Taquería El Rinconsito: Delicious Tacos on Hand-Rolled Tortillas
1) if you desperately need a hand-rolled flour (or corn) tortilla;
2) if you were planning to eat some type of mediocre junk for your next meal; and
3) if you generally like the kind of Tejano-style Tex-Mex food that I do (or you’re just looking for adventure);
Stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW and head straight to Taquería El Rinconsito. It’s located in the parking lot of the Manor Business Park at 3110-3128 Manor, just east of Airport Boulevard. There’s a fruteria called La Fruta Feliz, a hair salon, some kind of store, and a small club in that same strip-shopping center. The club is called Discoteca El Rinconsito, and the taquería is located right next to it (hence its name).
When I found TER today I was actually looking for El Centenario, which scrumptiouschef had just recommended to me (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/40664... ). I think I may even have seen that other taco trailer, on the other side of the parking lot, closer to Manor Road. But once I saw the sign on El Rinconsito that said “tortillas hechas a mano” [tortillas made by hand], I would not, nay could not, be deterred.
As I approached to check out the menu printed on the side of the trailer, I could see that the woman inside was hand-rolling, shaping, and warming flour tortillas as customers placed their orders. Since she literally had her hands full (of masa), she looked relieved when another woman came out of a nearby shop to help her take orders.
I had to try some, naturally. I ordered one carnitas taco and one with carne molida on flour tortillas, plus two more (lengua and tripas) on corn, for good measure. I figured that if I didn’t finish any, I could just have them later in the day. I'll share a tip with fellow taco lovers: Keep a small hard-sided cooler with you at all times: It will keep your tacos hot for at least a couple of hours.
First things first. The flour tortillas were hot and tasty. They were a little gummy, as if they'd cooked too fast, but that's a minor quibble. After all, they went straight from the bowl to the board to the comal [griddle] to me. These relatively thin tortillas are not the thick and tender, pillowy variety made with baking powder (and given time to rise) that are more common in San Antonio. These also tasted as though they were made with Crisco, not lard—and definitely not bacon grease or butter. Their corn tortillas were also good. They seemed like they were made with water and masa harina [dried corn-flour], not masa fresca [fresh corn masa, usually found at a molino, or mill, where they grind their own corn]. I would guess that their corn tortillas were made without adding lard and/or chicken broth to the masa. Neither kind of tortilla noticeably lacked salt, which is a good thing. Of the two, I found the flour to be superior.
Taco Fillings Sampled:
The flavor of the carnitas came from the pork being boiled in its own lard until tender; other than that, I just tasted salt and pepper. The final product was gray and soft, which suggests that they skipped the next step of frying the cooked pork in a little more lard until the surface is nice and crispy. I should have known better. Fried items are often not the best things to order from a taco truck. With a little salsa, this taco was good enough. I certainly snarfed it down quickly. To be honest, however, this wasn’t among the best versions of carnitas. Yet the taco was satisfying, greatly due to the freshly-made flour tortilla.
The taco with carne molida, on the other hand, was absolutely delicious. Carne molida means ground meat. Sometimes the type of meat is specified. [For example, res = beef; puerco = pork, borrego = lamb, etc.] In this part of Texas, a similar kind of taco filling is often called picadillo [minced or chopped meat], where the meat used is usually ground beef. By either name, this taco filling consists of seasoned ground meat—often with diced potato, such as TER's version contained. Their meat-and-potato mixture was sautéed with crushed whole tomatoes, bits of onion, a few specks of jalapeño, and your Mexican spices (oregano, cumin, and garlic). I couldn't stop wondering if there were a touch of ground pork in there, too. There was an undertone of something spicy-sweet, like allspice, that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Their use of whole tomatoes rather than sickly-sweet tomato paste was a nice touch, too. This is the kind of simply but lovingly prepared dish that a Mexican-American grandmother (who is an excellent home cook) would make. I'm making myself hungry again just talking about it—and I'm really full. That's how good this taco was to me.
The fried tripas [tripe] taco was not very good. Some pieces were crispy; others were less so. Part of the problem with this dish was the frying itself. The tripe was coated with flour that didn't cohere well to the tripe. It felt like I was eating a separate layer of fried flour at times, which added a dusty textural element that I could have done without. I like the tripas at El Taquito more—in terms of both flavor and texture.
The lengua guisada [stewed tongue], on the other hand, was excellent. The flavorful small chunks of meat were stewed until tender and simply spiced (salt, pepper, Mexican spices). Their version wasn't saucy at all; however, the meat was moist, not dry. The excellent flavor came from the cut and good quality of the meat.
An orange-red salsa made from dried red chiles that packed a very strong front-of-the-tongue burn; a less-spicy, simple, green salsa made of pureed, canned green chiles; a Mexican lime, halved; and salt and pepper packets were packed as accompaniments. My four tacos came to $6.50. There was no printed price breakdown, but I'm guessing that the tacos on corn tortillas are $1.50 each, and the flour ones are $1.75 each. I don't mind paying a little more for the extra labor.
Other lunch and dinner taco fillings include beef and chicken fajitas, [pork] al pastor, chicharrones, carne deshebrada [shredded meat], and bisteck [steak]. I’d bet that the carne deshebrada and the chicharrones are good. All are available either with lettuce and tomato (a terrible choice, in my opinion) or cebollas [diced onion] and cilantro (there you go). I should warn you that their onion is chopped, not finely diced. They use white onions, so some of the larger pieces have a very strong taste. Taquería El Rinconsito's sign states that enchiladas, tostadas, burritos, tortas, and gorditas are also available. In the morning they serve breakfast tacos of huevo, chorizo, bacon, and papas [potatoes].
It takes a while for the woman to make fresh tortillas, so prepare for a bit of a wait. You can call ahead to place an order, if you're that well organized. The numbers listed were 476-0015 and 476-0006. Both of the ladies working today spoke Spanish, and the customers in front of me did, too. With a little extra work on their taco-ordering vocabulary, English-only-speaking customers should have no problem making themselves understood.
If, like me, you don’t call ahead and you find yourself with some time to kill, why not check out La Fruta Feliz in the same shopping center? This sparkling-clean, large fruteria makes fresh aguas frescas that are so much better than the ones from a mix. Pureed fresh fruit and water beats powder any day. I ordered a sandía [watermelon], but piña [pineapple], mango, melón [cantaloupe], and other fruits are available. My large (like 32 ounces) agua fresca was $3.50, and it was so worth it. They also make cockteles [fruit cups], licuados [milkshakes], jugos frescos [fresh-squeezed juices], and raspas [snow cones]. If you get a fruit cup, be sure to get it the traditional way—topped with fresh-squeezed lime juice, chile powder, and salt. On the counter there were three big glass jars with various kinds of green chiles and zanahorias [carrots] en escabeche, which means pickled. I didn't try any, but they looked really tempting.
Are you still reading this? Go check these places out!
Since searching Chowhound can be a little hit or miss, I've found the following Google search will pick up most of MPH's estimable (and growing) series on Austin taquerías, along with other relevant discussion.
I'll also throw in a plug for one of my favorites, Don Luis Supertaco http://www.chowhound.com/topics/36917...
I love the tacos bañados, campechana, tostada la Siberia, and the deliciously complex salsas at La Regiomontana, a drive-through on East Riverside (see this thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/367316 ). I'd also suggest Abarrotes Mexicanos (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/93175... ). The carnitas at La Hacienda Meat Market are excellent and should not be missed. More information can be found here:
Since I was updating it anyway, I've pasted below my own personal "best-of" list. It's a work in progress because I'm slowly trying every traditional taquería, take-out counter, and taco truck in town! If you're so inclined, you can find more information by doing a Google search for the name of any particular place on the list and my chow handle. There are plenty of other good, detailed reports on "taco heavens." Just off the top of my head, I can think of several by scrumptiouschef, Twill, and tom in austin.
Thanks to Knoblauch’s clever advanced-searching technique, using the link above will pull up the reports in my Tex-Mex series, should you want to read more.
* Best All-Around*
best tourist-friendly but not touristy restaurant, especially for grilled meats: Habañero Mexican Cafe
best Tejano-focused take-out store and counter: Abarrotes Mexicanos
runner-up (but not as Tejano-focused): TomGro Grocery
best lunch spot with a Tejano-focused menu, north side of town: Don Luis
best taco trailer—with hand-rolled tortillas: Taquería El Rinconsito
best taco trailers, honorable mention: Taquería Piedras Negras and El Taquito
best drive-through: La Regiomontana and El Regio
* Best Versions of Individual Dishes*
best carne guisada: Taquería Piedras Negras and Seis Mesas
runner up: TomGro Grocery
best carne molida: Taquería El Rinconsito
best chile en colorado: Taquería Piedras Negras
best refried beans: Seis Mesas
best rice: La Pasadita
best breakfast tacos: Abarrotes Mexicanos
best really cheap breakfast tacos: Taquería la Tapatia
best menudo: Abarrotes Mexicanos and Seis Mesas
best barbacoa de cabeza: La Monita
best barbacoa, greasy San-Antonio-corner-takeout-shop-style: Don Luis
best tacos bañados [barbacoa tacos drenched in a hot tlaquepaque sauce]: La Regiomontana
best pollo al carbon: El Regio
best use of El Regio’s leftover chicken: the Tostada Siberia at La Regiomontana
best mole en pipian (chicken): El Mesón Taquería
best grilled lengua: Habañero Mexican Cafe
best lengua guisada: Taquería El Rinconsito
best cabrito [stewed]: TomGro Grocery
best chicharrones: Taquería Piedras Negras and La Hacienda Meat Market
best tripas: El Taquito
best carnitas: La Hacienda Meat Market
best pierna [like carnitas]: Taquería la Tapatia
best pork-chop taco: TomGro Grocery
best tacos al carbon: Habañero Mexican Cafe
best beef fajitas, rancheras: Habañero Mexican Cafe
best beef fajitas, regular: Los Comales
best al pastor: [Rosita’s] Al Pastor
best pollo guisado: La Hacienda Meat Market
best torta: La Regiomontana
best corn tortillas: El Mesón Taquería
best flour tortillas, but probably made without lard: Taquería El Rinconsito and [Rosita’s] Al Pastor
best flour tortillas, of the greasy variety without baking powder: Don Luis
best hot and unusual (for Tex-Mex) salsas: La Regiomontana
best queso compuesto: Janitzio
best Friday Lenten meal (fried-to-order fish, shrimp cakes, and traditional lentil soup): Abarrotes Mexicanos
best nopalitos: Abarrotes Mexicanos
best chicken-filled chile relleno: Janitzio
best pan de huevo: La Michoacana
Right after you first recommended this taco cart, rudeboy, I looked for it. But there seemed to be more than one street in town with St. John in the title. I came up empty.
Is this taco cart on the St. John's Ave. that's just north of Highland Mall? If so, it looks like I'd simply head north on Lamar, past the intersection with Airport Boulevard. According to your directions, I'd take a right on St. John's from Lamar; then, I’d find the taco cart just before reaching I-35. Does that sound right?
If so, I’ll probably check out this cart very soon. I'll be in that part of town a couple of times this week.
Update: I tried the al pastor tacos at the cart on St. John's Ave. As rudeboy has posted, their al pastor is made on a trompo [vertical spit], like schwarma. It was good: The meat was flavorful, fatty, and dry-but-not-too-dry-textured (stewed or "faux" versions of al pastor are "wetter"), with faint-to-moderate citrus and chile flavor. There were no bits of pineapple, or anything else, mixed in with the meat, and the chile seasoning was milder than it looked like it would be, just judging from the meat's bright color.
The tacos came on small (like 5 inches in diameter) store-bought tortillas. The corn ones were doubled-up, oiled, and griddled until they were crisp-tender; the flour ones were just warmed on the griddle. Because the tortillas were small, the servings of meat were, too. I think I got maybe a couple of tablespoons' worth on each taco. I believe they offer a lunch special of 5 tacos for $5.95.
I enjoyed my lunch, and I'd stop by again if I were in the neighborhood and felt hungry. Overall, I'd have to say that I prefer the tacos at [Rosita's] Al Pastor on East Riverside. I like their seasoning better; plus, their use of housemade flour tortillas seals the deal. Of course, now I'll have to head over to East Riverside for lunch soon, just to make sure that my memory isn’t playing tricks on me. . .
Taquería El Rinconsito...Breakfast is served 7 til noon.Not a problem as I rolled in around 8am and was well pleased to see a small line of construction workers milling about waiting for their food[a good sign]some good natured jostling for position ensued as I bulled my way to the front and LOUDLY placed my order[not really...I went to the back of the line]My standard bearer for Breakfast tacos is bacon,egg and cheese and Rinconsito's version is damn fine.Lightly mixed eggs[yolks and whites not fully blended],barely cooked bacon[my preference...crispy is for kids]wonderous flour tortillas[in La Reyna's league of deliciousness]and good,hand shredded cheddar and jack cheeses comprise[at least part of] this tiny,scrupulously clean carts' breakfast fare.The lone worker was quickly joined by a lady[in a skin tight brown velvet dress and heels]who began helping expedite the work.I asked for Red and Green Salsas...the red was nice and hot,the green smooth and flavorful.Ambience was great,I hunkered down on the curb and soaked in the neighborhood;cars flying through the nearby construction zone,Mexican cats hollering and toiling under the morning sun and teenage girls coming out of the nearby discoteca with freshly purchased cds.Can't wait to get back and sample the luncheon offerings[they're open from 7am to 5pm Mon-Sat.
Their red salsa is not of the calibre of the nearby Centenario but where is?
I had a feeling you'd be the next 'hound to try Taquería El Rinconsito, scrumptious. Thanks for the report—and for making me crave their breakfast tacos.
I went back to TER for lunch yesterday and wanted to report on the new taco fillings that I tried. (They’d run out of the delicious carne molida; it must be popular.) As expected, all were very good. The carne deshebrada [shredded beef, usually a nice, fatty cut—like brisket or chuck] was juicy, flavorful, and very tender. Their deshebrada seemed to be flavored with some cooked tomato, garlic, and onion, which is typically set aside when the meat is shredded. This filling also contained a note of something like allspice, just as the carne molida did, which lent a savory-sweet note. Carne deshebrada is steam-roasted and, hence, like barbacoa in texture. In fact, some of the all-beef barbacoas in town can be just like carne deshebrada, if they don’t contain any barbacoa de cabeza [slow-cooked cow’s head]. After the carne molida, the deshebrada might be my favorite taco at el Rinconsito.
I also tried a taco with chicharrones. The stewed, soft, and fatty pork rinds were seasoned with lots of green chiles (you could see the seeds) and maybe some tomato and onion. This filling was really spicy, for those that love the heat. I thought theirs was a very good version.
I often get an extra taco to enjoy later; this time, I went with the lengua, which I'd tried before. I noticed that it had been stewed with some onion slices. Some of the pieces of tongue were a bit chewy; one still had bone attached. But overall, this lengua taco was just as satisfying as my first one had been.
I was thwarted once again in my attempt to try El Centenario, scrumptiouschef. When I went by around 1:30 yesterday, the truck was closed. So, you can see why I *had to* go back to Taquería El Rinconsito. Maybe next time I’ll finally get to try EC’s salsa.
Now when I roll up on Taqueria El Rinconsito the ladies just laugh.I ate a flurry of meals there prior to a recent sojourn out of town....and then upon my return to Austin I've been back on my mark.It's nice to be met with audacious laughter when you arrive,the workers know I'm Full Hound and they love it.The Carne Molida is a get there early meat...the clientele have sussed it out as the best item and it's hard to come by by around 12:30...[the al Pastor is good too]
Has anyone tried the corn tortillas?The flour is so good I've yet to branch out.Also,ask for Posole.They don't have it but I have a feeling it'll make an appearance if they start getting lots of requests [I ask every time]
"You know we don't have it"
"I know,I know I just thought maybe you'd brought some from your house or something"
It'll work if we all band together.
Thanks for letting us know about this place, MPH. I finally made it over there, and it's just as good as you say.
They were out of the molida AND deshebrada today, even though they were decidedly not busy, what with the rain at lunchtime. I got the carnitas, pastor, and a chicken fajita (hey, I'm a gringo....) which turned out to be more like stewed, shredded chicken, and a bit too salty. The tortillas were made beforehand, but were fresh enough for me to tell that it hadn't been more than an hour before. Delicious. I was full enough, but still wished I'd ordered 3 more....
re: Bat Guano
I'm glad to hear that you checked out El Rinconsito, BG. Your reminder about their delicious handmade flour tortillas would make me hightail it over to their trailer right now, if I weren't in San Antonio, with several delicious tortilla options within easy striking distance. (And I am not talking about the insanely overrated Alamo Cafe.)
Taquería El Rinconsito is often out of the popular carne molida after 11 A.M., unfortunately, but you have a decent chance of getting the deshebrada, lengua, or spicy chicharrones. If you're there early in the morning, scrumptiouschef reported (in a post above) that their breakfast tacos are quite good, too.
Let us know if you get a chance to sample more of their menu.
I finally caught this place open today unexpectedly, as it was 6 p.m. I was getting a fruit cup from La Fruta Feliz, sometimes the only refreshing thing on a hot, hot day. (By the way, I love the fact that the Happy Fruit keeps the cut-up fruit components in separate bins so they don't all start tasting like each other). I saw that El Riconsito was finally open, so I got to sample some tacos too. I have to say that those are some of the best flour tortillas I've ever had. I didn't grow up around here and don't have nearly the experience with such things as some of you guys do, and I really appreciate the suggestions. And I have tried out quite a few taco trucks before around town that were totally forgettable.
Since the only detailed review of Taquería El Rinconsito's breakfast fare on the board is scrumptiouschef's post above, I thought I'd add some recent observations on breakfast tacos that I sampled this week while attending meetings in north Austin.
Potato and egg—After I placed my order, the eggs were medium-scrambled (though they were almost, but not quite, approaching hard-scrambled). In other words, they were still moist but not runny in any way. Cooked potato pieces were mixed in while the eggs were cooking. Not noticeably browned or oily, the potato pieces seemd to be cubed from just plain boiled potatoes. The eggs were more or less unseasoned; plus, boiled potato is not very flavorful on its own. Thus, this taco was just so-so. Salsa made it better.
Chorizo and egg—This taco suffered from a double quandary. On the one hand, it needed more chorizo: The ratio was something like 1/3 chorizo to 2/3 egg. On the other hand, the chorizo itself wasn't very flavorful. Rather than a darkly speckled, orange-tinged, delicious mixture, this filling was another variation on the all-too-common type featuring too few flecks of not-delicious chorizo mixed into scrambled eggs. (The eggs were again scrambled medium to hard.)
The flour tortillas this time were even thinner than they had been previously, which made it hard to appreciate their flavor. They also broke mid-taco, which means that they were too thin to hold up to the filing. However, they did contain a lot of shortening (which doesn't taste like lard but is probably Crisco, as I noted above). They were also not rolled out and freshly griddled as soon as I ordered them. Instead, previously-made tortillas were re-warmed on the comal. Note: They looked like they were in the process of pressing out fresh corn tortillas when I was last there, but I was in too much of a hurry to wait for them. Plus, flour is usally the better option at TER.
I had ordered the potato-and-egg tacos to-go in order to share them with a coworker to whom I had raved about Taquería El Rinconsito. After eating the tacos, we agreed that while they weren't bad, they also weren't very good. I was left with the impression that I could have made much better tacos at home.
I didn't get to try the bacon-egg-and-cheese taco that scrumptiouschef enjoyed, nor did I add cheese to my potato-and-egg taco. I do intend to retry their breakfast tacos at a later date, just in case these were off-days. Based on my experiences to date, however, the carne molida and carne deshebrada (with chicharrones as a back-up option) remain the best bets at El Rinconsito.
a note to all the hounds out there: el centenario is now open from 6 am until 2:30 at night
its nice to have a late night chow option other than whataburger
id say its about as good as rositas al pastor on riverside cause scrumptiouschef was right centenarios salsa roja is crazy good