500 Tacos: Tacos and Tequila
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Tacos and Tequila
Hours: 11am-10pm Mon-Thu; 11am-11pm Fri; 10am-11pm Sat; 10am-10pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 04.30.15
Tacos and Tequila rolled into Austin in 2010, a project from the Dallas-area restaurateurs behind the Blue Mesa Grill. They landed Jeffrey’s and Fonda San Miguel veteran chef Alma Alcocer-Thomas to cook for them, and I found things to smile about — tequila flights, Adobe Pie — and things to shrug about — guacamole juggling, carpetbagger tacos — in a review from that year. The chef moved on to greater acclaim at El Alma and the brand new AlcoMar, but Tacos and Tequila is still here. And I’m still smiling and shrugging.
The taco: Rojo Shrimp
If a shrimp taco makes it into this showcase, pay attention. Because they’re usually awful. But this one employs small, well-grilled shrimp basted with recado rojo and sriracha-orange. Which is a fancy way of saying al pastor spicing, with orange taking pineapple’s place, and sriracha kicking the heat to a higher level of interest. It’s finished with an understated jicama slaw and a mango relish that throws the underripe fruit under the bus in favor of pickled chiles and other crunchy and colorful surprises. ($4.50)
► More fancy tacos: Korean short rib sounds promising, with sweet Korean BBQ sauce and kimchee ($4.50). But it’s more like candied fajitas with undressed Napa cabbage and carrots. Corn-crusted chicken ($3.50) tastes good in its simple way, like chopped chicken fingers with poblano cream dipping sauce and pickled pink onions to keep it out of the Happy Meal.
► Happy hour tacos: From 4-6:30 Mon-Fri, TNT does a $1.50 taco bar, with off-menu choices like beef picadillo, chicken verde and black bean. The happy-hour pulled pork is also on the regular menu at $3.50, dressed with pickled onion, jalapeño relish and barbecue sauce. It’s a steal at $1.50. All the main-menu elements are there at the build-it-yourself station, and the pork is smoky and tender beneath that blanket of sweet relish and tangy onion. The picadillo is an oily but flavorful chop of red pepper, onion and properly cooked beef, and the chicken is gently stewed with roasted pepper. Dressed with pico, jalapeños, poblano cream and mild red salsa, they’re as satisfying as the main-menu tacos.
► Speaking of happy: The house frozen margarita is a sweet blender indulgence for $4 at happy hour, and an ice cold can of Tecate with lime is $2.
► Adobe Pie: TNT’s signature side is as good as a dessert, and built to look like one: a cornbread lava cake with a center of hot black beans, covered in crema and pico. Worth every bit of $3.
► Brunch: On paper, the TNT brunch looks great: Fresh guacamole, Adobe Pie, enchiladas, a street taco bar, brisket, grilled fish, omelets, waffles, migas, Benedict. Plus desserts and two mimosas for $19.95. In person, it’s a claustrophobic soccer mob with casseroles and no clear lines of travel to and from the chafing dishes or made-to-order stations. Place was packed fire-marshal tight. (10-3 Sat-Sun)
► Tortillas: Not clear on this one. In the description of brunch on the website, a line says, “Homemade Flour & Corn Tortillas.” The server said she wasn’t sure; that they used to make them by hand, then they didn’t, then they did. The taco bar cook didn’t know. Finally, the answer came back that they make the corn tortillas onsite, but not flour. Either way, both the stiff, gummy flour and generic white corn tortilla have the look, taste and feel of standard-issue commercial.
► Chips and salsa: A high point of the TNT experience is thick, crunchy, homemade sweet-potato chips they bring in sweaty paper bags mixed with tortilla chips, accompanied by a wire rack of three salsas: sweet ancho mayo, mild tomatillo verde and even milder roasted red salsa. The creamy ancho tastes great with the sweet chips. The other two are harmless.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)