500 Tacos: Tex-Mex Joe’s

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Tex-Mex Joe’s
917 Springdale Road (map), 512-385-4000, Facebook page
Hours: 6:30am-7pm Mon-Fri, 6:30am-5pm Sat, 8am-2pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 01.08.15
It’s been a year since Raando Arpero bought the Springdale location of Tex-Mex Joe’s. It was January 2014 when he traded mortgage banking for restaurant life, and two things have become clear. First: Running a cafe involves the same kind of networking as the mortgage business. Connections, handshakes, word of mouth. As we talk, he makes sure to name-check his mom, his short-order cook, even his meat supplier. Second: If he laughs at your joke about working 80 hours a week, it’s not because you’re funny; it’s because you are So. Far. Off.
Over the clatter of a dining room crowded with kids and couples, Arpero says he bought the 6-year-old Tex-Mex Joe’s on Springdale — the one on North Lamar is separately owned — on the strength of his mother’s cooking. Rita Arpero’s in the kitchen tending carne guisada and barbacao, while Valentin Mendez handles the cook-to-order duties demanded by a menu of Tex-Mex greatest hits for around $6-$8 a plate. Breakfast tacos start at $1.40.
The taco: Carne guisada
Roast beef and gravy. There’s nothing flashy about salted shades of tan and brown, even dressed up in pico de gallo. And so in lesser hands, carne guisada has a tough time keeping up with its flashier taco-borne brethren, whether it’s the Mexican flag spectacle and crunchy corn-chip swerve of migas or the soporific lushness of barbacoa. Tex-Mex Joe’s does a solid job with both. But carne guisada has an ally here, and her name is Rita Arpero. In her kitchen, robust cuts of beef from Johnny G’s Butcher Block in South Austin come alive with cumin and pepper, carried by a thick gravy that paints the tortilla with shades of a Sunday dinner among friends and family. ($2.25 for carne guisada; $1.60 for migas)
 Tortillas: Soft, grilled storebought flour and doubled-up yellow corn.
 Salsa: The yin and yang of the taco shop canon: mild red tomato salsa and hotter jalapeño green sauce whipped smooth with oil and spices.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)