500 Tacos: The Hightower

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
The Hightower
1209 E. Seventh St., Austin (map), 512-524-1448, www.thehightoweraustin.com
Hours: Lunch 11am-2:30pm Mon-Fri. Dinner 5pm-close daily. Brunch 11am-2:30pm Sat-Sun.
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 12.22.15
As the days tick down toward the end of this 500 Tacos series, my choices are getting trickier. Do I go with safe and predictable Tex-Mex standbys like El Mercado, La Feria or Baby Acapulco? Or something unexpected? The Hightower falls in the second category, though it’s hardly an unknown quantity. Some of my favorite food last year came from here — boudin hash, smoked tofu, a frozen caipirinha, pork jowl — from a menu put together by chef Chad Dolezal, who opened this place in the former Karibu Ethiopian spot in January 2014 after he and GM Victor Farnsworth closed their Argentinian steakhouse El Arbol. Tacos showed up on the Hightower’s menu at the 11th hour. They were worth the suspense.
The taco: Grit fried chicken
Chicken thighs dredged in breading spiked with grits. Orange sauce and bok choy. Gnarly handmade corn tortillas. Half Southern, half Asian, half Mexican. Yeah, I’m terrible at math. But these tacos add up to some of the most intriguing in this series. The chicken carries its dark-meat flavor with lush, sultry grace. The breading is crisp and yielding by turns, with a pebbled grain that gathers and holds a sweet orange glaze. Stir-fried bok choy swirls around the bird, punctuated by ribbons of red Fresno chile like a rhythmic gymnast. It’s served in a bowl with a foil packet of fresh corn tortillas like a winning Wonka bar. Proof that a guy in a revolutionary’s cap can speak with multiple accents and make a statement with each one. ($10.50 lunch/$13.50 dinner)
 Tortillas: Without these thick, aromatic, sunspot corn tortillas — tough as leather, yielding as skillet cornbread — this dish would be a chicken stir-fry. A good one. But these tortillas leave no doubt that the Hightower’s taco game isn’t just for show.
 Carnitas: Further proving my point that the Hightower can speak the language, the kitchen makes a pork carnitas torta with a lush, roasted core and crisp, flossy flourishes. It’s dressed out with pickled shallots, crema, avocado and a salsa verde as concentrated in texture and taste as a tomatillo chimichurri served on a soft, toasted telera roll with crisp, clean, hand-cut Kennebec fries. A lunchtime bargain at $9.50.
 Frozen caipirinha: Anybody can do a frozen margarita. The Hightower makes its sweet South American counterpart with the sugar-cane liquor called cachaca, and the result is like spotting your best friend at a bar in Brazil. For color and character, have them add blackberry puree.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)