500 Tacos: Tortuga Flats

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Tortuga Flats
3107 S. Interstate 35, Round Rock (map), 512-388-1445, www.tortugaflats.com
Hours: 11am-10pm Mon-Wed, 11am-11pm Thu-Sat, 10am-4pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 03.10.15
Tuesdays are red-letter days in the world of tacos. It’s the alliteration: Taco Tuesday. Here’s another good alliteration: $2. At Tortuga Flats, they put all three together — $2 Taco Tuesday — with a choice of sirloin, brisket, chicken, cochinita or carnitas. Each is dressed with cabbage and pico de gallo on doubled-up storebought corn tortillas, a preview of their specialty taco menu, which dresses those same proteins and many more in layers of flavor on thicker handmade corn tortillas even on days that aren’t Tuesday. Other good T for Tuesday nominations: Twizzlers, taxidermy, tequila ... and Tortuga Flats.
The taco: El Puerco
Tortuga Flats chef Octavio Benavides and GM Tre Dotson were everything good about Austin’s ill-fated Stack Burger Bar. Their burger with bacon jam and fried onions was among the best in a 100-part series I did a few years back. They bring the same sensibility to a taco that uses the sweetness of bourbon-bacon jam to awaken the flavors of tender pork belly and rugged pulled pork speckled with caramelized bark. It’s finished with arugula, green chile relish and crispy bits of battered onion. In a sprawling space of polished wood, basket lights, an open kitchen, and a massive bar and patio, Tortuga Flats brings the spirit of Austin’s taco renaissance to Round Rock. ($12.99 for two with rice and beans, $5.99 a la carte)
 BBQ Flats: If this taco thing doesn’t work out, the Tortuga boys could do barbecue instead, judging from this Coke-braised brisket dinner in a taco called El Pik Nik, rounded out with sliced link sausage, cole slaw and grain mustard potato salad. ($12.99 for two with rice and beans, $5.99 a la carte)
 Tortillas: They roll their own strong, thick corn tortillas. Flour tortillas and the $2 taco corn tortillas are storebought.
 Those $2 Tuesdays: Sweet and shaggy carnitas, thick ribbons of grilled sirloin, shredded pork with cochinita-style achiote twang. Each is a solid $2 handshake for what Tortuga Flats can deliver, even better with a $2 Modelo beer. Each Tuesday, there’s a special guest $2 taco, and I’ll tease you by saying a few weeks it was a relleno-battered jalapeño stuffed with picadillo, lying on a bed of grilled panela cheese. I’ll start the campaign to bring it back.
 Salsa: The house red with chips is a first-rate smoky roasted tomato with onions, garlic and herbs. Silky jalapeño green and sweet-hot habanero available on request.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)