500 Tacos: Jalisco’s Restaurant & Bar

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Jalisco’s Restaurant & Bar
6601 S. Congress Ave., Austin (map), 512-448-9111, www.jaliscosaustin.com
Hours: 8am-10:30pm Sun-Wed; 8am-11:30pm Thu-Sat; breakfast served until noon daily
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 09.29.15
On one hot summer morning, I’d already eaten at four taco trailers by the time I got to Jalisco’s for lunch. It had been over 100 degrees for two hours before I sat down, and I was grateful for air conditioning and an upholstered booth and ice water at Jalisco’s. For chips and salsa and table service. And even as this series drills deeper into the rustic, outdoor culture of taco stands, I’m just fine with Jalisco’s homogenized, franchise-style hacienda, with room for more than a hundred people, the parking to back it up and a full bar with Mexican martinis.
The taco: Beef fajita
Another advantage of a big, efficient Tex-Mex restaurant is a proper grill to sear fajitas. Real marinated skirt-steak fajitas with a caramelized sear, finished with pico de gallo so fresh that the jalapeños, tomatoes and onions all have a crisp snap. The flour tortilla isn’t made by hand, my waitress said, but it has the irregular shape and layered fluff of a well-made tortilla, no matter who actually made it. At lunch, a fajita taco with a ground beef enchilada, rice and smoky refried beans is just $7.99. The ground beef inside that enchilada is bland and dry, and the tortilla wrap is thin and mealy, but it’s topped with good chile colorado gravy and a melted mix of real cheddar-jack cheese. ($7.99 from 10-3 Mon-Fri; $9.49 after 3 and on weekends)
 Crispy beef taco: When so many of a restaurant’s dishes come with a crispy beef taco, logic would suggest it’s something special. But logic would be wrong. It’s the same flavorless, gray ground beef as the enchilada, with a weak premade crispy shell that sogged in half. Points for presentation, though: on a plate of its own, with lettuce, tomato and cheese in three neat piles in front like a farmers market taco stand. ($3.39 a la carte)
 Tortillas: I mentioned the homestyle flour tortilla. It’s not made in-house, but Jalisco’s makes its own corn tortillas, wide and thin with full-bodied maîz flavor. Why they don’t use those handmade tortillas for enchiladas and crispy tacos is a mystery.
 Salsa: This is the kind of gentrified tomato-onion-pepper salsa from a blender that you’re afraid will cost you points on your taqueria license. But it’s one more reason to be grateful for free chips and salsa.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)