500 Tacos: San Juanita’s Tacos

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
San Juanita’s Tacos
4406 S. Congress Ave. (map), 512-443-9308, www.sanjuanitastacos.com
Hours: 6am-3pm Mon-Sat; 8am-3pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 05.17.15
Even on a cool spring day, the little air conditioners struggle to keep up at San Juanita’s. The kitchen is right in the middle of things, and the sound, fury and steam colors the air of the dim dining room, where table service comes at no extra charge. Most of the action happens at the boxy front counter for carryout. And as the hot, damp kitchen air saturates my clothes, infiltrates my food and chokes every breath, I understand why.
The taco: Beef fajita
I gave sad consideration to five tacos in search of one to spotlight before a waitress offered her favorite: grilled beef fajita with peppers, onions and the glue that held it all together: refried beans. The beans make a difference here, a kind of earthy, salty sandwich spread to unite chewy beef with sweet caramelized onions and slices of freshly grilled jalapeño still crisp at the edges. ($2.69)
 A melancholy sampler: San Juanita’s steampan sauna leached into every taco, smothering what little spark they had. Pork al pastor was cooked to chewy briquettes ($2.29), hewn from the same heavyhanded stove that turned migas into a leaden mass of egg, pico and tortilla ($1.99). If you’ve been around a pan of water left to boil dry, then you can taste the barbacoa’s acrid languor, barely softened by freshly scrambled eggs ($2.69). I’ll save some faint praise for beefy carne guisada with soft potatoes ($2.29) and a taco with stewed chicken and al dente rice ($1.99), but neither held up as a taco, leaking through both corn and flour tortillas as if they were bags in a drive-through.
 Tortillas: Gummy storebought flour and flimsy, single-layer white corn tortillas that fall apart like paper towels.
 Salsa: There’s just one: a brown viscous gel of indeterminate provenance whose primary contribution is oral sunburn.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)