500 Tacos: Taqueria Piedra Grande
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Taqueria Piedra Grande
408 E. Rundberg Lane in the Texaco lot (map), Austin, 512-457-9349
Hours: 5pm-2am Mon-Thu; 5pm-4am Fri-Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 08.16.15
This is one of the first taco trucks I visited in Austin, when for me a taco truck was an exotic thing. That’s when the big white van was parked on North Lamar where Taqueria Aylin sits now. I remember it being good and authentic and cheap — all of those things that attract neophytes in ironic wonder. Even now, after hundreds of Austin taquerias, it’s not just another taco truck to me, even as it sits with three others in this Texaco lot, along with La Chilanguita, a Honduran trailer and another that never seems to be open. This white taco van with “tortillas hechas a mano” spray-painted on the side still draws me like a bug zapper with string lights and tacos that match my memories. Mostly.
The taco: Carnitas
The best carnitas are the ones that live up to the “little meats” of their name. Piedra Grande shreds and pulls and chops its roasted pork more than most, leaving more surface area to pick up a crunchy sear when it’s finished on the flat-top. The salty, juicy meat is a canvas for onions, cilantro and heat from Piedra Grande’s towering inferno bottles of salsa. ($2)
► Tortillas: The best tacos in this report are built on handmade corn tortillas as simultaneously strong and supple as tanned leather, toasted on the grill for crisp edges and roasted corn flavor. Storebought flour tortillas get the same respect on the grill, even if they deserve it half as much.
► Pastor and barbacoa: The pork in this taco’s as sunburst orange as a vintage Les Paul. Unlike that guitar, it’s all show and no go, just hard-cooked chopped pork and none of that endearing adobo harmony ($2). Barbacoa suffers the same sins of the overcooked, its fatty fibers going from a crunchy upper crown to a hard mineralite mass underneath ($2.50).
► Campechanos: I’ve been lucky in this series, dodging the kind of greasy orange chorizo that haunted my first queasy encounters with it. My luck ran out at Piedra Grande, but that angry sausage was tempered by reasonable bistec with a hard sear for flavor but plenty of give and take ($2.50).
► Chicharrones: The heavy hand that overcooked the pastor and barbacoa played to the strengths of this stewed pork rind, giving it enough heat to sear and harden to the state between crunchy football snack and luscious, silky stew with big chile verde heat. ($2)
► Salsa: Speaking of heat: Both the thick, whirled green and free-flowing sunset red chile de arbol salsas are hot enough to cover up most sins — and create some new ones of their own.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)