500 Tacos: Takeria DF

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Takeria DF
2020 E. Seventh St. in the Echo Food Mart lot (map), 512-619-0715, www.takeriadfaustin.com
Hours: 9am-9pm Mon-Thu, 9am-10pm Fri-Sat, closed Sun
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 01.21.15
Tacos are a family thing at Takeria DF. The Valverde family — mother Maria, father Alejandro and son Mario — have run the trailer in this Shamrock gas station parking lot for three years, a tradition they carried over from 10 years doing the same in Houston. “The market there just got too crowded,” Mario said of the family’s move. “Too many food trucks.” That’s saying something, given that Austin has more than 1,500 licensed food trucks of its own. But if they have questions about making it here, they can just ask Mario’s uncle, who owns the local chain of Jalisco-style joints called Taquerias Arandinas. True to the “DF” in its name, the truck follows the Mexico City model, with tiny tortillas and gigantic tortas on the cheap, hit with a liberal dose of onion and cilantro. It’s a model the Valverdes come by honestly: Mario’s grandfather still runs the Mexico City taqueria where he’s cooked for 70 years.
The taco: Kampechana
This is the kind of place where you order these 3-inch tacos three, four, five at a time, because one just leaves you wanting more. (In the photo, that's the brisket top left, chorizo top right, with their "kampechana" offspring at the bottom.) Yes, Takeria DF’s campechana is spelled with a “K” instead of a “C.” Their truck, their rules. And their truck rules. That’s not a superlative I throw around, but this combination of brisket and chorizo amplifies the best of both. Mario Valverde figures the truck goes through 300 pounds of brisket a week, cooked in lard the Mexico City way rather than smoked the way Austin usually takes its brisket.
The result is a mild, balanced mix of fat and lean, finished on the flat-top for crisp edges. The Valverdes still buy their chorizo from a woman in Houston who makes it fresh, Mario said. It’s the same molten orange as its storebought counterpart but commits none of its sins. The sausage holds together in a fibered weave free of gristle and grease with a smoky finish. Separately, the brisket and chorizo are strong. Together, they’re a progressive coalition. A coalition that rules. ($1.25)
 Bonus taco 1: Barbacoa. At Takeria DF, they roast the cow’s head whole, and the harvest from it includes some of the animal’s best gifts: cheek and tongue. It’s as fatty and rich as combining the drip pan with the meat that did the dripping. Greasy, decadent, worth it. ($1.25)
 Bonus taco 2: Al pastor. “Our pastor is pretty much the same or even better than a trompo taco,” Mario Valverde says. That’s a bold claim, given that the style was popularized by that vertical rotisserie. It’s seasoned liberally, then grilled with pineapple for the union of salt, sweet, fat and lean that makes al pastor the taco’s best friend, trompo or not. ($1.25)
 Bonus non-taco: The Valverdes sell aguas frescas by the quart-size cup for $2.50. The refreshing cinnamon cream of DF’s horchata is appropriate for any weather.
 Tortilla: In Mexico City style, these 3-inch storebought corn tortillas are doubled up and dragged through hot oil to soften them up.
 Salsa: The squeeze bottles of salsas are red and yellow, like the ketchup and mustard of a taqueria. The chile de arbol red is as dry as a zinfandel, just as deep, with a high, hot chipotle edge similar to that wine’s alcoholic bite. The green salsa is as calm and cool as lime soda, or at least lime soda infused with cilantro, avocado, tomatillos and serranos that sneak up like Greenpeace ninjas for the burn.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)