500 Tacos: Chi’Lantro
An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Hours: 10:30am-10pm Sun-Thu; 10:30am-midnight Fri-Sat
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 09.30.15
I was a Chi’Lantro survivalist before Chi’Lantro moved into its brick-and-mortar homes on South Lamar and Burnet Road. Meaning I’d only ever had the operation’s kimchi fries or fusion tacos from a truck under a blazing sun on Congress Avenue or moshing in the food court at the Austin City Limits Festival. Not Mexican enough nor Asian enough to achieve successful fusion, the food left me in a middle place of candied meat and trainwrecked starch. In a calmer, cooler, indoor environment — one defined by white subway tile, polished garage floors and a bar-height wooden communal table by the window — the experience cooled down, but still stopped short of fusion.
The taco: Beef bulgogi
Somewhere between sliced and ground is a no-man’s texture for beef. It gets mealy, shaggy even. And sometimes it works, because the shag will hold onto marinades and sauces better than seared steak. But with a permeating sweetness broken mainly by soy and sesame, Chi’Lantro’s ribeye bulgogi is like cotton-candy bistec from an all-night trailer that’s been up ... all night. Dressed with chopped lettuce, onions and cilantro on storebought totrtillas, it’s a Korean/Mexican hybrid that rides the line between both without hitting either. ($6.99 for two)
► Spicy pork taco: Another lesson in extremes, Chi’Lantro’s pork backs off the sweetness but doubles down on the cooking, coming off with an acrid brown-black sear that dares you to decide whether it’s spicy or overdone. ($6.99 for two, dressed with lettuce, onion and cilantro)
► Kimchi fries: True, it won’t be tacos that pull me back to Chi-Lantro; it’s these kimchi fries, a giddy celebration of starch and oil, crunch and goo, salty and sweet. The long, skin-on fries stay defiantly crispy at the edges, with a center payload of bulgogi, this time balanced by the spicy, half-sour high-five of cabbage kimchi, a kimchi that could turn those tacos from a maybe to a yes. Topped with cheddar and jack cheeses, a spicy orange aioli and zigzags of sriracha, this heavy paper boat jumps right over the edge. Be there to catch it. ($7.29) Tip: Chi’Lantro sells two things that go well with kimchi fries: local draft beer and Maine Root Ginger Brew.
► Tortillas: Doubled-up white corn tortillas from a bag. Flour available on request.
► Salsa: A vinegar-based red sauce with dried chiles carries a hoisin-esque sweetness that compounds the saccharin shortcomings of the host tacos. A smooth green sauce offers a drier, sharper alternative. I’d suggest asking for a side of the spicy aioli used for the kimchi fries. Or better yet, order a side of sweet-hot pickled cucumber, daikon, carrot and celery to add crunch, color and acidic balance ($2.50).
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)