500 Tacos: Serranos

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
1111 Red River St. in Symphony Square (map), 512-322-9080, 4 more locations at www.serranos.com
Hours: 11am-10pm Sun-Thu; 11am-11pm Fri-Sat
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 06.01.15
My confession: I used to be a talk radio junkie. I’m better now, but those angry times did have one bright spot: The commercials for Serranos starring the late radio legend Cactus Pryor. In his mellifluous Austin baritone, he’d banter with Serranos owner Adam Gonzales, who sounded like Uncle Cactus’ aw-shucks nephew. The best part was when he called the old man “Nopalito.” It was innocent comic theater, a taste of old Austin congeniality to break up the xenophobic ranting that passes for public debate. Nestled into an oak grove in a compound with more limestone than a Spanish mission, the Serranos at Symphony Square is its own piece of old Austin theater, a place where you can imagine Cactus still holding court. Thermostrockimortimer.
The taco: Beef fajita
The smoke flavor suggested by the mesquite perfume that sometimes drifts over Symphony Square is barely apparent in lunchtime fajitas, although they bear other signs of the fire: a consistent mahogany sear and an interior in gradients from the pink of medium-rare to the steely gray of well done. It’s proper skirt steak, a sturdy balance of fat and lean, toughness and yield. But that’s it — no grilled onions, no charred peppers, nothing but chopped lettuce and tomato to sharpen the flavors and loosen up its leathery tortilla wrap. ($9.95 for two with rice and beans from 11am-3pm Mon-Fri)
 Carnitas: We can’t live by beef alone. That’s why they invented pork. Serranos’ “Tulum” taco is salty, shredded carnitas with onions, avocado and a sloppy chop of cilantro stems and leaves. But mostly stems. A robust corn tortilla almost saved this one. Almost. ($4 a la carte)
 Tortillas: Serranos makes its own flour and corn tortillas. The flour’s more oil, toughness and taffy than fluff. The corn packs big maíz flavor, but it’s as thick and stiff as a retired gymnast.
 Salsa: A wet salsa fresca with a good balance of pepper, tomato and onion comes with a thicker, warmer and crunchier class of tortilla chip.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)