500 Tacos: Fiesta Mart

 
 
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
 
Fiesta Mart
3909 N. Interstate 35 (map), 512-406-3900, www.fiestamart.com
Hours: Grocery store open 24 hours; taqueria open 7am-8pm daily. Also at: 5510 S. Interstate 35 (map)
 
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 07.27.15
 
The whole Jarritos rainbow. Cowboy hats. Devotional candles. Fresh cactus paddles. Piñata Minions (fully licensed, I’m sure). Fiesta’s not just a grocery store — it’s a flea market. And every flea market needs a taco stand. Fiesta answers that need with a counter selling fruit cups, aguas frescas and tacos assembled from a dozen pans of color and steam.
 
The taco: Chicharrones rojas with rice
I never dreamed I’d be ordering wet pigskin so often, on purpose. But the style is growing on me, thanks to chicharrones like these: thoroughly stewed in reduced red chile broth, rendered soft without going slimy, with just enough chewability to draw out pure pork power. Especially good with vegetable-studded Mexican rice. ($1.99, plus 49 cents for rice)
 
 Pastor?: In the broadest interpretation of the style so far in this series, Fiesta throws together roast beef, shredded pork and full-fat chicharrones in a vague, dry red spice and calls it pastor. It’s a lot of meat for just $1.99. But it’s just that: a great big pile of meat and fat.
 
 
 Carnitas: From a pan full of jagged spires of pork, Fiesta pulls carnitas to order, with long and short fibers, skin, crust and full knots. It’s soggy — and a complete stranger to seasoning, which is why I added salty refried beans and a dress of cilantro, onions and lime. ($1.99, plus 49 cents for beans)
 Fruit cups and frescas: Long sticks of watermelon, pineapple and cantaloupe look like they’re grown in Jenga gardens just for these fruit cups ($1.99). And Fiesta makes pineapple and watermelon aguas frescas the classic way: full of pulp and circumstance, dipped from big beehive jars into sloppy styrofoam cups, icy cold ($1.79).
 Tortillas: In an operation of this scale, “made in-house” isn’t the same as “made by hand.” Fiesta’s waxy flour and bland white corn tortillas — though appropriately doubled up — don’t rise above their assembly line provenance.
 Salsa: It’s just a little cabinet off to the side, but Fiesta’s salsa bar works hard, with fresh key limes, pico, onions and cilantro next to bins of hot green tomatillo salsa verde thick with seeds and skins and an oily red chile de arbol with warm, smoky heat.
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The 500 Tacos Project
 
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)