500 Tacos: El Faro

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
El Faro
1779 Wells Branch Parkway, No. 108, Austin (map), 512-252-3420
Hours: 8am-1:30pm Tue-Sun; buffet 11am-1:30pm Tue-Fri
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 11.17.15
If El Faro is a little hard to spot in this Wells Branch strip center, look for the crowds at Branch Bar-B-Que and work your way toward the middle. There you’ll find El Faro’s weekday lunch buffet, a rare commodity in the Mexican food market. It’s a 32-seat place with a buffet steam-line against one of the bright orange walls. The staff is as cheerful and accommodating as a full-service place, and at $8.99, you’ll get your money’s worth. El Faro can’t compete with the buffet at Casa Moreno’s down south, with its wagon-wheel handmade flour tortillas, but it compensates with chiles rellenos and an even rarer buffet feature: menudo.
The taco: Buffet taquitos
El Faro doesn’t make its own tortillas, but it fries little taco shells ready to fill with picadillo, steak and pork, plus whatever comes to mind from the buffet. The picadillo is an easygoing chili-bowl slurry of ground beef, peas, potatoes and tomatoes, while the wafer-thin steak Milanesa is grilled fajita-style for an effect like humidified jerky, an effect you can soften by adding velvet-smooth refried beans. The best taco filling is a true DIY project: big chunks of pork shoulder stewed in an aromatic three-chile braise for you to shred down to taquito size with fork and fingers. ($8.99 as part of the lunch buffet)
 The buffet line: Aside from the taco fillings, the buffet carries serviceable cheese enchiladas with chili gravy, refried beans, Mexican rice, sautéed vegetables, roasted chicken and charro beans. Chiles rellenos have a nice egg batter and tangy tomato sauce with melted cheese. The best part is menudo with big nuggets of hominy in a red chile broth with fatty chunks of tripe for that feedlot funk we love so much.   ($8.99; available Tue-Fri 11am-1:30pm. The rest of the time, the cafe operates from a regular breakfast and lunch menu.)
 Tortillas: If the crisp taquito shells don’t work for you, storebought flour and corn tortillas are wrapped two at a time in foil packets for freshness.
 Salsa: At the end of the buffet is a salsa bar with a mild green tomatillo, medium-hot chile de arbol and a chunky molcajete salsa of tomatoes and peppers with a big smoky growl.
 Note: This El Faro, owned by Jose Luis Morales, is not affiliated with El Faro Breakfast & Lunch at the Shell station on North Lamar, run by Elvia Ortega.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)