500 Tacos: Taco Joint
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Hours: 7am-3pm Mon-Tue, 7am-8pm Wed-Fri, 8am-3pm Sat, closed Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 02.09.15
Sao Paulo’s Restaurant is an off-campus refuge for good Brazilian food. There’s a Tex-Mex menu, too, but it isn’t first on the list for UT students short on time, money and patience for a quiet sit-down lunch. So Sao Paulo’s turned the space next door into the Taco Joint, which is fast, cheap and anything but quiet. By noon, the line is out the door, and a beet-faced man has bullied the regulars into knowing they must keep the front door closed or face his gruffy wrath. Breakfast is served all day, and lunch hits the usual protein bases — steak, chicken, pork, fish — with a few good twists and near-misses. Tacos start at $1.85 and top out at $3.65. Move fast when they call your number in that lunch mob: somebody swiped our order the first time around.
The taco: Fried fish
When the “4/20” taco didn't work out (see below), fried fish came to the rescue with a wide, clean-tasting fillet of whitefish with a crunchy, not-too-heavy breading. It only got better from there, thanks to a handmade flour tortilla and crisp cabbage slaw with a lime and honey dressing. Crunchy, salty, tart, fresh, hot, cool, sweet, portable. Not a bad day’s work for a taco. ($3.65)
The taco: Chicken mole (above left)
For the taco aficionado (Tacionado™) who feels boxed in by the tortilla trinity (Trinitilla™) of eggs, beef and pork, chicken is an escape route seldom executed with much finesse. Taco Joint’s chicken mole is mild and sweet, like the pumpkin spice latte of mole sauces, palatable to all, secretly coveted by many. With shredded cabbage and queso fresco for balance. ($3.50)
► Don’t bogart that taco: This place cultivates a stoner persona but comes off more like Pauly Shore. The “Munchie Lunchie” menu includes the 4/20 (below left), which makes me wonder what kind of stoner would say, “Dude, I could go for sticky beef cubes and matchstick potatoes out of a can.” The 4/20’s “tangy guisadito sauce” remains a mystery, but pour on some sweet chipotle mayo and you might catch someone’s bleary eye. Two more respectable, if unspectacular, choices: A seared pork “pastorito” with queso fresco ($3.65) and a breakfast taco with steak and eggs and shredded gouda (a best buy at $2.75)
► Tortillas: Taco Joint makes its own flour tortillas. They’re thin and durable — and almost transparent. The greasy sheen does double duty as a flavor booster and a crucible for a nice dark toasting, with spots as irregular as asteroid craters.
► Salsa: There are six salsas in a small bin of ice on the crowded counter: choppy red, super-sweet chipotle like Thousand Island, hot tomatillo green, creamy avocado, gritty peanut and a vinegary habanero with more pucker than heat. Dispense with the novelty of the last two, then make apologies for the candy-coated chipotle. Then squeeze some more on your 4/20 anyway.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)