500 Tacos: Habanero Mexican Cafe
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Habanero Mexican Cafe
501 W. Oltorf St. (map), 512-416-0443, www.habanerocafe.com. Hours: 7am-3pm Sun-Thu; 7am-9pm Fri-Sat
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 06.30.15
When a restaurant switches to cash-only the way Habanero did in May of this year, that says two things to me. One: That the thin margins of a tiny mom-and-pop shop can bend only so far to accommodate credit-card fees. Two: That they have a strong enough client base that the fleeting inconvenience of paying cash won’t keep them from filling every seat in the place at lunch. Habanero fits both of those criteria, with modest prices and standing room only.
Taco A: Fajitas rancheras
Surely one of Austin’s best taco values at $2, Habanero’s mesquite-grilled specialty is a slow-building Scoville fury of wide-cut beef skirt, grilled tomatoes and onions with strips of jalapeño as hot as matchsticks. ($2)
Taco B: Machacado and egg
Dried chipped beef gives a breakfast taco the best of both worlds: the fortifying protein sunshine of eggs and beef’s robust underbite. Habanero makes it even better with tomato, onion and jalapeño folded in. Breakfast is served all day. ($2)
► Taco plate: Build two of your favorite tacos from Habanero’s protein hall of fame — lengua, picadillo, chicken fajita, chicharron, tripas and more —add rice, beans and a guacamole salad and you have an outstanding taco plate for $7.95. I went hog wild with flash-grilled al pastor that glowed orange with achiote and carnitas in chunks with golden fibered armor that chewed like jerky.
► Barbacoa: Real beef cheek barbacoa is usually shredded into short streamers that stick together like cascarones in a sauna. Not here, where the beef is left in hulking pieces that show off fat and fiber on the outside, with coral-colored gradients inside. A good cross between the flavor of cabeza de res and the resilient texture of brisket. ($2)
► Tortillas: Storebought flour and single-layer white corn.
► Salsa: Habanero’s table sauce is a salsa fresca chop with a tight balance of tomato sweetness and heat, moderated by fresh cilantro. But they don’t call this place Habanero for nothing, and the namesake salsa — by request and (if I were their attorney) with a waiver — will make Looney Tunes steam shoot out of your ears.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)