500 Tacos: El Taquito

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
El Taquito
1713 E. Riverside Drive, Austin (map), 512-851-8226, www.eltaquito.com
Hours: 10am-10pm Mon-Wed; 10am-12:30am Thu-Fri; 8am-1:30am Sat; 8am-10pm Sun
Also at: 20205 FM 685, Pflugerville (map); 130 Louis Henna Blvd., Round Rock (map)
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 10.17.15
El Taquito is a shop forever in search of the Goldilocks zone between a chain restaurant and a taco stand, but it finds no peace in either. With stainless steel chairs, faux granite tabletops and lighted menu boards, it’ll never have the charm of a mom-and-pop taqueria. And while the tacos aren’t as charmingly rustic as a walkup taco stand — they don’t even double up the corn tortillas — neither are they refined enough for a mainstream audience. We’re left in a kind of taqueria limbo. But at least this limbo comes with a salsa bar.
The taco: Al pastor
It’s appropriate that the menu board puts “trompo” in quotes to describe El Taquito’s al pastor. Because air quotes are as close as it gets to a true radiant rotisserie glow. Instead, it’s just salty chopped pork without the adobo swagger, with only a mince of pineapple to suggest the twang of true al pastor. ($2.09)
 Salsa: There’s not a taco in this report that couldn’t be improved by El Taquito’s salsa bar, which has thinned out in the past few years but still features four salsas, pico, escabeche and roasted jalapeños. There’s sweet-hot garlicky chile de arbol, spicy tomatillo-jalapeño verde, mild and smoky chipotle red and a roasted tomato-and-pepper molcajete served warm. The escabeche is a mild, crisp and reviving toss of vinegar, chile salt, hand-cut cucumbers, jalapeño strips and tiny ribbons of habanero.
 Tortillas: None of these tacos is helped by its storebought tortilla. The flour is leathery and stiff; the single-layer yellow corn dissolves at the edges. Neither gets any color from the grill.
 More tacos: El Taquito’s campechana taco is a blend of pastor and beef fajita, but the chewy, fatty beef does nothing to rescue the weak pastor ($2.35). Barbacoa here is chubby and lazy, lying on its flour tortilla like a worn-out TV couch ($2.19). Only the carnitas deliver the kind of taco-shop character that transcends the fast-food feel of the place. It’s by turns flossy and fatty, then lean and salty where it needs to be ($2.09).
 Programming note: Breakfast is a blink-and-miss-it proposition weekdays, served only until 11. On weekends, it goes until 1 p.m.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)