500 Tacos: Mariana’s Kitchen

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Mariana’s Kitchen
5510 Interstate 35 S., Suite 410, Austin (map), 512-382-2105, www.marianaskitchen.org
Hours: 8am-10pm Mon-Sat; 8am-8pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 11.13.15
Mariana’s had every chance to sell its soul when it moved from the ramshackle house on Burleson Road where I tried the Chori-Burger for 50 Burgers, 50 Days a few years back. Its new home off I-35 shares real estate with Lowe’s, Mattress Firm, Pizza Hut — even a Chili’s just across the road. Yet even in it’s nicer red-brick space with wood floors, Mariana’s walls are still covered with beer signs, sombreros and piñatas, and conjunto and Tejano fills the air. A restaurant called Casa Vallarta took Mariana’s old spot on Burleson, but it can’t touch what Mariana’s was then — nor what it’s become since.
The taco: Egg and chorizo
I come to you with burger breath and a guilty conscience, because this taco was a contrivance, an off-menu construct designed to mirror Mariana’s Chori-Burger so I could order that burger again and talk about the times when a burger beats a taco all to hell. There’s chorizo and cheese in this taco, like the burger, and potatoes as an homage to Mariana’s hand-cut fries. And scrambled eggs to make it a breakfast taco and keep me on message. And that’s how a well-executed taco wrecked a perfectly good premise, with spicy chorizo in balance with fresh eggs and griddle-fried potatoes on a superior corn tortilla. We’ll have to call this burger-taco showdown a draw. ($1.85, plus 25 cents each for potato and cheese)
 Chori-Burger: Think of chorizo as beef’s 5-Hour Energy boost. Grease and spice bewilder the ground beef, which in turn mellows out the sausage. Checks and balances, with chopped serranos thrown in to keep things interesting. Mariana’s surrounds that patty with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayo, mustard, the works, for a burger as good as any fulltime burger joint — and handcut fries that are better than most of them. ($7.99 with fries)
 One more taco: Mariana’s al pastor isn’t in the same class as the chorizo that sparked the burger battle. The pork’s cooked into a nice fat-and-lean detente, and it’s as orange as a handful of Cheetos, but the color doesn’t bring the flavor to back it up. ($1.85)
 Tortillas: The restaurant makes its own thick, pull-apart corn tortillas — too bready for tortilla purists, but good enough to win the burger battle’s starch campaign.
 Salsa: This watery, superhot red table salsa is the kind you get with a free basket of chips. And that’s where it should stay.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)