500 Tacos: Mary’s Tacos
An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
220 E. Anderson Lane, Austin (map), 512-243-6379
Hours: 8:15am-10pm Mon-Thu; 8:15am-2am Fri-Sat; 8:15am-midnight Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 08.21.15
It’s 11:30 on a weekday, and for a full 20 minutes, I am the only soul in this restaurant besides the waitress and the cook and the cheesy pop stars in the BandaMax videos. And it’s a big place, a former Burger-Tex barn, painted a dyspeptic yellow-orange, with floors that look like an old brick wall lying flat. My flight instincts say run, but #500Tacos insists that I stay. Because “empty” can be a symptom of bad tacos; but it might just be bad luck.
The taco: Bistec
When I have a restaurant all to myself, I skip the simmer and go for the sizzle. Nothing stewed or organ-meaty that’s been sitting lonely and idle: no chicharrones, no tripas, no barbacoa. Instead, I order familiar meats, cooked to order. Bistec suits that philosophy here, cut so long and thin it looks extruded, with maximum surface area for a nice oily sear on the grill. And in these quiet moments, I can hear every clack of the spatula. It’s finished with grilled green peppers and onions and a cool dress of lettuce and tomato. Fresh beats complicated anytime. ($2)
► Chicken and pastor: Be careful asking a teenage waitress her favorite taco, because disadventure favors the young, and when she says “chicken,” you’re caught between dissing her and eating ... chicken. Politeness wins the day, and this grilled chicken taco follows the cooked-to-order sear and dress of the beef for a decent taco. Pastor at Mary’s is cut long and lean, with a full-orange marinade bristling with adobo spice, cooked hot and fresh, dressed with onion and cilantro. ($2 each)
► Breakfast tacos: Breakfast stops at 11:30, and until then, you can get hard-cooked eggs with soft-cooked salty nopalitos for $1.50 or for an extra 15 cents, get a three-ingredient taco with eggs, frijoles and chili-spiced ground chorizo for a big, brassy taco.
► Tortillas: I admire the fluffy network of air pockets in these thick handmade corn tortillas. But if one tortilla by itself can’t fold around a grilled-meat taco without splitting along the seams, it’s just a scooper. The grill-toasted flour tortillas come from a bag.
► Salsa: There’s a thick, creamy jalapeño salsa verde with a few seeds and skins for character and a cool, well-balanced red with tomatoes, onions, cilantro and jalapeño.
► Fun fact: Except for a square-inch block describing breakfast tacos on Page 2, the menu itself devotes no space to tacos at Mary’s ... Tacos.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)