500 Tacos: El Faro Breakfast & Lunch

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
El Faro Breakfast & Lunch
8911 N. Lamar Blvd. inside the Capital Food Mart Shell station (map), 512-535-7699. Hours: 6am-4pm Mon-Sat
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 06.05.15
Elvia Ortega would be a good cook anywhere. But inside a gas station at her one-woman flat-top, she’s a champion, turning out gorditas, tortas, huaraches and tacos on fresh corn tortillas. And Oaxacan tamales — but we’ll get to that. First, she’d want you to know this isn’t the same El Faro as the restaurant on Wells Branch Parkway. This is the one inside the cleanest Shell station on North Lamar.
The taco: Puerco en salsa roja
Ortega looked at me with worried eyes and warned me in Spanish how hot the red pork would be, the word “picoso” piercing my limited Español. Spicy? Yes, but with a story to tell, the kind guajillo chiles tell with flintlock sparks when they’re integrated into a thick braise over fatty, tender pork. ($2.50)
 Breakfast tacos: In the rush to put as many eggs into as many tortillas as possible in the shortest amount of time, a lot of shops make the incongruous mistake of overcooking the eggs in bulk. Or worse, leaving them to sulk in steampans. Ortega cooks them to order, and the result is a breakfast taco a la Mexicana with eggs in a state between lightly fried and scrambled, with the pico trinity of onion, tomato and jalapeño cooked with the same reserve ($1.75). That cooked-to-order ethic even breathes fresh life into that most overworked of breakfast tacos, the all-in-one. El Faro calls it the Combo, with eggs, homefries, cheese, breakfast sausage and thick pieces of fatty ham working together like a cover band playing your favorite Eagles song ($2.50).
 Here’s the beef: I won’t waste your time on a fatty and gamey fajita taco. No, I’ll save it for carne asada, with well-seasoned beef, salsa verde and cheese. ($2.50 each)
 Those tamales, tho: A proud cook is the best cook, and after I ordered five tacos, Ortega wouldn’t let me get away without also ordering a tamal, something I stay away from because they’re too often grainy masa caskets for greasy mystery meats. But she wraps them in a banana leaf, Oaxaca style, with ground plantains and roasted white and dark-meat chicken. Soft and spicy, it’s as good as any I’ve had in Austin, a steal at $1.50 for its size — and that’s just the small. For $2.50, the standard larger tamal is a meal in itself.
 Tortillas: Ortega makes her own corn tortillas, thick and layered and strong enough for everything she throws at them. From that same masa, she also crafts the racetrack ovals at the base of sasquatch-size huaraches. Flour tortillas are storebought, but she steered me toward them for breakfast tacos for tradition’s sake.
 Salsa: A blood-red chile de arbol salsa thick with oil stains tortillas, fingers and lips with the same fury, hanging on long enough to mellow to sandstone warmth. By contrast, a salty chopped jalapeño is a cooldown. A diluted tomato salsa is clearly intended for gas-station güeros like me.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)