500 Tacos: Pleasant Market

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Pleasant Market
1600 S. Pleasant Valley Road, Austin (map), 512-348-8877, www.pleasantmarket.com
Hours: 10am-6pm Sat-Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 12.06.15
Just off Riverside Drive is an Austin culture few of us get to see from our SUVs stuck on MoPac. It’s a flea market, a place where you can get a car radio installed, pick up pointy boots, buy three shirts for a dollar, or find guitar cables, iPhone cases, perfume and a motorcycle helmet. And on a busy weekend, you’ll find as many as nine taco trailers and five fruterias in the span of a football field. One trailer does carnitas only; some specialize in barbacoa. Others cook the full taco spectrum of pastor, bistec, chicharrones and more. Borrego and chivo aren’t far away. Musicos wander the crowd, serenading with guitars and accordions, shouting happy norteño songs and passing the hat to whoever’s listening. English is a second language, a distant second in an open-air mercado where commerce, comida and community combine — along with some of Austin’s best specialty tacos. Here’s a sampling from four of the taquerias on a sunny fall weekend.
A: Carnitas from Carnitas Santa Rosa
Walk up to the market’s first trailer, and there’s a standup cauldron of boiling oil and pork, announcing that this is the place for carnitas. The crispy skin and fat from that cauldron form half of the carnitas equation, the other half coming from juicy, roasted whole-hog pork. Street food and family dinner together in corn tortillas for some of the best carnitas in this series. ($2, served with pickled serranos, fresh pico and lime on doubled-up  commercial tortillas)
B: Barbacoa de chivo from Barbacoa Santa Rosa
The spent maguey leaf at the prep counter announces that this sister to the carnitas trailer next door specializes in barbacoa, three kinds of it: beef, goat and lamb. Each one’s pulled and chopped to order, and each one has the rich, intertwined texture of fat and short-fibered lean barbacoa’s known for. But the chivo — the goat — brings a sense of bright, clean-tasting dignity to a beast that sometimes runs wild. ($2 each, served with cilantro, onion an lime in doubled-up commercial corn tortillas)
 Consomé de chivo: From that same chivo comes a consomé packed with goat, pozole, carrots and potatoes in a clarified, aromatic broth — a steaming bowl in search of a hangover to cure. ($4)
C: Montalayo de borrego from the yellow “Barbacoa” trailer
Brace yourself, because more than any other gastrointestinal delicacy I’ve tried for this series, montalayo tastes more or less like what it is. In this case, the roasted, chopped guts of a lamb. And no amount of dried chiles and deep pantry spices can tame what’s essentially North America’s answer to haggis. By contrast, the trailer’s barbacoa de borrego is docile enough for a petting zoo. ($2 each, served with cilantro, onion an lime in doubled-up commercial corn tortillas)
► Barbacoa de res: The determination to try something new almost cost me a shot at some of the best beef barbacoa of this series, as eye-rollingly blissful in its cloak of amber fat as Texas pit brisket. ($2)
D: Barbacoa de borrego from Taqueria Yolita
In this flea-market tangle of taquerias, picking a window might be the hardest part. Let me simplify: Go where the crowd is. Because in this target-rich marketplace, the audience knows best. Taqueria Yolita packs a full house under its blue tent with a simple menu of menudo and barbacoa de borrego, chivo and res. Lamb, goat and beef. The trailer’s barbacoa de borrego is pulled in long fibers with colors like heritage roses under a braise of red chile spice, with the gaminess tamed right out of it ($2, served with onions, cilantro, limes and habanero-carrot escabeche on thick, steaming handmade corn tortillas).
 Menudo: Let menudo play point-counterpoint with the mild lamb. It’s a chile volcano in a bowl, erupting with shaggy chunks of tripe like kitchen sponges: squishy and absorbent on one side, scrubby on the other, soaking up broth that looks like the splotchy, greasy pool at the bottom of an all-day stewpot. I thought it was cute the way the counter girl asked me, the only güero in the place, “You know what menudo is, right?” Yeah. Delicious. And if she asks if you want pata de res in your menudo, say yes. You won’t get many other chances to try cow’s-foot soup in Austin. ($8 with handmade corn tortillas)
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)