500 Tacos: Ken’s Subs, Tacos & More

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Ken’s Subs, Tacos & More
9408 Dessau Road (map), 512-837-9370, www.kenstacos.com. Hours: 6am-3pm Mon-Fri; 7am-2pm Sat
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 09.12.15
Even the open-minded alchemist would admit that sandwiches and tacos will never combine to make gold. Sure, they share the same culinary requirements: fresh ingredients, smart flavor combinations, everything made to order. But those are just platitudes that hold true for all food. My experience? Ken’s does neither subs nor tacos especially well. But they do feed a lot of people a lot of food fast and affordably, and sometimes that’s all the alchemy people need.
The taco: Crispy beef
I was ready to give up on my sloppy trio of barbacoa, bean and carne guisada tacos. Then a jovial stranger — a regular at Ken’s — asked to sit at my table in the packed room, carrying a plate of crispy tacos. They looked like a taco artiste had broken into the school cafeteria and put them together. They’re made with thick, fried-to-order corn tortillas, with dense and dark brown ground beef spilling out in a juicy mess beneath a crown of fresh lettuce, tomato and shredded cheese. The taco tastes as good as it looks, with beef in pre-chili suspension in a shell that’s crispy outside, chewy inside. ($1.39)
 Barbacoa, bean and cheese, carne guisada: None of these three tacos could be eaten like a taco in polite company, unless you were dressed in the latest poncho couture. Waxy, commercial-grade flour tortillas hang like wet paper towels on the outsides, unable to deal with the hot mess inside. A lot of hot mess, to be fair. There’s a big knot of mild, greasy, overcooked barbacoa in one taco ($2.49), easily a cup of beef and gravy in the carne guisada taco ($2.49) and a congealing lava floe of refritos with a collagenous cap of melting cheese in the third ($1.09). If quantity is your siren song, by all means dash yourself against these soggy shores.
 Tortillas: The gummy storebought flour tortillas make the freshly fried yellow crispy taco shells shine that much brighter.
 Salsa: The kind of sauce that’s got your back when the tacos do not. Bright with tomato, light on the peppers and zesty, with a spice profile like garlic and horseradish having a party.
 Subs: What I’ll say about this hulking, sloppy sandwich with rough-cut roast beef, slabs of pale ham, salty white turkey breast, white American cheese, soggy lettuce and tomatoes on chewy white bread is that these Zapp’s potato chips are good, at least. And nevermind that it’s not the club sandwich I ordered. When you’re this busy, who has time for getting it right? ($9.75)
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)