500 Tacos: Torchy’s Tacos | Spicewood

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Torchy’s Tacos | Spicewood
4211 Spicewood Springs Road, Austin (map), 512-291-7277, www.torchystacos.com
Hours: 7am-10pm Mon-Thu; 7am-11pm Fri; 8am-11pm Sat; 8am-10pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 09.14.15
It seems unlikely that Torchy’s could streamline its unorthodox contingent of tacos into a drive-though operation. But at lunchtime, this location on Spicewood Springs has a line of cars out to the street to match its line of people out the door. The lines move fast, but it’s not fast food. In fact, in this ninth of 12 reports from Torchy’s for this series, these four tacos invite you to relax, take a seat by the campfire (or hot leather car seat) and appreciate the frontier flavors of a slower time. Cue the harmonica music.
Taco A: The Tipsy Chick, September’s Taco of the Month
The “Tipsy” in this taco is a marmalade that drops chunks of glazed bacon into maple-bourbon syrup with sour-mash character, whether it’s real or imagined. It’d taste good on anything: pancakes, toast, auto parts. But it shines against a backdrop of grilled chicken, cheese, fresh spinach, green chiles and grilled corn. This is among my favorite Tacos of the Month — better than the Roscoe, almost as good as the Scallywag. But that name's got to go, and the tagline with it: “Freshest Breast on the Block.” We get it. Playful sexism and food just go together, right? *puts away soapbox* ($5.50)
Taco B: Mad Cow from Torchy’s Secret Menu
This is the sixth of seven taco reports from Torchy’s Secret Menu, the menu you can access only if you, like, ask for it. Unlike some of its unorthodox companions — the all-in Ace of Spades, the fried-tuna Hipster — the oxymoronical Mad Cow is among the sanest of the secrets. It’s a thick bed of refried black beans with grilled fajita beef, punctuated by sweet and snappy kernels of grilled corn, finished with cilantro and jack cheese and dressed with chile-spiked chipotle ranch. Beef and beans, done simply and done well. ($4.75)
 Doubling down on brisket: Here’s where the harmonica really kicks in, with the cowboy breakfast of the Wrangler and the brisket picnic of the Crossroads. Smoked, chopped brisket lies at the heart of each. It’s not big Hill Country barbecue smoke, just enough to evoke the spirit, with bits of bark and crispy beef floss to accent leaner brisket. The Wrangler (below right) folds in scrambled eggs and skillet potatoes, each as fresh and hot as a dawn breakfast even at lunchtime, finished with cheese and spicy tomatillo sauce ($3.50).
The Crossroads (above left) is starkly elegant, matching brisket to grilled onions, avocado, cheese and jalapeños, folded into a double layer of corn tortillas. For all its “fried this” and “bacon that” and “secret whatever,” Torchy’s gets down to business with the Crossroads, as if to say: “Our fundamentals are solid. All that other stuff is just for fun.” ($4.25)
 Rice and beans: Torchy’s uses little black pans to serve its high-profile green chile queso and guacamole. Humble rice and beans do equal justice to those pans. The refried pintos are thick and smooth, with a good balance of salt and earth. But the rice is outstanding, with big pearled grains glistening with reduced tomato liquor enriched with grilled corn, soft carrots and green chiles. At $1.95 each, they’re good values.
 Tortillas: Based on the beef-and-corn harmony of the Crossroads taco, I’m softening on Torchy’s commercial corn tortillas. At least they’re full-sized, doubled-up and convey some taqueria character. The flour’s as stiff and waxy as ever, and Torchy’s could do better if it chose to.
 Salsa: Of Torchy’s six salsas, I keep going back to the smooth, fresh avocado and the hot, sweet Diablo for this group of tacos. Hot and cool and warm all around.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
More Torchy’s in this series
► Round Rock  ► South First  ► Spicewood