oltorf St. behind the Flying Carpet, Austin (map), 512-779-6847, Facebook page
Hours: 6pm-10pm Tue-Sat
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 09.01.15
If good trailers make good neighbors, Cheke’s Takos is in good company in this food court. The owners of the Flying Carpet Moroccan food trailer were pulling in as I parked, having just towed the trailer back from its annual inspection. They passed, and Abdul Souktouri said it was a blessing to be in this neighborhood spot off Oltorf and South First after the tourist scrabble of South Congress. Cheke’s holds up its side of the good neighbor compact with Christian Cosme at the window. The congenial 26-year-old drew inspiration from his father’s cooking career in Mexico City when he opened Cheke’s two years ago with a menu of pambazos, tlacoyos, quesadillas and tacos on handmade corn tortillas.
The taco: Cecina
Cosme starts with a muscular cut of beef also used for bistec suave. He slices it thin, then cures it with salt and pepper for eight hours before searing it on the grill. The result is beef with the rangy texture and balanced saltiness of ham. But ham never tasted quite like this, especially on a fresh flour tortilla with onions and cilantro. ($2)
 Meet the tlacoyo (above): Part huarache, part gordita, part arepa and all delicious, the tlacoyo starts with a thick, crisp corn masa cake shaped like a sandal and filled with stringy, lush Oaxaca cheese. To that, Cosme adds chopped nopales, radish, cilantro and queso fresco. That’s the $4 floor model. I customized mine for an extra $1.50 with lean, spicy pork chorizo that Cosme makes himself.
 Pastor and bistec: I grouped these together because Cosme makes both his pastor and bistec with nuggets of pork shoulder. The bistec is for the pork purists, with just a light salty sear. The pastor goes full drag, with a splendid robe of tangy achiote and minced pineapple.  ($2 each)
 Chicken: If you’re not in the mood for an immersive Mexico City experience, a simple chicken fajita with peppers and onions on a fresh corn tortilla is a satisfying safety taco. ($2)
 Tortillas: Cosme makes his corn and flour tortillas from recipes passed down from his mother. And those recipes include lard for the translucent wings of good flour tortillas. His small, resilient corn tortillas are made with a handpress that belonged to his great grandmother.
 Salsa: Cosme puts his chile de arbol red salsa in the blender for 10 minutes to marry the textures of the chiles, tomatoes and oil for a sauce that’s silky smooth and a little sweet, with a dry lingering heat. His avocado salsa brings the bright, crisp heat of serranos, and a more subtle tomatillo-jalapeño green salsa is thick with tomatillo flesh, white onions, garlic and cilantro.
 About that name: The name “Cheke’s” comes from the nickname Cosme’s father earned busting his hump to earn paychecks to support the family in Mexico. When his father heard the trailer’s name, Cosme said, it brought tears to his eyes.
 The pie guy next door: A charming purple and white dessert trailer called Pie Plante holds down the courtyard’s other spot, where Mark Plante offers a rotating cast of fruit, berry and pecan pies for $5 a slice. His bourbon/sour-cherry pie can also be found at Farm to Market Grocery on South Congress.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)