500 Tacos: El Chilito | East 7th

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
El Chilito | East 7th
1623 E. Seventh St., Austin (map), 512-334-9660, www.elchilito.com
Hours: 7am-10pm Mon-Fri; 8am-10pm Sat; 8am-9pm Sun
Also at: 2219 Manor Road (map). In the works: 4501 Manchaca Road (map); 6425 Burnet Road (map).
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 12.23.15
I’ve covered El Chilito in this series already, at least the one on Manor Road. But East Seventh Street is a more ambitious incubator for this little chain, with competition from players like Angie’s, Joe’s Bakery, Los Comales, Takeria DF, La Michoacana, Beto’s and others. As this taqueria from the El Chile Group (El Chile, El Alma, Alcomar, El Sapo) lays out ambitious plans to double in size with locations on Burnet and Manchaca roads early next year, it seems like a good time to check on El Chilito in the East Seventh crucible.
Taco A: Barbacoa
Given El Chilito’s will to empire, you might assume they’d play it safe with brisket “barbacoa.” Nope. This is the real beef cheek stuff, as glossy and collagenous as any blue-collar roadside taco trailer, but with a background of garlic and citrus to represent its higher ambitions. ($3.75, with onions and cilantro)
Taco B: Cochinita pibil
El Chilito’s cochinita pibil was one of the most memorable entries in the 30 Tacos, 30 Days series I wrote for the Statesman in 2010, back when cochinita was a scarce commodity and 30 Tacos seemed like an awful lot of tacos. But it’s held up through time and comparison, standing with cochinita from El Meson and Azul Tequila, even if it’s not in the same league as Sazon or Santa Catarina. Comparisons aside, El Chilito’s cochinita is pulled in big, tender pieces under a braise that comes alive with the tangy, floral achiote buzz of annatto seeds. Finished with sweet pickled pick onions on crumbling corn tortillas. ($3.75)
Taco C: Vegetal
Scrolling through the past 11 months of this 500 Tacos series, I worried that vegetarian tacos might be under-represented. Maybe this is why. With zucchini, yellow squash, onions, corn and peppers in a uniform sautéed dice, it’s like a side dish in a tortilla. Nothing stands out, nothing leads. See Taco Flats, Counter Culture or Papalote for vegetarian tacos that are more than side players. ($3.25)
Taco D: Lupe
This scramble of eggs, onions, poblanos, mushrooms and onions is as bland and slick as the Monterey jack cheese melted over it. A better choice from El Chilito’s all-day breakfast menu would be jamon a la Mexicana.($3)
 Tortillas: El Chile uses boilerplate flour tortillas from El Milagro and slightly better corn tortillas from that same Austin factory. But even doubled up, they crumble into cornmeal after just a few minutes in their foil cocoons.
 Salsa: Is it lazy or just cheap for El Chilito to stick with just one salsa — even a good roasted one — for a 25-taco menu? At these premium prices, it’s a little of both.
 Cold weather gear: El Chilito carries a full line of coffee drinks and soups. But a cool morning at the picnic tables over a cup of chipotle chicken tortilla soup ($4) and a Mexican hot chocolate and espresso concotion called the Hot “O” Special ($3.50) was more like Campbell’s and Swiss Miss over the stove.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)