500 Tacos: Tamale House East
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Tamale House East
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 02.22.15
I won’t retell the history of the Tamale House in Austin, except to say that with the passing of founder Robert Vasquez last year came the closing of Tamale House #3 on Airport. With it came a nostalgia both larger and cooler than its un-air-conditioned counter and a keening ache for 85-cent tacos that were worth exactly that and nothing more. Time to let that all go and move on to the kids’ Tamale House East, where the parking’s easier, the air is conditioned and the tacos are worth more than 85 cents.
The taco: Chipotle migas and queso
I told myself this wouldn’t be an all-singing, all-dancing, all-migas series. I order migas as a backup, for those times when my memories and plans for the main event fall through. That’s what happened at Tamale House East when my favorite taco — cochinita pibil — let me down (details below). Turns out these aren’t default migas at all, but rather a ship-weight boat of scrambled eggs folded through sweet stewed tomatoes with big pieces of saturated corn tortilla held in place by creamy queso with a warm chipotle fireplace afterglow. The longshot that was destined to win all along. ($2.95)
► Back to the Garden (above): Tamale House’s side patio is a shaded Zen garden with a spiral staircase and tables set with rainbursts of blue tile. The Garden taco is at home out here, with sautéed mushrooms, deep green spinach, firm black beans and guacamole with avocado like California dice. I’d pull out half the salt if I could. Where’s a magical garden gnome when you need one? ($2.75)
► Cochinita crash and burn: Here’s what cochinita pibil can be at Tamale House East (from my 2013 review): “...lying like a desert sunset in generous nuggets, saturated and sweet, marked with dry red powdered spices, finished with jalapeño and pickled pink onion for hot and sour accord.” Ah, memories. Here’s what it was this time (from the 500 Tacos review you’re reading now): “...plundered like abandoned wood in overcooked chunks, marked with cinnamon-flavored char, finished with jalapeños and raw-boned red onions for hot and bitter discord.” Next time. ($4.25)
► Tortillas: Storebought flour and doubled-up yellow corn
► Salsa: Where I miss the old Tamale House the least is the flytrap salsa bar moldering in the slop-jar heat by the counter. Here it’s a collection of squeeze-bottles and crop-top jugs, too, but it’s clean. There’s a bright and sweet tomato salsa fresca and a twangy tomatillo, but most compelling of all is a green goddess of a dressing-style sauce with a big garlic bounce and low, slow jalapeño heat.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)