500 Tacos: Taqueria Villanueva

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Taqueria Villanueva
12915 Dessau Road at the Dessau Minimart, Austin (map)
Hours: 7am-9pm Mon-Sat; 7am-3pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 12.11.15
Even a taco wagon can build community if it’s in the right place, and the Dessau Minimart is the right place for Taqueria Villanueva, where customers during my time here not only ordered at the window, but came around to the van’s side door for a follow-up conversation. In a part of town where “restaurant density” isn’t even on the drawing board, a gas-station taco truck is more than just a convenience; it’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The taco: Barbacoa
If I had a complaint about barbacoa, it’s that sometimes it’s pulled and chopped so fine that it’s more like beef mush. Beef-cheek barbacoa at Villanueva is left in pieces a plus-size model would appreciate. Not only is it unashamed of its rubenesque layers of fat, it’s proud to show them off. The lean, meanwhile, draws enough of that fat to form a glaze on the grill. The result is big beef flavor without barbacoa’s sometimes gamey tapioca texture. ($2)
 Chorizo (uh-oh): Villanueva veers right into the harsh, greasy chorizo archetype. It overpowers both the eggs and potatoes in a hapless breakfast taco ($1.75) and the overcooked, salty beef in a campechanos taco of chorizo and bistec ($2).
 Al pastor: Some misguided taco trailer menus have the words “fried pork” in parenthesis next to “al pastor.” Villanueva doesn’t, but it should, because that’s how crunchy it is. The oil and heat required to create that crunch suffocate any signs of life from the adobo spice. ($2)
 Breakfast tacos: The man at the window said breakfast usually stops around noon, but if he’s not too busy, he’ll make his $1.50 breakfast tacos later in the day, too. And not just a half-hearted egg and whatever, but tacos like freshly scrambled eggs with the pickled vinegar squeak of sliced cactus.
 Tortillas: The trailer makes its own corn tortillas, thick and strong in pull-apart layers, resilient enough to withstand even that greasy chorizo without doubling up.
 Salsa: A thick chile de arbol red sauce is four-alarm hot right out of the bottle. The slow-building heat of a smooth jalapeño puree is practically soft-serve verde by contrast.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)