500 Tacos: Takoba

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
1411 E. Seventh St. (map), 512-628-4466, www.takobarestaurant.com
Hours: 11am-10pm Mon-Thu; 11am-11pm Fri; 10am-11pm Sat; 10am-10pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 05.31.15
When Takoba opened in 2010, I named it Newcomer of the Year in the Statesman for its reboot of the Mexican food experience, with one foot in the trendy present and one foot planted in the family tradition of Mexican street cooking that goes back to food trucks when they were vehicles of necessity and not just cultural carry-alls. Takoba has held onto much of that newcomer glow — enough to make my Top 55 Austin Restaurants — but the tacos in this report suggest it’s never safe to rest on your restaurant laurels.
The taco: Carnitas Estilo Don Alberto
Takoba honors the father of owner Jose De Loera with this carnitas taco, anchored by roasted pork in pieces large, small and fine as weaver’s floss, roasted tender and fatty, then crisped at the edges. Finished with onions and cilantro, it satisfies the demands of tradition and the demands of the educated diner who wants even the old-school dishes executed with precision. It suffers only the ignominies of tortillas that aren’t made with the same handmade care. ($9 at lunch for two with two sides; $10.50 at dinner; $3.50 a la carte)
 Bistec and al pastor: Takoba is a fine place for sweet-and-spicy mango and habanero margaritas and chiles rellenos with sweet walnut cream, for brisk ceviche and mole enchiladas. But it suffers as a taqueria, first for perfunctory commercial tortillas. But this mealy, overly sweetened and underspiced al pastor taco, along with a bistec taco that shares more in common with hamburger meat than steak argues against Takoba’s mastery of this basic dish. I left half the beef taco on the plate because of unchewable gristle. Takoba’s humbler sibling El Tacorrido does a much better job with tacos. (Al pastor and bistec $9 at lunch for two with two sides; $10.50 at dinner; $3.50 a la carte)
 Tortillas: In a market where even taco carts are making their own tortillas, I can’t see a reason, with its more abundant space and resources, that Takoba shouldn’t do the same. These are the most basic storebought flour and doubled white corn your commissary dollar can buy.
 Nopales: In my last assessment of Austin’s 55 Best Restaurants, I said this about the cactus at Takoba, sautéed with tomatoes, garlic, onions and cilantro: “One of the city’s best Mexican side dishes. Hell, one of the best side dishes no matter what flag you’re flying.” I’ll stand by that. ($3)
 Chips and salsa: The salsa that comes with thick, house-fried corn totopos will stand with any house salsa in town and beat most of them with its large-bore chop of sweet tomatoes and modest jalapeño heat, a stew of skins and seeds with a personality to match the muscular crunch of these elite tortilla chips. Takoba also makes a respectable molcajete chop of roasted tomatoes and jalapeños and a cool green aguacate that combines the best assets of tomatillos, jalapeños, onions, cilantro and avocado.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)