500 Tacos: La Vallarta

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
La Vallarta
6628 S. Congress Ave. (map), 512-462-2515
Hours: 6:30am-10:30pm Mon-Thu; 6:30am-11pm Fri-Sat; 7am-10:30pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 05.16.15
I met a real-life troll at La Vallarta when the baby at the next table started making faces at me. No language yet, but his eyebrows said it all: “What kind of pathetic dweeb takes pictures of tacos?” Thanks, judgmental baby. It comes with the territory at La Vallarta, a family-friendly room shaded from the sidewalk glare of far South Congress by faded wooden blinds. Couples, old folks and young families filed in throughout a late lunch for table service and fajitas and Tex-Mex standards under bright faux stucco walls and the steady beat of Spanish-language pop.
The taco: Crispy beef
The promise of a freshly fried corn tortilla shell is enough to sell the idea of a crispy beef taco. But it takes better-than-average picadillo to back it up. La Vallarta comes close with a well-seasoned but otherwise unadorned grind. Lettuce, tomato and cheese form an arrangement like a battle flag to the side, ready for assembly on your command. But still, it comes back around to a shell made by hand and cooked to order to make this taco better than Tex-Mex boilerplate. ($1.99)
 Tongue and cheek: Vallarta lays down some respectable barbacoa, fatty and tender, in shreds, chips and chunks big enough to show gradient vermillion shades of medium-to-well done. It’s mild without going bland, dressed generously with onions and cilantro ($2.89). The tongue in a lengua taco is sliced like No. 2 deli, a good way to cut through the muscle fiber for tenderness. But it’s undercooked and unpeeled, and the gamey flavor and slimy texture make lousy ambassadors for this underappreciated cut ($2.99).
 Al pastor: The dusky orange color is right, but that’s as far as this al pastor goes. It’s chopped too fine, spiced too aggressively with salt and paprika and marinated until it’s mealy ($2.89).
 Tortillas: Thin storebought flour tortillas. Vallarta makes its own corn tortillas, but they’re thin, pale and none the better for it.
 Salsa: The table salsa is a bright, sweet tomato salsa fresca with fresh cilantro, crisp onion and mild jalapeño heat.  And there’s no way this is the case, but the lumpy, cream-style salsa verde tastes like jalapeño and something else: canned asparagus.
 Programming note: Breakfast and all its attendant tacos stop at noon.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)