500 Tacos: El Mana Loncheria y Fruteria

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
El Mana Loncheria y Fruteria
5938 Westminster Drive, Austin (map), 512-975-5240
Hours: 11am-10pm Mon-Fri; 8am-10pm Sat-Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 12.05.15
Some of these 500 Tacos reports are coronations; some are cautionary tales. Count El Mana in the second group. Forget that it’s both a storefront and a taco trailer at this northeastern nexus of tire and auto shops. It’s more like a laconic snowcone stand with tacos on the side. And that’s where you should leave them.
The taco: Bistec ranchero
If extra fat and a few cooked onions constitutes ranchero, I’ve misunderstood the concept all these years. I thought it stood for something: tomatoes, peppers, technique. At El Mana, it’s just second-tier cuts of beef rolled into a tortilla, its one saving grace being that it’s served steaming hot for quick dispatch. ($2)
 Al pastor and carnitas: With the seething red grease that left my taco hand stained orange all afternoon, I wasn’t eating this al pastor so much as I was changing its oil. The hard knobs of pork in El Mana’s carnitas taco taste like yesterday’s roast, warmed over. ($2 each)
 Chicken fajitas: Let’s forget for a minute that chickens don’t really have fajitas. And if they did, they wouldn’t want this chalky, flavorless meat representing them. ($2)
 Tortillas: Suckered in by the false promise of the handmade tortilla, I passed up storebought flour and bet it all on corn. Sometimes, even “handmade” means small, tough and dry.
 Salsa: El Mana’s thick jalapeño salsa is much better than the tacos it supports.
 The snowcone side: I can’t imagine paying $5-$10 for variations on cold fruit and chile salt, but $3 for a tall, sweet strawberry agua fresca feels about right.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)