Papalote Taco House
Tacos, sopes, and noms, oh my!
Reviewed by Rachel Feit, Fri., Jan. 14, 2011
Papalote Taco House2803 S. Lamar, 804-2474
Monday-Friday, 7am-10pm; Saturday, 8am-10pm; Sunday, 8am-8pm
Just when you think you've seen all that taquerias have to offer in this town, along comes Papalote, a taqueria of a different stamp that will no doubt help redefine Austin's taco expectations. Papalote is the newest endeavor from Sergio Varela, who also owns Azul Tequila, a favorite South Austin destination for reliable Interior Mexican cuisine. Though this tiny storefront cafe at the newly revitalized corner of Manchaca Road and South Lamar Boulevard is less than six months old, crowds already spill out the door.
Varela envisioned Papalote as a casual spot that would serve the sorts of treats he recalls from his youth in Tejupilco, in south central Mexico. The kitchen here eschews Texas taco standards such as al pastor and fajitas to highlight more complex creations balanced on the slow-stewed meats and vegetables in vibrant sauces that typify Interior Mexican cooking. Many of Papalote's dishes, such as the tortas de coliflor (stuffed with fried cauliflower cakes, avocado, queso fresco, and cabbage) or the taco (with strips of poblano chiles, mushrooms, zucchini, and cream) are Varela's mother's recipes. Others come from recipes Varela has developed over years of working in kitchens.
On a recent visit, everyone at my table licked their fingers clean from the guajolote en mole tacos with big chunks of shredded turkey smothered in a deep-red mole that's a pitch-perfect blend of sweet, savory, and fire (all tacos $3.25), and we slurped up the rajas con crema (strips of poblano in cheese and cream, $5.99) with chips, spoons, and fingers. The taco with stewed pork suffused in a creamy, nutty pipián sauce spiked with hoja santa is another winner. Even a simple fish taco is well-seasoned, spilling over with fresh cabbage, avocado, and crumbled queso fresco.
Not limited to tacos, Papalote also offers a selection of tortas ($5-8), tostadas ($3.25), and some rarely seen-in-Austin Mexican street foods such as sopes ($3) – thick fried masa cakes topped with beans, meat, cream, avocado, and lettuce – and tlacoyos ($3), fried blue-corn masa-and-potato cakes covered in red and green sauces and queso fresco to resemble a Mexican flag. Varela calls the food at Papalote "tacos urbanos." I call it yum!