500 Tacos: TomGro Grocery
An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
1313 Montopolis Drive, Austin (map), 512-385-0799. Taqueria hours: 6am-9pm daily
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 10.04.15
A flea market pops up next to TomGro Grocery on weekend mornings, a place to buy a Steelers jersey, roach-killer boots, raspas and knockoff electronics. TomGro serves a steady line of cross-traffic from the market, with cigarettes (candy and regular), Bud Light and tacos from a counter as busy as a New York deli, complete with the yelling. It’s not pretty. The light’s one degree past dingy, life-size bikini models wink from beer ads like an airport strip club and tacky merchandise elbows for floor space: tubs of cotton candy, cheap sunglasses, spangled lavender baseball hats. But the taco counter radiates the smells of a family kitchen from stewpots of carne guisada, chicharrones and beans, and I can buy a full bag of made-to-order tacos for just $12.
The taco: Nopales and chorizo
There’s no way, really, to make sausage and cactus look pretty. The prickly desert weed has an alien sheen, ground chorizo looks like leftover meat from yesterday’s lunch and double layers of corn tortilla crumble in mealy surrender to the grease. But damn if it doesn’t taste great. The chorizo is leaner than it lets on, with sharp herb-garden heat. And the cactus snaps and squeaks like pickles with attitude. Too often we let eggs come between these two powerhouses. Time to recognize the undiluted power of chorizo and nopales. ($1.99)
► Breakfast tacos: Eggs, jalapeños, tomatoes, onions, chips, cheddar cheese. This is how you make a migas taco, folded into a toasted flour tortilla ($1.99). Tomgro takes the same classic care with frijoles and queso, with beans both mashed and whole and salty and earthy ($1.59). Potatoes and eggs missed the cut, though. When the cook has eight tickets hanging, there’s no time for toasted potatoes ($1.59).
► Barbacoa and carne guisada: Both of these taqueria standards are tender, fatty and spiced well at Tomgro. The carne guisada marries soft nuggets of roast beef with cooked-down tomatoes and peppers, and the barbacoa gets a fresh dress of pico de gallo to sharpen the beef cheek’s mild, lazy languor. ($2.25 each)
► Tortillas: Both flour and doubled-up white corn tortillas come from a bag.
► Salsa: The shop’s lone salsa might look like used chewing tobacco, but it rolls out elegantly with garlic and jalapeño and a low-glow heat.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)