500 Tacos: Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
Hours: 11am-9pm Tue-Fri; 8am-9pm Sat-Sun; closed Mon
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 04.07.15
The mesquite-smoked brisket from Miguel and Modesty Vidal’s Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ made No. 8 on my Top 10 Austin BBQ. And its handmade flour tortillas ranked third among my Top 10 BBQ Wild Cards. Put the two together, and you have one of the best tacos in the city.
Big Taco News: Violet Taco trailer on the way
(July 13, 2015 update: "As of today we have had to move from Craftsman! We will be reopening in a few weeks at our new location at the Star Bar, 600 W. 6th St.")
The Vidals plan to open a taco trailer at the Craftsman Bar in East Austin at 2000 E. Cesar Chavez St. on May 2. The trailer, Violet Taco, will be named after their new baby daughter. Their oldest daughter already has the barbecue trailer named for her. And Miguel Vidal said that when he offered his son, Isaiah, the naming rights to the new trailer, he said, “Let the girls have it.” Violet Taco will focus on an authentic San Antonio taco experience rather than barbecue, Vidal said, featuring tacos with steak and eggs, huevos rancheros, tequila-marinated fajitas, even arroz con pollo tacos. And something called Dirty Chicken (see below). The trailer will keep evening and late-night hours, but won’t be doing lunch in the early stages. Vidal said he’s experimenting with handmade tortillas using beets to give them a signature Violet Taco glow. Of her husband, co-owner Modesty Vidal said, “Tacos were his first love; the barbecue he just fell into.” Falling upward, I’d say.
Big BBQ News: Valentina's is moving
Starting May 8, Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ will move from the Star Bar to the corner of Brodie Lane and Harper’s Ferry, co-owner Modesty Vidal said Monday. The Star Bar on West Sixth is remodeling the patio where the trailer sits now, and Valentina’s will return to the spot when that’s project’s finished, she said, with an eye on the beginning of football season. The Brodie Lane location, formerly home to a barbecue trailer called Phred’s, is in a parking lot shared by a liquor store, the Brodie Food Mart and a smokeshop. Vidal said they’ll be open for lunch and dinner, but not the late-night hours like at the Star Bar. Vidal said she’s looking forward to the temporary relocation. The Vidals live nearby, and she said that when they’ve catered events at their son’s elementary school, they’ve sold out in less than an hour. In fact, they’ll be working Boone Elementary’s carnival this Friday from 4-8. Eventually, the couple plans to transform Valentina’s into a brick-and-mortar restaurant in South Austin, then turn all their trailers into Violet Taco stands.
The taco: Smoked brisket (top photo)
With mesquite-smoked brisket, you couldn’t taste more country wood if you were gnawing on a fencepost. I say that like it’s a good thing, because it turns tender, fatty brisket the color of a Big Sky sunset, with a taste like wind blowing through a spring prairie grassfire. Add Valentina’s bright salsa fresca and a cool scoop of guacamole and drop it in a fresh tortilla, and there’s a reason this taco will rank even higher than the trailer it came from. And when even the pitmaster's Band-Aids pick up a weathered patina of smoke, you know there's some work going down. ($5)
► Dirty Chicken (above right): I’ll offer polite applause for Val’s pulled pollo taco with tender, mesquite-smoked breast meat, guacamole and tomatillo salsa ($4). But I’d call down thunder for a recent special called Dirty Chicken, with smoked chicken thigh, refried beans with bacon, crema, queso, extra bacon and what Miguel Vidal calls Gangsta Salsa, a tart, dusky red with a low, slow and mellow glow that starts with its basic red salsa fortified with tomatillo, habanero, guajillo, serrano and sambal. ($6)
► Carnitas: By itself, carnitas could never showcase pork with the same flamboyant style as ribs or sausage. But put these willowy, coral-colored nuggets and shreds of mesquite-christened shoulder in a fresh tortilla with grilled onions and a bright burst of tomatillo verde, and all the sudden they’re wearing heels and a feather boa. ($4.50)
► Tortillas: Only the best handmade flour tortillas you’ll find at any Tex-Mex barbecue trailer. Who am I kidding? These dusty, fatty marvels might be the best flour tortillas in Austin; I’ll let you know once I’ve tried them all. They have the hypnotic aroma of fresh bread and the flexible street smarts and toasted muscle to handle anything you throw at them. Er, in them. And they do all of it without lard. Oil, buttermilk, a little vegetable shortening and a cloud of dust.
► Salsa: Valentina’s sweet, vinegary barbecue sauce would do the job, and most BBQ shops would stop there. But Valentina’s chopped red salsa fresca rivals any taco shop. Same with its tart tomatillo verde.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)