The Austin Chronicle

Restaurant Review

Reviewed by Mick Vann, August 13, 2010, Food

El Taco Rico

810 Vargas
Tuesday-Friday, 11am-10pm; Saturday-Sunday, 8am-10pm

Perched on the edge of the parking lot for a laundromat sits the bright blue hand-built trailer that is the home of El Taco Rico. Sisters Yolanda and Araceli produce some of the best Mexican food in Austin, selling it from their trailer on the northwest corner of Vargas Road and Felix Avenue, one block east of Montopolis Drive. (Due to traffic congestion from construction on Montopolis, get on Vargas as soon as possible when you head over there.) To the south is Najera Bakery and the Farm to Table office; across the street is a generic quickie mart. There's a single picnic table under the overhang of the laundromat, and the girls keep it and the surroundings spotlessly clean. The menu covers a lot of taco bases, and rest assured, everything you get will be authentic, delicious, and cooked to order.

On our first glance at the menu, there were a couple of Mexican terms that we didn't know. Guilota, as in "enchiladas con guilota," left us clueless, and no explanation came until later: What was translated as a "small chicken" was actually a quail. Suadero is translated by them as brisket and by others as rib meat. A sope is a round, thickish tostada with a raised edge, made from fresh masa. All the rest of the menu items should be familiar.

We were intrigued by the prospect of unfamiliar food, so the enchilada plate was a must, and at $8, a bargain. On the bottom of the plate are four to six corn tortillas, cooked in red chile sauce and folded into quarters. This is the traditional way of making an enchilada, which simply means "in chile." On top of this base is shredded white cheese, thinly sliced crisp cabbage, wedges of tomato, slices of pickled jalapeño, sliced radish, onion, cilantro, wedges of avocado, a squirt of crema fresca from a squeeze bottle, and a liberal dusting of grated aged cotija cheese. Crowning this impressive mound is a fried butterflied quail that's so good that only tiny bones will remain. From the chile-soaked tortillas on the bottom to the quail on top, every bite was superb.

What drew us to Taco Rico originally were reports of exquisite barbacoa tacos ($2), a shredded taco filling made from slow-cooked cow's head mixed with chiles and spices. Done right, the meat is beefy, rich and unctuous, spicy, and not the least bit greasy; done wrong, every bite is torture. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that the sisters had wrapped a spiced-up calf's head in maguey leaves and burlap and buried it underground with hot rocks for 12 hours or so. Taco Rico's corn tortillas are fresh, packed to bulging with luscious barbacoa, topped with onions and cilantro and your choice of spicy red salsa or rich avocado-green chile salsa. This is barbacoa done right.

We also tried a sope topped with bistek (beef steak, $3) which is excellent: Picture half a fresh gordita topped with tender grilled steak strips, and then all of the toppings that were on the enchilada. We had to try a breakfast taco of chorizo and potato ($1.25). The chorizo tasted homemade and was not the least bit greasy; the potatoes were crisp, golden brown, not mushy, and topped with shredded cheese, onions, and cilantro. A tostada topped with pork al pastor ($2.50) lured us in: again, a wonderful rendition. All of the usual meats are offered, including lengua, chicharrón, fajitas, chicken, etc., and all of the typical breakfast fillings are available as well.

Whether it comes as a flauta, tostada, sope, gordita, taco, or quesadilla, the sisters' meat is all cooked with attention to detail, and the toppings are as fresh as can be. In the realm of taco trucks, Taco Rico is king; in the realm of Mexican food, it reigns supreme.

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