My quest for taco knowledge and great tacos is a multifaceted one. There are just so many types of tacos developed during millennia of history to maintain an unwavering focus. Lately, I’ve been fascinated by tacos of the fish and puffy variety, and during a trip to Austin for the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, a friend and I got to indulge in some of the latter at Vivo.
A restaurant surrounded by a dusty lot along Manor Road—one of two locations—near standard-bearer El Chilito, Vivo is difficult to enter. Don’t go around the front. Turn to the rear of the eatery in a converted bungalow. Then, find a business easy to enjoy your first time.
The interior dining room is dominated by warm burgundy, contemporary art and a labyrinth to the graffiti bombed bathroom. It’s a lounge space for delectable Tex-Mex: cheese enchiladas, fajitas or chile con queso. Outside, where my lunch companion and I sat, was a verdant space filled with mosaic tile-topped cafe tables, wobbly metal chairs, plotted ferns, evergreens, vines and succulents concealed from the street, all the better for us to enjoy our puffy tacos.
The featherweight edible inflatables came topped with pickled jalapeños and raw onion slices, a garnish misstep, for sure, but for whatever nested inside the puffy tacos, there was more to applaud than excoriate.
A moderate chew to the fried dough made it evident why the taco didn’t shatter into shards of fried masa over rice and beans. It was nothing like the airy selections produced at Ray’s Drive Inn, where the puffy taco set its final, secure foothold in Texas foodways in the 1950s. A diner needs to be engaged with his food.
While my companion favored the shredded chicken, I found the poultry dry and tougher to navigate than Austin traffic. A toothsome filling would have paired well with the tortilla’s sponginess. The ground beef and the bean with guacamole, given the classic lettuce and tomato treatment, however, were fantastic renditions that left me sated, actually, more like left me feeling gluttonous and in need of retiring to a bar where I could take on the mantle of puffy-taco raconteur, regaling my captive—and buzzed—audience with tales of the meat—it wasn’t too hard on the cumin or tomato sauce and left me wanting for another bite long after I had devoured it all—and the bean-guacamole’s risky—yet erudite—flirtation with homemade baby food.
Or, better yet, bide my time until I could again come face to plate with delectable puffy tacos.Vivo Restaurant 2015 Manor Road, Austin 512-482-0300