500 Tacos: Ranch 616

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Ranch 616
616 Nueces St. (map), 512-479-7616, www.theranch616.com
Hours: Lunch 11am-2pm Mon-Fri; Dinner 5-10pm Mon-Thu, 5-11pm Fri-Sat, 5-10pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 05.02.15
Kevin Williamson of Ranch 616 is an ambassador of Austin food, a regular at the Austin Food & Wine Festival, where in its inaugural year in 2012 — and again last weekend — he brought Frito pie in a bag, a quirky street snack raised to white tent standards. Ranch 616 is like a diehard urban cowboy with a sense of humor, the kind of chuckwagon cook who’ll put an enchilada and an egg on a burger, because why not? I wish that combination of technique, style and swerve worked as well for tacos. What we get instead is Dude Ranch 616: I can tell by your outfit that you are a taco.
The taco: Tony’s Beef Vacio Tacos
Given Ranch 616’s high regard for grilled steaks, lamb and other chops, I’m disappointed that these tacos — described as “Negra Modelo, lime and scallion marinated beef steak” — look, chew and taste more like they’ve been poached or steamed. Their primary flavor comes from a smothering of grilled red onions, with minor assists from a scattering of pico and thick, fresh guacamole. The peppers mentioned on the menu must be in hiding, reluctant to associate with these wan fajita wannabes. ($8.95 with rice and beans, available at lunch only)
 Fish and shrimp tacos: A crisp, spiky batter and fat, tender shrimp make shrimp tacos ($9.50 lunch/$16.25 dinner) the best of the taco crop at Ranch 616. Tacos filled with what I’d call popcorn fish ($7.95 lunch/$15.25 dinner) taste more of the earth than the water. Both are dressed with a lazy pre-mix of cabbage and overstated chili aioli, and neither supports its inflated dinner price.
 Tortillas: Commercial-grade generic flour tortillas from El Milagro.
 Salsa: If a restaurant doesn’t have salsa, that’s a red flag for tacos. The beef in particular could use a little chopped chile magic.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)