500 Tacos: La Mancha Tex-Mex Tavern

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
La Mancha Tex-Mex Tavern
2203 Hancock Drive, Austin (map), 512-467-4108, www.lamanchatexmex.com
Hours: 11am-9pm Mon; 11am-10pm Tue-Sat; 10am-9pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 08.18.15
The name “Jorge’s” was an Austin Tex-Mex institution when I moved here in the ‘80s. The place itself came and went, then rose again in locations around town, most recently landing here on Hancock Drive. But when it closed and La Mancha moved into the space in summer 2013, it no doubt felt the pressure that came along with the legacy. La Mancha responded as any new place should, by making its own statement. The decor is a festive mix of distressed doors and wood, outsized steel letters and Mexican movie posters, a retro-modern space criss-crossed with the throwback plastic banners of old-school Tex-Mex joints. And where Jorge’s stuck with the basics, La Mancha leans in with a mix of old and new-school cooking, including a taco menu 10 layers deep.
The taco: Al pastor
Most taquerias let the bright red adobo do the talking for pastor, speaking in loud tones of paprika and crushed chiles and salt. A few marinate the pork in pineapple; some throw it on as a garnish. At La Mancha, they pass the baton to the pineapple almost entirely, letting its sweetness and acidity go to work on tender chunks of pork, letting the adobo profile take the background. It’s an imperfect pendulum swing away from true trompo pastor, but I like the variety. Dressed with fresh onions and cilantro, with strong pickled onions and jalapeños on the side. ($9.99 for two with rice and beans; $2 a la carte Tuesdays at lunch)
 $2 Taco Tuesdays: Normally, La Mancha’s tacos come in twos, on a plate with rice and beans for $8.99-$13.99. But on Tuesdays from 11-4, you can get any picadillo, tinga, carnitas, pastor, barbacoa or veggie taco for $2 apiece, $3 for fajitas or seafood. The crispy beef taco is straightforward Tex-Mex, with dark red picadillo spiced like chili under lettuce, tomato and cheese. Beef fajitas are the big-block engine kind, tender and tough at the same time, with a marinade that survives the grilling, served in abundance with lettuce, tomato and cheese when I’d be happier with a few grilled onions. Flying in the face of bad shrimp taco experiences, I took the waiter’s suggestion of fried shrimp. The breading is scrappy and uneven, but it’s crisp over shrimp with some spring left in it, dressed simply with marinated tomatoes, onions and herbs. A good suggestion.
 Tortillas: Storebought flour and doubled-up white corn.
 Salsa: The house red is cool and crisp, a blended balance of tomato, onion and pepper. On request, there’s a creamy green avocado sauce with ranch undertones and medium heat.
 Queso: It’s no exaggeration to say that as it cools, this queso can stand a metal spoon. It’s rich and dense and decent, drawing some personality from a scatter of roasted poblanos. ($4.99/cup)
 The $3 margarita: Here’s the real cost of a $3 margarita: It encourages you to drink more of them than you should. It’s white as chalk, like from a frozen place where limes never grow. And you don’t realize how damned loud that frozen margarita machine is until it shuts off; the silence is like a rush of liberation. Or maybe that’s just the buzz kicking in. At any rate, the house margarita is $3 during happy hour, which runs 3-6 weekdays, all day Tuesday, 11-3 Saturday and 10-3 Sunday. Also: $6 Mexican martinis, $3 imports and craft beers and $2 domestic and Mexican beers.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)