500 Tacos: Taqueria Chapala

 
 
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
 
Taqueria Chapala
2101 E. Cesar Chavez St. (map), 512-320-0308, www.restaurantchapala.com
Hours: 7am-11pm Sun-Thu, 7am-midnight Fri-Sat
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 01.04.15
 
Mando Rayo introduced me to Taqueria Chapala in 2009, the guy who co-wrote the “Austin Breakfast Tacos” book. He brought magic with him. A full house bounced a joyful noise off the clean saltillo tile floors, and a strolling musico sang plaintive Mexican love songs, amplified by the little pignose amplifier he wore on his belt. And Mando introduced me to fried tacos that reminded me then of those 2-for-99 Jack in the Box tacos. They still do, and in a good way.
 
The tacos: Barbacoa adobado
Three to an order, these indulgent nacho suitcases — also called tacos dorados for their golden color — are filled with short, compact fibers of tender beef barbacoa stewed in a reduced liquor of chilies, adobo spices and vinegar. By themselves, the tacos could get by on just the twangy barbecue sauce character of the beef, the sins of the oil and the high-low soft crunch of fried corn tortillas. The magic of Mando Rayo happens when you crack open the fried shells to add the extras: grilled onions, cilantro, charred jalapeño and a squeeze of lime. I can almost hear the music. ($6.29 for the plate, $1.89 separately)
 Tortillas: Doubled-up storebought corn. But deep frying turns their weaknesses into strengths.
 Salsa: The table sauce that comes with free chips is a chunky tomato red with a good balance of onion, jalapeño and cilantro. Use it instead of the sauce that comes with the tacos, a brick-dust chile and tomatillo salsa with a fishy, pondwater aftertaste.
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The 500 Tacos Project
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(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)