500 Tacos: El Patio

 
 
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
 
El Patio
2938 Guadalupe St. (map), 512-476-5955, www.elpatioaustin.com
Hours: 11am-9pm Mon-Sat; closed Sun
 
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 04.17.15
 
When Robert Earl Keen sings about Mexican food “with lots of cheese and onions, and a guacamole salad” in “Front Porch Song,” he could be talking about El Patio. Steadfast in its Tex-Mex insistence on brown chili gravy and yellow cheese and night-glo guacamole for more than 60 years, El Patio isn’t just an Austin institution — it’s in our DNA.
 
The taco: Crispy beef
The way El Patio does it, a taco is part chalupa, part tostada, part taco. They share the same family tree anyway. But El Patio blurs the lines by laying the taco shell flat and dressing it with gentrified taco meat, chopped iceberg and a few pale tomatoes. It doesn’t become a taco until halfway through lunch, when the crispy shell softens enough to fold its way into taco territory. ($9.90 as part of the El Patio #2 dinner with guacamole salad, two cheese enchiladas, beans and rice)
 
 
 The rest of the #2 dinner: The taco comes out first, on a cool plate with guacamole as squishy as Miracle Whip, followed by a plate as hot as a branding iron. And that’s where the Tex-Mex magic happens, in the crucible of chili gravy as burnt orange as the blood that flows through El Patio’s regular customers. The cheese is processed, the beans are crusted like a lava flow, and the rice clings together in fear of the rest. And that’s the way we like it.
 Tortillas: El Patio rolls out its own masa for the crispy taco, chalupa and nacho shells. They’re as thick, strong and layered as corn oil shale. Corn and flour tortillas for enchiladas and soft tacos are store-bought.
 Salsa: Chopped and cooked tomato red, mild and sweet, is the template for chips and salsa.
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The 500 Tacos Project
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)