Expat Taqueros Bring Regional Fare to the Capital City
Austin tacos not from Austin
Austin is teeming with high-end tacos made with boutique ingredients and sold at boutique prices. At the same time, there are also hundreds of humble handcrafted offerings, often with specialized ingredients, served from food trucks at much more accessible prices. Nestled among the array of taco trucks across the city are a handful of expat taqueros bringing Austinites an array of stunning regional fare, from Baja California to the Rio Grande Valley, while also balancing the tension between quality and accessibility.
Ensenada ATX: Treasures From the Sea
Ensenada, in Baja California, is the second-largest port in Mexico and understood to be the geographical hearth of fish and shrimp tacos. Short of having a fish taco in Ensenada, you've never had one as well executed as one from Ensenada ATX. The bright orange trailer, opened in June 2022 by mother-daughter team Liz Everett and Stephanie Everett Martin, just relocated to the Arbor Food Park on East 12th Street. Kristell Jean Martin, Stephanie's daughter, sometimes operates the register and runs food.
Ensenada ATX's tacos start with properly battered Gulf shrimp and Atlantic cod. Herein lies the secret to Ensenada-style fish tacos: It's all about the batter, which is light and incredibly crunchy, reminiscent of tempura.
Beyond being meaty but light, spicy, creamy, and balanced brightly with the acid from the salsa, fresh lime, and pico, the tacos are also a texturally perfect affair. The crunchy fresh slaw complements the gossamer crispness of the batter, and there is subtle heat from the habanero salsa and pico, cut just a bit by the mayo sauce. They're also substantial, without being a fork-and-knife situation.
On weekdays, the menu is limited to fish and shrimp tacos and their signature Topo Chico limeade. On weekends, you can grab a tostada de ceviche and cóctel de camarón (Stephanie Martin recommends adding avocado). There's also michelada mix available on the weekends; BYOB.
Ensenada ATX1108 E. 12th, 512/666-4396
El Perrito: Bringing ELP to ATX
El Perrito is a labor of love, starting out in 2019 as a side hustle but eventually becoming taquero and proprietor Ivan Enriquez's full-time gig once he saw the opportunity to bring West Texas-style Mexican food to Austin.
I was at El Perrito less than 10 minutes before two groups of El Pasoans got in line. One man said, "No one knows how to fry a tortilla properly here [in Austin]." Enriquez retorted, "We do it like Chico's, but better." The man and Enriquez chatted briefly about their respective El Paso high schools, then El Perrito went on a 30-minute wait and no one batted an eye.
This is the affinity that El Pasoans have for their local fare, but who and what is "Chico's"? Chico's Tacos is a chain from El Paso, and still only in El Paso, that created the rolled taco drowned in mildly spicy tomato sauce and topped with shredded cheese. Chico's is well revered by generations of El Pasoans.
The flavors and textures are unique for what we consider Tex-Mex in this area, with a few ingredients in common. The tomato broth is pleasantly spicy, kicked up by the verde sauce. I came just short of drinking it out of the corner of the boat. You want a little of that mixed cheese on top in every bite. The soppy crunch of the tortilla, wrapped around moist and flavorful picadillo with perfectly cooked potatoes, is definitely comfort food.
El Perrito730 W. Stassney #165, 915/777-0361
Con Todo: Tacos con Raíces
On a chilly night in late October 2022, about a year to the day of his grand opening, taquero Joseph Gomez manned his bright pink truck at Celis Brewery, Con Todo, solo. "Con todo" is a way of ordering a taco, and means "with everything" – salsa, fresh lime, and onions. He juggled online orders, the register, and the grill. This is no small feat. Actually, it's a huge pain in the ass, but such is the dedication Gomez has to slinging his comida frontera from the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Con Todo is the house that bistec estilo Matamoros built. It's a taco with beef, queso fresco, cebollas asadas, and guacamole on corn con todo. It's essential that you try one of these before you venture into some of the more esoteric, but equally delicious, specials on offer. One seasonal special from October, pollo en pipián, stands out. It consisted of chicken thigh cooked in pepita sauce, served with cilantro, onion, and pepitas. The pumpkin seeds (pepitas) lent a pleasant texture contrast with the braised thighs, and the whole dish was earthy and rich without being decadent.
Gomez is telling a story with his food. But more intriguing is the way he pulls from culinary, local, and familial traditions in and around the Valley to create his own narrative, while still honoring and respecting those traditions without pretense. Just before Christmas, he offered tortillas de mezquite, a tortilla handmade with mesquite flour. Gomez wrote on Instagram that he used to chew on these pods as a kid while climbing other trees. This is just one example of how Gomez highlights the Indigenous and ancestral roots of ingredients as part of the broader culinary story he's telling.
Con Todo10001 Metric