ACL Food Fight III: Tacos and Wraps

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.09.13
UPDATED SUNDAY 10/13: Sunday's ACL Festival have been canceled because of flooding rains. A note from ACL: "Due to current weather conditions with flash flood warnings, The Austin City Limits Music Festival organizers have canceled the festival for Sunday, October 13. Our first priority is always the safety of our fans, staff and artists,” said Shelby Meade, communications director for C3 Presents, the promoter behind Austin City Limits Music Festival. “We regret having to cancel the show today, but safety always comes first.” Refunds will be issued automatically by check from Front Gate Tickets within three weeks. One-third of ticket price will be refunded to all ticket buyers based on original ticket price paid, and will be mailed to the billing address on the original order. For questions, please visit"
With 140 bands at Austin City Limits, some are bound to sound alike. Passion Pit and Walk the Moon, Tame Impala and Phosphorescent. Put 37 restaurants together at the ACL food court and you’ve got the same conundrum. In Round III of the ACL Food Fight, I’ll help you decide between dueling vendors of tacos and wraps. Click here for the full food and drink menus and prices for ACL 2013.
Taco Fight: Peached Tortilla vs. Chi’Lantro
 Peached Tortilla (BBQ brisket tacos, 2 for $8; above left): In its ideal state, fusion food amplifies the best of its component national styles. The Peached Tortilla has built a trailer following bringing Japan and Texas to the table and inviting a few of their friends to tag along. These tacos speak mostly with the brisket’s soft, slow-braised drawl, but there’s a touch of the border in those flour tortillas and an Asian accent in the sweet slaw and a squiggled line of orange-red reduction that quacks like a duck sauce. They’re made to order, tucked simultaneously hot and cool into a paper boat, blooming like poppies. Not just good but good to look at. Bonus: The Peached Tortilla will let you mix and match with a banh mi pork belly taco.
 Chi’Lantro (Korean BBQ tacos, 2 for $8): Those who live by the fusion can die by the fusion, and Chi’Lantro’s Korean barbecue is less like bulgogi and more like dry ground beef with hot red rice, a style that capitalizes neither on its Korean nor its Tex-Mex influences. Tacos are pulled pre-wrapped in foil, and while Chi’Lantro won’t mix and match with chicken or vegetable tacos, my two beef tacos weren’t the same. One had onion and cilantro; the other didn’t. Both would have benefitted from a sauce or something green to rouse the languid mass of beef and rice.
 The Winner: Peached Tortilla. Freshness, flavor, presentation, choice. All good lyrics for the sub-genre we call taco pop (T-Pop?). That radiant peachy barbecue sauce is the clever hook on top of it all.
Wrap Fight: Freebirds vs. Lamba’s Royal Indian
 Freebirds World Burrito (chicken burrito $8; at left): The Freebirds gang had grills fired up behind the tents, covered with beef and chicken, breathing smoke like twin dragons as flames flickered nearby under a kettle drum of rice. The crew was wrapping tortillas as fast as they could load them. Neatly, with foil as crisp as a navy uniform. Wrapped, let’s face it, by a crew in which the female corps outnumbered the men many to one, because we can’t even wrap a birthday box. During a lull in the crowd’s ebb and flow, they slipped my foiled burrito into a black Freebirds koozie as neatly as a Silver Bullet. The burrito inside didn’t quite match the bespoke burritos from the Freebirds in-store assembly lines, where you can have spinach tortillas and onions and roasted peppers and pico de gallo and habanero sauce and-and-and. At the fest, you just get the building blocks: chicken with a robust char from the grill, rice, black beans, a light sauce and cheese. None of the sparkly stuff. The flour torilla had gone a little gluey in the warming cabinet, but this was a solid, satisfying, fully mobile taste of Freebirds.
 Lamba’s Royal Indian Foods (chicken tikka masala wrap, $8): I’m not saying that festival food should leave no trace like you were camping in Yellowstone. But some festival foods are more polite than others, and this chicken tikka masala wrap was breaking through its foil even as they handed it to me. But this member of the Hope Market family makes up in taste what it lacks in presentation. Sauteed onions and red peppers join the campfire of smoky red masala spice to build slow-simmering heat around pecan-sized pieces of chicken cooked until they’ve started to go chalky. A soft blanket of warm naan bread works hard to keep the filling in line, but it’s like a jacket one size too small, not so much a wrap as it is a fold. Like an $8 Indian taco.
 The Winner: Freebirds. In these David and Goliath stories, sometimes Goliath wins. But remember: It wasn’t so long ago that Freebirds was the kid with the slingshot.
(Photos by Mike Sutter @ Fed Man Walking)