500 Tacos: Las Cazuelas

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Las Cazuelas
1701 E. Cesar Chavez St. (map), 512-479-7911, www.austintxmexicanfood.com
Hours: 5am-2am Mon-Wed, 24 hours Thu-Sun
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 01.03.15
Welcome to the David Lynch otherworld of Las Cazuelas, a clearinghouse of Tex-Mex restaurant interior design tropes: blankets and sombreros, snapshot galleries, Bud Light posters and a Dos Equis piñata, a marquee of poorly illuminated food photos, a string of Corona pennants, a few guitars, a mural and menu boards in myriad fonts and sizes pasted over with price changes and specials. The lighting is a squinty mix of neon and fluorescents and the dancing lights of Fox News on one TV, football on the other. The cacophony extends to a cut-and-paste menu of dishes scattered across six pages only an archivist could navigate. It’s a Twin Peaks headache factory that rewards the deliberate detective. And the early riser: From 5:30 to 11 a.m., two-ingredient breakfast tacos are just a dollar.
The taco: Carne asada
Chaos theory translates poorly to dishes that rely on fresh prep and lightning turnover. Do you want tripas or fish soup or liver and onions from a place that’s dead quiet during a Friday dinner rush? Too many aromatic variables. Which is why a simple carne asada taco is the answer, with ribbons of skirt steak freshly seared for a touch of caramelized char on the outside and fortifying juiciness inside, dressed with grilled onions and cilantro. It’s small but filling, a safe partner for the Dance of the Seven Salsas to come (see below). ($2.50)
 Tortilla: Doubled-up storebought corn so thin the grease renders it translucent.
 Options: An acceptable al pastor is salty, tender, and subtly sweet. The heart of a barbacoa taco fled from its flour tortilla prison in one long fatty string. A solid taco alternative? Broiled-to-order chilaquiles with a fried egg.
 Salsa: In the center of the Las Cazuelas menagerie stands a salsa bar to rival Polvo’s or El Taquito and other storied Austin salsa stops. In a well-tended ice bath grid lie seven hotel pans of salsa and a half-dozen more with pico de gallo, cilantro, limes, cebollas y chiles, chopped onions and charred jalapeños. With free chips at the table come two more: a tart puree of avocado and lime and a little molcajete of warm tomato, onion and garlic. The best of all these is a contemplative burnt orange melange of chile de arbol and guajillo pepper that brings smoke without fire, heat without anger. 
The 500 Tacos Project

(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)