500 Tacos: Don Juan
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Don Juan Mexican Restaurant
2506 E. Ben White Blvd. (map), 512-326-2225. Hours: 6am-11pm Mon-Sat, 7am-11pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 03.25.15
The suburban kid in me appreciates how much Don Juan Mexican Restaurant looks like the Dairy Queen down the street from where I grew up, with the same tall glass window-walls, low presswood booths and cascading drink circulators on the counter. At Don Juan, yellow and green paint replaces the red and white Dairy Queen color scheme — and DQ never made tacos like these.
Taco A: Barbacoa
Taco B: Barbacoa Adobada Semi Dorados
The word “barbacoa” is used liberally at taquerias, where sometimes it means cheek meat and sometimes it just means brisket. But they’re not interchangeable. Barbacoa is traditionally picked from a roasted cow’s head; brisket is from the breastplate. Brisket has tighter, denser muscle fibers, with a mild, rangy flavor like roast, whereas barbacoa’s short strands are glued together with fat like opalescent jelly, with a greasy, gamey, iron-like taste.
Don Juan both clarifies and clouds the distinction. For example, their “Tacos de Barbacoa Adobada Semi Dorados” aren’t made from barbacoa at all, but rather from chile-braised brisket, mild and lean in tortillas half-fried to give them a crackly, golden “semi-dorados” character ($2.25 each). Don Juan’s barbacoa taco, meanwhile, is just called “barbacoa.” It’s cheek meat as fatty and pinched as a dimpled smile ($1.99). They’re very different tacos, but exactly the same where it counts: They’re both delicious.
► For breakfast: Beans, eggs and cheese on flour. Simple formula, each with a twist. Beans with anise, eggs gathered close with a hard sear, tangy white cheese and a tortilla heated to a lardy luster. ($1.25)
► Tortillas: Extra points for handmade corn tortillas. Extra-extra points for toasting them on the flat-top for extra crunch and extra corn.
► Salsa: Salty squeeze-bottle jalapeño green and a little molcajete of house red with pureed tomato, chopped onion, cilantro, jalapeño and chili powder. Both are served with a thicker, crunchier and better grade of tortilla chip.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)