500 Tacos: Nasha

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
1614 E. Seventh St., Austin (map), 512-350-2919, www.nashaindia.com
Hours: 11am-midnight Sun-Thu; 11am-1am Fri; noon-1am Sat
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 11.11.15
Tacos aren’t required by city ordinance at restaurants on East Seventh Street, even if there are a dozen places to get them in almost any half-mile stretch: La Michoacana, Takoba, Takeria DF, Los Comales, Joe’s Bakery and El Chilito, to name a few. But the French restaurant LaV gets by without a Parisian taco interpretation, and the Hightower puts none of its enlightened Midwestern stoner food in a tortilla. But when the Indian restaurant Nasha replaced Casa Colombia in this A-frame East Side bungalow, it put a neon “Tacos” sign just above the psych-e-Delhic fresco out front. When you already have goat, chicken and fish on the menu, how far a walk is it from naan to tortilla? Not far. And not bad.
The taco: Goat masala
Masala is a catch-all spice mix used in Indian cooking much the same way adobo’s used in Mexican cooking. Masala’s more aromatic, with sharper corners, both traits that make it work well with roasted goat. At Nasha, that goat is as tender as roast beef, its natural gaminess tamed both by the masala and by a blend of red and yellow bell peppers and onions truly caramelized for an interlacing sweetness. Think of it as cabrito with a more congenial personality. ($9 for two with salad or soup/$4 a la carte)
 Fish malvani (foreground above): Think Baja on the Indian subcontinent, and you’ll get a sense of why malvani spicing makes sense for fish. Traces of coconut weave through a mild yellow air of floral and earthy spice. The fish itself is crusted with that spice, even crunchy in thinner spots, but the flesh beneath is pearled and flaky, with a bite so clean I was surprised to find out it’s tilapia. The taco’s dressed with the same peppers and onions as the goat. Leave it to the taqueria wild card to make one of the best fish tacos in this series. ($8 for two with salad or soup/$4 a la carte)
 Chicken tandoori (background above): The allure of tandoori chicken for me has always been pulling the spiced bird from the bones, coaxing that last bit of juice and flavor from an oven that leaves it dry as a summer wind on the outside. That simple exercise is what’s missing from this tandoori in taco form. Even with salt, aggressive spices, sweet peppers and onions, this taco’s chalky accent makes it hard to reconcile with either culture. ($8 for two with salad or soup/$3.50 a la carte)
 Tortillas: Factory flour, wheat and doubled-up yellow corn tortillas make poor culinary ambassadors. They’re only conveyances, really. Corn is the best of the three, but I could think of a much better fourth option ...
 Naan: Toasted crunchy on one side, fluffed with air pockets and glazed with butter on the other, this fresh hot naan bread would make the perfect Indian fusion tortilla for tacos if it were scaled down to size. It’s worth trying on its own, especially with tri-color rings of jalapeño to foster the cultural connection. ($2.50)
 Salsa: Nasha takes the Tex-Mex allusion a step further, with lentil “chips” and salsa to start. The chips are actually two big, feather-light circles with a glossy varnish and too many cumin seeds. A red tomato salsa tastes like it got lost on the way to the summit meeting, settling on a jar-style sanctuary with stubborn, dyspeptic heat. A more interesting choice is a chutney that marries coconut, mint and serrano peppers for a cooler, more fluent fusion. ($2)
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)