500 Tacos: Taqueria La Reina

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Taqueria La Reina
8201 N. Lamar Blvd. in the Texaco lot, Austin (map), 512-939-1852
Hours: 7:30am-2pm Tue-Fri; 7:30am-3pm Sat-Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 09.24.15
It’s fitting that the sign above Taqueria La Reina’s trailer shows a goat with a crown, because La Reina is among the city’s best at turning the beast into royalty. Chivo’s rare enough as a taco commodity in Austin, even in its basic roasted form. But to find three variations of goat in one place is like winning the trifecta.
Taco A: Chivo
For roasted goat, tenderness is a high compliment, and La Reina earns it with this mellow introduction to chivo-lry. The long, rangy fibers hold a low, dusky spice. And yes, it’s tender, but in a non-sentimental way, like Sunday supper at a working ranch. ($2)
Taco B: Pancita de chivo
Also called panza, pancita comes from the belly of the goat, a beast not exactly known for being paunchy. As such, the meat from its midsection is lean, but markedly more forgiving than shredded shoulder. La Reina chops it into small bites like dense crusts of bread, soaked in a braise with traces of the mace-allspice-clove family of spices. ($2)
Taco C: Cabeza de chivo
If chivo plays it soft and pancita plays it sultry, this cabeza plays it loud and brassy. Short, fatty fibers trap the fire and flavor of dried chiles. It’s like a wilder version of beef barbacoa, and if I had any questions about whether it was true head meat, a stray shard of rock-hard tooth took care of that. ($2)
 Cabeza de res (below left): Did I mention that the crowned goat on the sign shares space with an equally becrowned bovine? Cloaked in a deep chile braise with a gingerbread backbeat, this beef head meat is among the best in this series, with the fatty push and pull of full-on cheek and head meat. If the crown fits, wear it. ($2)
 Al pastor (below right) and more: The trailer’s stewed aesthetic goes a shade too far with al pastor, leaving it mealy and overdone against a weedy herbal backdrop ($2). The trailer also makes chicken and beef fajita tacos and tortas, plus pre-made breakfast tacos with eggs and sausage or chorizo in the morning.
 Tortillas: Corn’s the real player here, made by hand to be thin, elastic and durable as a Coach bag to hold La Reina’s greasy, fatty splendor without going mealy and falling apart. The trailer’s excellent storebought flour tortillas are as strong and translucent as parchment paper.
 Salsa: The trailer’s lone salsa — a thick jalapeño salsa verde — will scorch away the subtleties of the chivo trifecta, and that’s not something you want.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)