500 Tacos: Taqueria San Luis J.C.
An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Taqueria San Luis J.C.
2730 E. Cesar Chavez St., Austin (map), 512-585-7208
Hours: 7am-3pm Tue-Fri; 8am-3pm Sat-Sun; Night hours 7pm-midnight Fri-Sat
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 09.22.15
Good food loves company. There’s proof at this East Austin food trailer park, where the dark red San Luis trailer shares the lot with the former Rainey Street standout Scotty’s BBQ, the ATX Boudain Hut and T&L Vietnamese Cuisine. San Luis plays its part by rolling out $2 tacos packed with barbacoa, roasted pork and chicharrones and $1.50 breakfast tacos served all day. The trailer opened July 4 of this year, led by Celia Torres and her sister, bringing recipes passed down through generations, then interpreted for a modern, diverse taco-truck clientele — a clientele that wants everything fast, cheap, authentic and cooked to order. San Luis delivers on all fronts.
► The “J.C.” part: The initials represent the owners’ first names, or as Torres is quick to say about the leap of faith her family took starting the trailer this summer: “Jesus con nosotros.”
► Old-school trivia: Austin taco veterans might recognize this lot as the long-ago home of Dos Hermanos restaurant. In the more recent past, it hosted the Piedras Negras trailer, home to one of the crankiest taco-slingers I’ve ever dealt with, a woman who had taco writer Mando Rayo fearing for my safety when we visited the place in 2009. Godspeed, Piedras Negras, wherever you are.
The taco: Asado de puerco
Most everybody does pastor and carnitas, but not many taquerias bother with slow-roasted pork in a hot chile braise. The result is like all-meat chili, the dense cowboy kind, lean and rangy, with low notes of cumin and dried chiles and high notes of garlic and Mexican oregano. It’s the kind of food that tastes like the arid landscape of a John Ford western. Except that the landscape is a tree-shaded lot at Pleasant Valley and Cesar Chavez. ($2)
► Barbacoa: Torres and her family roast real beef cheek meat in maguey leaves for barbacoa with an earthy taste and velvet, fatty suspension. ($2)
► Al pastor and chicharrones: San Luis doesn’t do the old-school trompo-style pastor. In fact, given the asado de puerco’s power, I’m surprised the pastor is so mild and dry by comparison. The chicharrones bring a good porky balance of wet and dry, with bits of meat clinging to the fatty folds of pigskin in a spicy red braise.($2 each)
► Breakfast tacos: Egg and potato. Egg and chorizo. They’re both good breakfast barometers. San Luis succeeds with both by scrambling the eggs to order, leaving a little earthiness in the half-mashed potatoes and keeping the spicy chorizo on the leaner side. ($1.50 each)
► Tortillas: The trailer’s thick, handmade maíz tortillas carry big corn taste and the flexible strength to accommodate the hot mess of chicharrones and dry pastor with equal grace. From that same masa also comes gorditas like crispy cornbread. Flour tortillas are storebought.
► Salsa: Celia Torres wouldn’t tell me the name of the tiny Mexican pepper that goes into her salsa verde. But together with tomatillo, onion and cilantro, it produces a warm, steady heat that lets each fresh element have its moment. As much as I like the flinty heat of chile de arbol at taco trailers, it’s refreshing to get the sharp onion, tomato and pepper bite of good, cold salsa fresca — and San Luis has one of the city’s best.
► Avocado smoothie: The cool thing about having T&L Vietnamese Cuisine next door is that San Luis customers can get their avocado fix with T&L’s avocado smoothie — something cold and green and sweet but with avocado’s lean, lush vegetable counterbalance. As revitalizing as 5-Hour Energy, without the crash. ($3.50)
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)