500 Tacos: La Fruta Feliz
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
La Fruta Feliz
Hours: 7am-8pm Mon-Fri, 6:30am-8pm Sat, 6:30am-6pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 01.14.15
The fruit cup. It’s one of the Mexican canon’s simplest pleasures. Long slices of whatever’s in season — watermelon, papaya, cucumber, mango — standing tall in a cup, sprinkled with lime and chile salt. At La Fruta Feliz, the fruit cup is part of the small-town feel of this cafe, part taqueria, part smoothie shop, part ice cream parlor, all of it played out against blue checkered tablecloths and red vinyl chairs. Breakfast tacos start at just a dollar, and the menu includes enchiladas and plates of roasted goat, beef, pork and chicken alongside shrimp cocktails and steaming bowls of caldo.
The taco: Lengua de res
I changed my mind on this one. Shifted from spotlighting barbacoa de chivo to lengua de res at the last minute, and here’s why: La Fruta Feliz makes beef tongue worth ... calling an audible for. If you’ve seen a whole beef tongue, you’ll question how they turned that dense, knotty, scrubbing pad of an organ into something this subtle, this tender and rich, sliced into bites like tenderloin brochettes. With a little salt and a light tan braise, this is how “other” meat is done. It was the best of three tacos for this report, and a real value at $1.99.
Chivo (below left) was my original choice, because only a handful of taquerias in town even bother with it. Chivo is goat meat, and in good hands, it’s like a wild game lunch. At La Fruta Feliz, it’s shredded into fine fibers and soaked through with a magic red spice that makes all the flavor disappear. And there was a bone in my taco. No big deal if this were a plate lunch. But inside a taco, it’s a potential fast track to the Heimlich Hall of Fame. A greasy al pastor taco (below right) was cooked into angry little bits, leaving the unlikely tongue an unquestionable winner. ($1.75 for chivo and al pastor)
► Tortillas: Flour, as stiff and dry as a windshield flyer. But here’s the thing: At La Fruta Feliz, they press their own corn tortillas, and they’re as soft and warm as an abuelita’s embrace. But because my intended goat taco target was already on corn, I ordered the lengua on flour for variety’s sake. Variety’s mistake. Say it with me: Maiz, please.
► Salsa: To get more than the mild, tomato house red, you’ll have to ask. But then come the squeeze bottles, where the real adventure begins. There’s a cold tomatillo laced with the fruit’s green fibers and lingering heat, then a smooth and creamy, surprisingly mild jalapeño green. The hottest sauce always comes in the smallest bottle. Here, that smallest bottle is red, like a warning about the chile de arbol inside, which starts smoky and dry in a gritty burnt orange base then bursts like a firecracker of flavor. A flavorcracker? Light the fuse.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)