500 Tacos: La Peña / Congress Ave. Grocery

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
La Peña / Congress Ave. Grocery
227 Congress Ave., Austin (map), 512-477-6007, www.lapena-austin.org
Hours: 8am-5pm Mon-Fri and 8am-3pm Sat
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 11.28.15
When the Mexican cafe Las Manitas closed to make way for the inevitable JW Marriott hotel, it left a void for a generation of Austinites like me who ate lunch at its beat-up counter. My toddler and I were regulars, always taking a seat out back so we could walk through the busy kitchen on the way. That toddler’s 16 now, and all that’s left of Las Manitas is La Peña a block north, the art gallery and snack counter run by Cynthia and Lidia Pérez, the sisters who owned the cafe.
By “all that’s left,” I mean physically — the gallery’s back room is a diorama of booths, tables and chairs from Las Manitas, including part of that beat-up counter. And the man at the register? He worked at Las Manitas, too. Without the backstory, the tacos at La Peña wouldn’t be worth mentioning. They’re just foil-wrapped catering numbers from a warming cabinet, but they’re filling and cheap for only $1.40. The nostalgia? That part’s free.
The taco: Bacon and potato
If you’re OK with half-warm chewy bacon, half-warm home-fried potatoes and half-warm waxy tortillas, then you’re getting warmer. Half-warmer, anyway. ($1.40)
 The rest of breakfast: Black beans and white cheese hold up better than bacon and eggs in a taco when they’re entombed in foil for a long morning’s nap, even if the foil sticks like duct tape (peel it off fast and get it over with). The chorizo and egg taco is a cousin to real chorizo and tacos, twice-removed. Sentimental space fillers, each and all. ($1.40 each)
 Tortillas: Gummy flour tortillas straight from bag to foil.
 Salsa: Take your pick of hot, chili-scented salsa fresca or fresh pico de gallo.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)