500 Tacos: Tortilleria Krystal

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Tortilleria Kystal
1033 E. Howard Lane, Austin (map), 512-251-3327
Hours: 6am-9pm daily
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 11.15.15
It wasn’t so long ago that this part of the county had more fields than foundations. But as development marches on, taquerias like Tortilleria Krystal are moving into the same kind of gas station/nail salon/martial arts retail centers that used to fill up with Subway shops. It’s a cold fact that a place with “tortilleria” in its name makes handmade tortillas only on Saturdays. But the fact that Mexican-style taquerias are finding a place in new suburban developments is a promising ... development.
The taco: Carnitas
Options are good things, and now Northeast Austinites have a neighborhood option for real taqueria-style carnitas. An optimist might call this pork half-lean. But I call it half-fat — and that makes me an optimist also. Because a tight balance of fat and lean makes for pull-apart carnitas that get crispy at the edges after a quick tuneup on the grill. Dressed with onions and cilantro on double corn tortillas, it’s suburban carnitas with country flair — and the country is Mexico. ($2.19)
 Tortillas: This isn’t Saturday, the only day this tortilleria makes tortillas by hand, so I’m left with factory-grade chalky flour and floppy white corn tortillas.
 Al pastor: Pastor is an impulse order for me, but my will grows weaker with each seasoned-salt imitator. I like grilled pork bits as much as the next guy, but this guy wants real roasty adobo twang, even a tropical pineapple twist, and this taco has neither. ($2.19)
 Barbacoa: I can’t tell — and the cashier didn’t know — if this is cheek-meat barbacoa or fatty brisket. The collagenous texture suggests the former, the flatline taste leans toward the latter. Looks like indecision’s back on the menu, boys. ($2.19)
 Breakfast: The menu says breakfast runs 6-11, but the cashier said “todo el dia,” so they accommodated my breakfast-for-dinner craving with a fresh egg and bean taco with cheese. But it’s a poor breakfast ambassador, with the barest of bean DNA running through eggs left too long on an overworked grill. ($1.60 plus 25 cents for cheese)
 Salsa: Like tortillerias La Sabrocita and El Taquito, Krystal fries its own tortilla chips — fat, crunchy totopos with fall-apart layers. The basket’s free with your order, and they give you two squeeze-bottle salsas, but just one bowl. Like Thunderdome, sort of. Two salsas enter, one salsa leaves. Make it the thick, glossy salsa verde that showcases the jalapeño’s vegetal pepper charm before the heat takes over. The sweet-natured tomato roja doesn’t stand a chance.
 Taqueria math #fail: One thing this 500 Tacos Project has taught me? The prices on taqueria menus have, at best, a casual relationship with what they actually charge you. I was overcharged here by almost 15 percent, but I had neither the time nor the Spanish to challenge it.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)