500 Tacos: Tortilleria Rio Grande
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Tortilleria Rio Grande
Hours: 6am-8pm Mon-Sat; 6am-5pm Sun
Also at: 500 W. William Cannon Drive, Suite 402, 512-326-1341
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 03.30.15
Why do places that open at dawn always have the worst coffee? Maybe so guys like me can have something to complain about when everything else goes right. Because that’s how it is at Tortilleria Rio Grande, where a scattergun sampling of tacos brought tastes, textures and value far beyond a humble tortilla shop.
The taco: Guisado verde de puerco con papas
Paying less than $2 for this kind of food feels like you’ve stepped back in time, when slow food was the best kind — and the only kind. It’s just slow-cooked pork with a warm liquor of reduced green chiles that’s been fully absorbed into the meat and potatoes. Simplicity done well beats complicated any day. ($1.83)
► For breakfast: You can order any taco at breakfast time, but if you want breakfast tacos — like one with hard-scrambled eggs and chewy country bacon and refried beans on a warm flour tortilla — you’ll have to order it before 10:30. ($1.83)
► More tacos: Barbacoa at Rio Grande comes with a caveat, right on the menu: “No Cow Head.” For them, barbacoa means brisket — and a lot of it — in an aromatic red braise. Hell, I’d just call it a brisket taco and charge $2 more than the regular giveaway price of $1.99. One of my favorites was a simple taco version of grilled cheese with a thick blanket of panela cheese and roasted poblanos. ($1.83)
► Gordita me: Running a taco series, I say no to a lot of gorditas. Not this time. It’s easy to say yes to a thick, handmade corn pocket filled with cactus and pork in a thick, red pepper stew. ($1.83)
► Tortillas: “Tortilleria” is their middle name. Er ... first. Rio Grande turns out stretchy flour tortillas like warm buttered biscuits. Their doubled-up white corn tortillas are as tough as the guy with the teardrop tattoo at the table next to mine.
► Salsa: A basket of house-fried chips invites you to try three salsas in an ice bin on the front counter (no double-dipping). There’s a thick chile de arbol red and a cool green sauce made with avocado and tomatillo. Both are category leaders, but the prize winner is a loose, sweet mix of roasted chiles and tomatoes that evokes the made-to-order chop of the molcajete for which it’s named. One of Austin’s best salsas.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)