500 Tacos: El Secreto De La Abuela

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
El Secreto De La Abuela
817 Airport Blvd. (map), 512-389-2227. Hours: 6am-9pm Mon-Sat; 7am-9pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 07.10.15
This building was called Mi Casita when I covered every single restaurant on Airport Boulevard in 2011. Those stories are hopelessly outdated now, because this underappreciated boulevard didn’t have the courtesy to sit still, adding and subtracting restaurants with a vengeance. I liked Mi Casita, but I like El Secreto De La Abuela better, maybe because my own grandmother’s secrets included wrestling a buzzard (buy me a beer; I’ll tell you all about it). And grandmothers know best.
Taco A: Crispy tripitas
As delicate as any highborn dish on a white tablecloth, these tripitas are the featherweight version of a taco that can run rubbery and funky. The oil and heat have rendered the intestinal membrane and fat to their essence: a delicacy from the animal’s core, carrying its flavors in bits as crisp and lingering as popcorn. Order this one on a handmade corn tortilla. The three main tacos in this report represent challenging and iconic taqueria specialties. El Secreto has mastered them all. ($1.99)
Taco B: Lengua
Tongue isn’t the easiest meat to dress and cook, but it’s among the easiest to get wrong, through sloppy butchering, lazy prep, bad cooking and haphazard slicing. El Secreto gets all of it right, with meat that’s peeled, roasted tender and sliced thinly against the grain, leaving bits and pieces along the way like breadcrumbs leading you back to the big beef flavor of the taqueria counterpart to East Coast deli. ($2.50)
Taco C: Beans, potatoes and cheese
Crispy homestyle potatoes cut in big pieces. Salty refried beans that swerve between velvet puree and smashed whole beans. Lots of shredded taqueria cheese. This is the model of a good basic breakfast taco. Breakfast is served all day, but it’s cheaper before 11. ($1.15 for two items before 11 a.m., $1.44 after. Add 20 cents for a third item.)
 Migas and pastor: For a big, fortifying migas taco, El Secreto’s handmade corn tortillas are chopped into eggs scrambled wide and tight, like an omelet, then sauced with mild ranchera. Pork al pastor is tough, sauced more like chili than pastor, and burned along the edges, the only disappointment in the batch. (Migas $1.15 before 11, $1.44 after; al pastor $1.99)
 Tortillas: One of this Abuela’s secrets? Making her own corn tortillas, thick and strong and toasted along the edges, with a taste almost floral on the finish. Commercial flour tortillas here are thick and dusty, cooked and toasted with the same care as handmade.
 Salsa: Basic red salsa is sweet and mild, with shreds of cilantro and chunks of onion. The shop’s cream-style green starts like horseradish and finishes like wasabi.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)