500 Tacos: Fonda San Miguel
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Fonda San Miguel
Hours: 5-9:30pm Mon-Thu; 5-10:30pm Fri-Sat; brunch 11am-2pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 08.27.15
I’ve known Fonda San Miguel long enough to have a ... history, even though it got here in 1975 and I didn’t show up until 1981. But in 2009, I reviewed Fonda for the American-Statesman. I might have made a few jabs at the decor, said things like “Casa Bonita” and “market bazaar,” but it was pretty tame stuff by internet standards. Nevertheless, I was treated to the sound and fury of Fonda-philes. Erudite, cultured, traveled ... and furious in the way people used to get reading the newspaper. But it all breezed right past owners Tom Gilliland and chef Miguel Ravago, and two years later, I was interviewing them about Swiss chard, chorizo verde and pisco sours for Cecilia Nasti’s radio show “Field and Feast.” And then I put them on my list of Austin’s 55 Best Restaurants. Here we are again to talk about tacos. And I will keep my interior motifs to myself this time.
Taco A: Al pastor
Like so much at Fonda, the al pastor is the real thing, roasted long and tall on a trompo spit, layered with pineapple and dripping with adobo-infused juices, served four to an order on 4-inch corn tortillas made in-house. The charmingly irregular ribbons of pork fold over and across themselves like prayer hands. And my only wish is that these weren’t the only tacos on the menu. Although with tortillas like these, the possibilities extend to cochinita pibil, carne asada and queso asado. Just order the plates and do it yourself. ($9.99 for four)
► Tortillas: I’ll say this quickly so I don’t have to say it over and over: Fonda San Miguel makes its own corn and flour tortillas, right there on a counter you can see from the dining room. The corn is wide and flat and strong, with big and lingering maiz flavor. The flour tortillas are folded like hotel linens into triangles with neat corners. And they’re like linen, thin and flexible and strong, and the kind of warming aroma of laundry fresh from the dryer.
Taco B: Queso asado
To ignore the taco possibilities of Fonda’s grilled cheese mega-tizer is to deprive yourself of thick, roasted, melted Muenster with nuggets of chef Miguel Ravago’s chorizo verde made with pork and fire-hearted Swiss chard from the restaurant’s own garden. Another option worth adding: grilled onions and poblano peppers. It’s a landmark appetizer on its own, but folded between one fresh corn and one fresh flour tortilla, it’s an addition to the Austin veggie taco lexicon that cannot be denied. ($12.95 for a full skillet with tortillas)
► Chile con queso: Fonda puts the “chile” where it belongs in chile con queso: everywhere. Break the surface of the dense cheese — already rippling with tomatoes and cooked onions and a thatch of cilantro — and there’s poblano pepper in tender roasted strips. As the waiter explained, “this isn’t chip-dipping sissy queso for babies.” He didn’t say that, but he did bring fresh corn and flour tortillas for a jumpy-house trampoline of cheese that no chip was ever built to conquer. ($10.50)
► Salsa: Salsa roja is smoky and cool at the same time, with medium vegetal heat. The verde is a loose and soothing tomatillo. Both have the stems and seeds and skins of salsa made by hand and in a hurry.
► Raising the bar: I almost ordered a frozen margarita, until I remembered where I was: somewhere where it’s safe to order on the rocks, because even the house margarita is rippling with real agave tequila and a simple finish of lime juice and triple sec. Even so, it’s not even in the same league as Fonda’s mojito, muddled with mint from the garden, or a Peruvian pisco sour that’s perfectly frothed and exotic.
► Happy hour: I saved the best for last. The chile con queso, tacos al pastor and queso asado in this report are half-price during happy hour, which runs 5-7 Monday-Thursday (and all night Tuesday) in the bar and towering sunlit atrium of the cocktail area. The house margarita is just $4.95 then, too.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)