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Tri-Taco Taste-Off

Posted Jul 16 2011 5:50pm
It didn't take me long to figure out that when you come to Austin, you must quickly develop a taco allegiance. You pledge allegiance to a taco stand (whether it be brick-and-mortar or trailer) and with salsa and guac for all, you tend to stick to the taco in which you trust.

Despite learning this lesson, however, I have to be honest and admit that--probably due the fact that I'm not only cheap, but also like to cook at home--my taco tasting has been severely limited, at least when it comes to the more popular 'chains' here in town.

But last week I had a friend in town, and, seeing as how some of the first words out of my mouth were, "You must eat a taco...and you must eat from a trailer," it seemed that it was also the right time for a taco taste-off.
First up? Tacodeli . With one location conveniently placed across the street from my new place of employment , and its prominence at many of the local Farmers' Markets, it might come as a shock to all of you (but especially those of you from Austin) that I have made it over a year in this city without once eating a Tacodeli taco. It also happens to be the favorite taco spot of a couple of my roommates, and my friend Rebecca , who was able to meet Liz and I there for lunch last Saturday. As I mulled over the extensive and varied menu , debating whether I was in the mood for the Delibelly that I'd heard so much about (oh pork belly...y'all know 'bout my relationship with the good stuff), both Liz and Rebecca had quickly settled down with their Mojo Fish Tacos (as well as a Frontera Fundido Sirloin for Liz). I do not know why I lack any photographic evidence of their meals, but I did taste both and must agree that the beef was tasty, and the Mojo Fish literally melted in your mouth. Liz had said before this meal that she was VERY wary of fish tacos, but then declared that "this taco changed [her] mind."
I went for another style of fish taco--the Ceviche Yucatan--which is apparently the usual Friday special, but I lucked out in it making a Saturday appearance as well. [I almost just ordered a cup of the ceviche, but the cashier guided me to the more cost-efficient strategy of ordering the taco: you get the same amount of ceviche PLUS guacamole for less money.] Having just received what I determined was a fabulous deal, I was in an elevated state of happiness, but regardless of my mood, that taco was good. The ceviche was fresh and light, and satisfying even to someone who has eaten a lot of good ceviche in her time. You might have noticed that on the sign bearing the delicious description of the Delibelly taco was another tantalizing taco to behold: the Papadulce. For those of you who don't speak Spanish, that is the Spanglish translation* of sweet potato. Having been intrigued by the sweet potato taco featured at Takoba, I couldn't resist trying this one out. And what a fabulous decision that was.
*I'm pretty sure there is another word for it that is actually used South of the border...but I could be wrong. Roasted sweet potatoes, grilled corn and red bell peppers, combined with onions and toasted pepitas made for an taco that--despite its fall flavor evocation--was absolutely perfect for a summer day [in the air conditioning at least].^
^Or night. I actually saved most of this one and reheated it later. Still great...and that's saying something, no?
Both tacos were so wonderful on their own, I didn't even need to utilize what everyone speaks about when speaking of Tacodeli : their salsas! However, being the small child-like eater that I am, whereby I take apart all of my food while consuming it, I ate the filling out of the taco and dipped the (whole wheat!) tortilla into each salsa. All of them were hot and spicy [for the inexperienced traveler that was my friend, Liz, "mild is NOT mild!"], but I especially enjoyed the roasted tomato.
With two* very enthusiastic thumbs up---and a new desire to eat every lunch for the rest of my life at Tacodeli --we were off and on to our next adventure. That adventure, led us to our next tacos.
*or I guess, six, if you count ALL of our thumbs
And some beer.
Circle Brewing Company was having a celebration to commemorate the release of their new Epic beer. I don't know how "epic" it actually is, as I don't know much about beer except whether I will continue to drink it (rarely) or not (more commonly). The Blur Hefewizen was tasty...and the little 3 oz. pour was the perfect amount. I did sip both the Envy and the Epic, but didn't finish them. [I know. I'm weak.] The beer was nice, but according to this man's t-shirt, something good was going to happen to us. When? He didn't say.
Turns out we didn't have to wait too long, because guess who was serving lunch at the celebration? Ah, yes, the peached tortilla , a food truck I have blogged about so often that even people in California suggest that we meet there some day.
Clearly I couldn't let my best friend from high school leave Austin without sampling a place I hold so near and dear to my stomach! After much discussion about the cavalier use of the word "slider" to mean any small sandwich--not just the tiny burgers Liz was accustomed to being served back east--we placed an order.
We obviously ordered one Banh Mi taco (on flour, to appease Liz's East Coast-influenced* flour tortilla preference)--as she clearly had to not only eat a taco--and eat one from a truck--she also had to eat some pork belly while in Texas! [Note: I'm pretty sure the reason I didn't order the Delibelly Taco at Tacodeli was because I hold the peached tortilla 's Banh Mi in such high regard that I would hate to think that even for a second there could be another taco that rivals it.]
*I used to prefer them, too. Much like once I moved to Texas, nothing seemed spicy any more, my taste for corn tortillas also emerged from the depths of...OK, I have no idea where this metaphor is going, so I'll stop.
Liz's choice was the Chicken Satay--also, of course, delicious. Both were eaten with much delight (although I'm not sure I sold her on the pork belly...it is sort of intimidating to be faced with such pure, fatty, goodness). Her favorite part of the taco was, interestingly, the Asian slaw on top.*
*Mine was the meat. Go figure. [Not that I didn't try to steal as much of the pickled daikon and carrots as possible. Or try to give a rather detailed explanation to the people behind us of what exactly daikon is .]
Two taco tiendas down...and one more to go. Seeing as how Torchy's was my first taco truck experience (and I swear the Green Chile Pork taco had some influence over my decision to move to Austin), I couldn't let Liz leave town without sitting down with a Torchy's taco at the South Austin Trailer Park.*
*I've never been to one of the brick-and-mortar locations. I find that might challenge my psyche a little too much. For me, Torchy's = tacos from a trailer .
When I had told Sister Smart that Liz was coming, her first response* was "You have to take her to Torchy's. She has to eat the fried avocado."
*Not in the pregnancy-test way.
And so she did. And yes, she liked it.
[As for me, my heart still belongs to the Green Chile Pork.]
You might be asking yourself, "OK, this is all well and good, but really Sarah, what is your absolute favorite? What's the best place for a taco in Austin?" But I shall remain tri-partisan on the issue.
Besides, there are about 300 other tacos still to taste in this town.
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So, Austinites (past and present), if you are out there...since I can't say for sure, what IS the best taco in town?
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