500 Tacos: Licha’s Cantina

 
 
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
 
Licha’s Cantina
1306 E. Sixth St. (map), 512-480-5960, www.lichascantina.com.
 
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 04.03.15
 
When Papi Tino’s went dark last year, it was hard to imagine this white clapboard cottage retreat off the clamour of East Sixth lying dormant for long. Licha’s Cantina has done more than fill a charming space. It’s brought layered, stylish Mexican cooking to a developing restaurant district already known for spots as diverse as East Side Show Room, Cisco’s, Via 313 pizza and the graveled play-yard of trailers at Waller Street.
 
 
The taco: Al pastor
Sure, Licha’s will sell you tacos with roasted duck and orange. But they’re also preserving one of Mexico’s finest taco traditions: the vertical rotisserie spit called a trompo. Thin marinated pork cutlets are stacked, roasted on a slow spin and shaved off to order in ribbons like shawarma. Only this shawarma radiates dark spice that leaves a cinnamon-stick afterglow. Licha’s fills a square personal skillet with meat, pineapple, pickled onions and cilantro and serves it with four fresh corn tortillas, guacamole and pico de gallo for $14. At $3.50 per taco, it’s a solid value for some of the best al pastor in the city.
 
 
 Happy hour explorations: At $14 for a skillet of meat and tortillas, it gets spendy to try every taco in the house, a roster that includes  steak, duck, al pastor and lengua. But a happy hour that runs from 4-7 let me try a duo of corn masa cakes called sopecitos topped with lengua for $5. Rich, roasty and fork-tender, it was a testament to how delicious tongue can be when it’s spoken fluently, layered with a hot pickled escabeche of jalapeño, carrot and cucumber. Doesn’t hurt that a good Paloma is also $5 at happy hour, too.
 Tortillas: Licha’s makes its own petite corn tortillas, and they’re like Chuck Norris: tough when they need to be, tender if they absolutely have to be. And like Chuck, they don’t wear a watch, because THEY decide what time it is.
 Salsa: The twin table salsas include a smooth, calm emulsified jalapeño green and a sweet radiant salsa made with roasted oranges that starts as sweet as a marmalade angel but finishes like an angry serrano god.
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The 500 Tacos Project
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)