The Compleat Rainey Street: Tapas Bravas & Art of Tacos

Through the rest of July, I’ll walk through every open door on Rainey Street. See the directory here
Tapas Bravas
75 Rainey Street at the Backyard Eatery. 512-658-6498,
Hours: 6 p.m. to midnight Wednesday-Thursday. 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday-Saturday. 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 07.24.12
Rainey Street changes more often than you change your oil, and that’s especially true of the block’s mobile food fleet. One night, the Backyard Eatery behind where the ATM sits at 75 Rainey Street plays host to the colorful Art of Tacos trailer and an old bread truck scrubbed down to the bare steel. Three nights later, you’re eating tortilla Española from that truck, painted now with the red bull of a rolling Spanish street cafe called Tapas Bravas.
My Rainey Street traveling companion lived in Spain for 13 years as a missionary. He slips in and out of the language like a matador’s cape, and Tapas Bravas was like a memory exercise for him, drawing on street foods like that tortilla ($4), a densely layered wedge of potatoes and eggs like a starch-and-protein pie. Forgo the starch altogether with terrina de conejo ($7), a rabbit paté cut in thick slices like a cold huntsman’s meatloaf. Or something more refined, like plum-sized piquillo peppers ($7) the color of matchheads never meant to burn. They’re stuffed with soft goat cheese and honey for a light tango of cool, sweet heat infused with the rhythm of pine nuts for texture and the flicker of scent-shop oil.
For my guest, though, the warmest memories of Spain were carried by fried croquetas of chicken and jamon serrano ($5). As delicate as quail eggs, they yielded to the bite with a hint of breading followed, in full steam, by a smooth puree that honored in equal parts the chicken and ham. (See the menu here)
For $11, Tapas Bravas will give you a pitcher filled halfway with frozen oranges and berries and a sweet fruit-drink base they choose to keep secret. It’s your job to fill the rest of the pitcher with a bottle of wine to make sangria, and it’s a fine argument for carrying a bottle of red wine to Rainey Street with you — though what you do with it before you come to Tapas Bravas is between you, the bouncers and the TABC. Me, I’d drop off that bottle with the guys at the trailer for safekeeping while you go barhopping, then come back for a pitcher of sangria and a bite to take the edge off. What do the trailer guys have to lose? At the worst, you forget your bottle and they get to toast to your good health. With your wine.
Art of Tacos
75 Rainey Street at the Backyard Eatery. 512-417-8176,
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday-Saturday. Noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.
This is trailer food the way we wish it were: fast, cheap and out of control. For $4, they plate a beef fajita quesadilla so loaded it feels like a Freebird’s burrito piled between two flour tortillas. Ask for it loaded, and you’ll have cilantro, tomatoes, onions, cheese, shredded lettuce and sour cream to go with tender slices of beef more akin to carne asada than fajita meat, in all the best ways. The taco version is just $2. A burrito is $4, and your meat choices for every iteration include beef fajita, chicken, pork al pastor and ground beef with potatoes. It’s a solid border companion to the Spanish swagger of Tapas Bravas. (See the menu here)
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)