500 Tacos: Tierra Linda Taqueria

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Tierra Linda Taqueria
8540 Research Blvd. inside La Familia Market, Austin (map), 512-419-9190
Hours: 7am-8pm Mon-Sat; 8am-2pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 11.12.15
One of the best overall taquerias in this series sits in the back of a gas station. A gas station that also happens to be a grocery store with fresh produce, a meat market and a killer craft beer inventory. There’s check-cashing, too, and a cellphone shop. But the taqueria’s not just part of the show; it’s the star. Luis and Rachel Lopez opened Tierra Linda in 2008, selling tacos, tortas, burritos, quesadillas and gorditas. It’s clean, friendly, cheap and busy. And familiar. I wrote about a similar taqueria called Casa Linda inside another La Familia Market in September. That one’s run by Rachel Lopez’s sister, Jemima Aquino Jaimes, and her husband, Antonio Aquino. Meanwhile, Luis Lopez’s sister Elda Lopez Rivera runs a taco trailer of her own, Taqueria La Rivera, in Pflugerville. The Force runs strong in this family.
Taco A: Chorizo con papas
Break away from the tyranny of eggs at breakfast by putting two side players like these together: seared rust-belt nuggets of spicy chorizo and home-fry style potatoes hot off the grill. It’s the right combination of starch, protein and spice.   ($2.10)
Taco B: Lengua
Take the best elements of tongue — its rich, iron flavor and velvet texture — then sear it on the grill for the beginnings of a caramelized crispiness and you’ll understand why this carefully butchered and roasted lengua is one of Austin’s best “other meat” tacos. ($2.10)
Taco C: Fajita and egg
As carefully composed as one of those high-dollar tweezer dishes, this small taco starts with fresh and fluffy eggs on a decent factory flour tortilla, fortified with grilled strips of marinated beef and razored ribbons of green pepper, finished with onions and cilantro. As elegant and filling a breakfast taco as you’ll find for just $1.69.
Taco D: Carne adobada
I picked up a pro tip from the customers around me: Order Tierra Linda’s carne adobada as a taco, even though it’s not listed under tacos. Then add grilled cactus and fat slices of fresh avocado. The beef gets a thorough baptism in chile guajillo marinade before it hits the grill with sweet onions. The cactus adds its squeaky spark, and the avocado keeps things smooth and cool. A taco even more remarkable for costing les than $3. ($2.10 plus 35 cents each for nopales and avocado)
 Al pastor and carne asada: Adobo spice, grilled onions, cooked pineapple and roasted pork come together in the thoroughly tropical twang of this al pastor. Grilled onions also make a difference in a steak taco filled with strong bites of seared carne asada. ($2.10 each)
 Nopales and egg: I’ve eaten enough cactus to qualify for a xeriscape rebate this year, but not much of it tasted this good. It’s sweet and sour like a bread-and-butter pickle, cooked just until the edges are brown, then folded into bright, fresh eggs.  ($1.69)
 Tortillas: Tierra Linda makes its own small, sturdy corn tortillas, and it treats even factory flour tortillas with toasted respect on the grill.
 Salsa: The Lopezes make four salsas, including an emulsified chile de arbol red that’s warm and sweet from the combination of dried chiles, jalapeños and serranos. A creamy jalapeño green sauce and a tangy orange habanero step up the heat a couple notches, and a sweet, pulpy tomatillo green brings it back down.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)