500 Tacos: Santa Rita Tex Mex Cantina

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Santa Rita Tex Mex Cantina
1206 W. 38th St. at 26 Doors, Austin (map), 512-419-7482, www.santaritacantina.com
Hours: 11am-10pm Sun-Thu; 11am-10:30pm Fri-Sat
Also at: 5900 W. Slaughter Lane (map)
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 11.21.15
Take a pastiche of mainstream Tex-Mex tropes — plastic stencils, orange walls, Sputnik piñatas, cactus, bandido posters — and you get an idea of Santa Rita’s decor. Bright, famliar, non-threatening. It’s well-matched to the food. Bright, familiar, non-threatening.
The taco: Beef fajita
In a bright, familiar and non-threatening place, the food can be the only perilous part. Beef fajitas are safe harbor, and this taco bears that out. Proficiently grilled steak with a pronounced marinade and shades of pink at the heart of the larger slices. Fresh tomatoes, colby-jack confetti and ribbons of green leaf lettuce round things out for an experience much like a steak sandwich. Except for the tortilla. ($12.50 as part of the El Rey combo/$9.95 for two with rice and beans)
 El Rey combo: For a Whitman’s sampler of what comes from the Santa Rita kitchen, El Rey is like a box of chocolates (except you always know what you’re gonna get): A soft taco with chili-scented shredded chicken, tablespoons of guacamole and plain orange queso, rice and beans, an enchilada filled with the same chicken as the taco, a chalupa with taco beef as plain as a hamburger, and a fairly decent fajita taco. If that sounds like description rather than critique, it’s because nothing spikes high or low enough for further comment. ($12.50)
 Crispy beef taco and al pastor: Santa Rita’s crispy taco is like the El Rey’s chalupa packed into a half-moon shell, a shell that had already sogged in half by the time it hit the table. Bright side: two half-chalupas? Santa Rita’s al pastor tosses pineapple into chile-salted pork for another lowborn interpretation of that noble dish. ($3 each during happy hour, from 3-7 Mon-Fri and 3-6 Sat-Sun)
 Tortillas: Waxy storebought flour and single-layer corn tortillas.
 Salsa: If your server calls salsa “dip,” maybe it’s best that the only choice is a choppy red salsa that’s bright, familiar and non-threatening.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)