“Meet and Eat” is series about congregations and adventures with food writers, food bloggers and others orbiting the food world.
Recently, I had the pleasure to go on a taco tour with Roberto Espinosa, owner of Tacodeli, one of Austin’s stellar taco emporiums. The meet-and-eat was a product of one of my Slashfood posts, Where are America’s Best Tacos? – Brooklyn’s Sunset Park vs. Austin, Texas, and the subsequent conservation Roberto and I engaged in. For the piece I compared a selection of Austin taco joints with those of my former home, Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Among the establishments was Tacodeli and included quotes from the taco tsar. While I did enjoy what I ate at Tacodeli, I had reservations (what I called “gringo fancy” and recanted in a follow-up post.). Roberto was understanding and offered to take me on a tour of Austin’s taco offerings.
There was no hesistation. I took Roberto up on his offer. And away we went.
At Rosita’s Al Pastor, a truck in a strip-mall parking lot, we had lengua, al pastor, carnitas and chicharron. The hit and miss were the lengua and the chicharron. The former melted refreshingly, like an ice cube on the tongue during a steaming New York City summer day when the air conditioner isn’t working. The chicharron, well, let’s just say, I’ve never had the pleaure of sampling a delectable chicharron taco.
“Don’t eat that. Seriously, you don’t want to eat that,” said Roberto about the fried tripe taco we had ordered at Taquito’s. Of course I took a bite, a big one at that. And, of course, he was right. A regrettable decision that had the texture of hard plastic and left the taste of silly putty in my mouth.
Our last stop, Piedras Negras, was a truck I had been to before, and has a menu most closely resembling the taco joints I frequented in Brooklyn. As much as I wanted to eat my carnitas standby, I went with the al carbon taco. It was an against-type choice, with sauteed onions and raw onions, tomatoes as well as green bell peppers. Crunchy and juicy, I wanted to ingest it in its entirity, but after more than a dozen tacos, I apologized to it.
Between destinations we talked about Mexican food and tacos, natch; Austin; cyclicing (we’re both enthusiaists); and, most importantly, why open a taco restaurant in Austin. A Mexico City native, Roberto told me that his decision to open Tacodeli was influenced by his desire to eat what he grew up eating. “There wasn’t anything like it in Austin; it was all steam-table stuff. I wanted to cook what I wanted to eat.” Now, after 10 years, he has two shops, with a third set to open next year. Then there is the Doña Maria salsa, a creamy, neon-green sauce concocted by one of Roberto’s original—and current—employees from Veracruz. “When I opened, I asked my staff to bring in some salsas. Doña Maria brought in something she learned to cook in Veracruz. I was blown away. It was like opening a treasure chest.” Everyone I’ve met who has tasted the salsa swears fealty to it. I’ve never been one for spicy foods, but I have to agree with the loyalists: Doña Maria makes some delish salsa. Roberto obviously reciprocates his customer’s feelings. “I have a responsibility to my customers.” Note, the homemade mole taco suggested by one patron. His passion for tacos and diners is as infectious as the Doña salsa. Whenever I go to Tacodeli the shop is filled elbow to elbow and the pay-off disintegrates any claustrophobia you might have.
I can’t wait to munch on some Tacodeli grub when I return to Austin for Thanksgiving. The Cowboy and Mole tacos are calling me. Who wants to join me?