500 Tacos: Los Comales

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Los Comales
2136 E. Seventh St. (map), 512-480-9358.
Hours: 6am-9pm Mon; 6am-3pm Tue; 6am-9pm Wed-Thu; 6am-10pm Fri; 7am-10pm Sat; 8am-9pm Sun.
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 01.25.15
The sun has long ago wiped clean the sign at Los Comales. Just a few whispers of words remain. Only 10 sturdy steel letters gleaming the roofline announce you’re at Los Comales. From the outside, the building looks beat up, its yellow stucco tagged with graffiti. But inside, the dining room is like a messhall, crowded with guys in reflective vests, families having lunch, and on the day I’m here, a dozen men and women in motorized wheelchairs and an escort from the Austin mobility organization ADAPT. The restaurant — through a hurried lunchtime crush and a language barrier made baroque by a voice synthesizer speaking English to a Spanish-speaking service crew — seats the group by moving chairs and clearing an aisle, and life goes on. Just another day in the East Side restaurant parade.
The taco: Pork in chile cascabel
Los Comales reinforces the “House Specialty” rule. Which is always order the House Specialty, in this case Carne de Puerco en Chile Cascabel. It’s slow-cooked, fork-tender pork in a rich red sauce with something like the exotic echoes of a mole sauce. It starts warm and sweet, then builds a to a pure arid heat like a Santa Fe sunset. On a fresh corn tortilla, it’s one of the city’s best tacos. The exceptions that prove the rule: (1) A lazy example of tacos dorados filled with nothing but stiff grilled white meat chicken in a tortilla fried just enough to form an amphitheater shell that tastes like nothing but oil. (2) Pork al pastor that’s just chunks of griddle-fried pork with onions and nothing to suggest the spice-borne traditions of the name. Both are as bland as a Midwestern cafe. (Tacos $2.50 each; tacos dorados $3)
 Tortillas: You’d expect that a place named for a tortilla griddle would make its own tortillas. And that’s true for corn tortillas at Los Comales. They’re soft and steaming, and they roll like fresh linens.
 Salsa: A red picante sauce in the Pace vein, like a chunky stew of tomato and onion with full rings of pickled jalapeño that leave a sharp, lingering heat. The Pace comparison isn’t meant to be pejorative, just a description of the viscous texture. It’s Pace if that Americanized brand were served in a living, breathing Mexican restaurant. But still, save it for the chips.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)