500 Tacos: Don Mario Mexican Restaurant
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Don Mario Mexican Restaurant
Hours: 9am-9:30pm Mon-Wed; 9am-10pm Thu; 9am-10:30pm Fri; 8am-10:30pm Sat; 8am-10pm Sun
Breakfast: Served until 11:30am Mon-Thu; 8am-3pm Sat-Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 07.12.15
Declaring a “specialty” is a bold and sometimes constricting move, like declaring a major in college. You still have to take all the other classes, but you’d better rock your major. And so it is at Don Mario, the big, brightly decorated Mexican cafe adjacent to the new Holiday Inn Express in Lakeway, one of the few hotels in this part of the county. There’s a full schedule of enchiladas, tortas, quesadillas, fajitas, nachos and other Tex-Mex core classes, but Don Mario is going for its degree in al pastor. There’s a picture on the website of a trompo being carved, street style, the kind of vertical spit you might see on a real street stand in the D.F. But the trompo’s just for catering, the waiter said. The pastor in the kitchen is sliced and spiced and grilled, then finished with pineapple on the plate. Al pastor with a degree from an online university.
The taco: Al pastor
Tacos at Don Mario are served Mexico City style, meaning small and in multiples, with 3.5-inch corn tortillas dragged through hot oil and doubled, then topped with grilled or roasted meat with cilantro and onions. That describes the base of Don Mario’s al pastor street tacos. The pork itself is cut in fat ribbons and small nuggets shaggy with mild adobo spice and subtropical twang, grilled hard. Diced fresh pineapple rounds out the trompo illusion. It’s a solid effort, but not the dish on which I’d hang my “specialty” mortarboard. ($9 for three with salty refried beans and Mexican rice with peas, carrots and corn; $1.99 a la carte)
► Street taco trio: Experimentation is the beauty of the $2 mini-taco, allowing for a survey course in roasted meats. Don Mario does thick, rich barbacoa roasted hard at the edges and full-cut lengua that’s tender and robust but should have been peeled to get rid of that slick exterior Brillo pad. But the carnitas here? I’d switch majors for this sweet, aromatic pork, pulled by hand with a good balance of moist fiber and crispy bits.
► Tortillas: Commercial-grade yellow corn tortillas.
► Salsa: Don Mario puts on a big show with little bowls. Sweet and spicy roasted tomato salsa comes first, followed by a trio of mild green, smoky tomatillo red and twangy orange habanero salsas.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)