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Aug 20, 2007 04:23 PM

Tex-Mex on Austin’s Southeast and East Sides, Part 11

This is the eleventh in a multi-part series documenting my mission to try all the off-the-beaten-path authentic Tex-Mex taquerías, taco stands, panaderías, and take-out counters on Austin’s predominantly Hispanic Southeast and East sides. I’m using the term Tex-Mex to refer to Tejano or Mexican-American cooking. I’m not focusing on what some people call “gringo Mex.”

This is the second of two reports on eateries on Montopolis Drive. Note: While exploring the area, I saw two Tex-Mex possibilities that no longer seem to be serving chow in those locations. One is Alonzo’s Tacos at 907 Montopolis Drive, which appears to be a closed outpost of the restaurant of the same name on Airport Boulevard. The other is Shach[a]’s Tacos, which is a taco truck in the parking lot of Ray's Bar-B-Q at 6301 Monsanto (at Montopolis, around the 500 block). I’ve never seen this taco trailer budge from its current spot. Given this and its generally dilapidated state, I’m guessing it’s no longer in action.

Speaking of Ray’s, I’m including here a brief description of their chow, even though it isn’t a Tex-Mex joint (and they no longer serve breakfast tacos). The fatty brisket that I sampled was a bit dry but had good smokiness. On that day, I’d rate it as high sandwich-grade brisket—as opposed to “eating brisket,” which is good enough to eat on its own. [I’ve borrowed these descriptive terms from Dallas chowhound Scott.] Though the brisket wasn’t great, it was better than the meat I’d had at Sam’s a few days earlier. I also sampled the Elgin hot sausage that Ray’s serves. It was smoky and medium-spicy, with links that were somewhat dry rather than extra-juicy. This sausage was typical of the genre, which is not my favorite kind. Ray’s barbecue sauce is thin, vinegary, and rather sweet-and-sour-like. It was all right, but it didn’t add much to the experience. I also tried a dessert that looked like a “corn-flake krispy,” or a variation on the treats made with Rice Krispies. The binding agent in the corn-flake dessert, however, was peanut-brittle-like, rather than the expected marshmallows. The restaurant’s large, thin chocolate-chip cookie was soft, but it was short on butter, sugar, and chocolate. Neither dessert was very good, in my opinion, but at least the corn-flake one was sweet. Ray’s new posted hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 11 to 8. However, he goes home early on Thursday (around 6 P.M.) and any other day that he runs out of meat.

Back to my Tex-Mex report. In this part I review two taco trailers located on the north-eastern-most portion of Montopolis Drive, between Porter Street and 183 (which is where Montopolis ends).

* Moy’s Tacos, 1211-1213 Montopolis (at Porter Street)

This taco trailer is located in the parking lot between the busy Montopolis Grocery, a small grocery store and gas station, and a car-repair shop that I believe is called Capri Service Automotive, located at 1213 Montopolis. I can’t tell you how many times I drove by this taco trailer just after they’d closed. Their hours are 7 A.M. to 3 P.M. (7 days a week), and their phone number is 512-779-6708.

This trailer has a limited, affordable menu. Lunch tacos are $1.50 each, and breakfast tacos are just $1.00 apiece. The latter include a combo of two of the following ingredients: eggs, chorizo, bean, potato, and bacon. Gorditas are $3 each; menudo (available on Saturday and Sunday) is $4. They only offer one size.

Taco filings sampled:

Chicharrones—Their version of this filling consisted of large squares of pork rind in salsa verde [green sauce], which was pretty spicy. This was a bit on the chewy side in terms of texture, but it was good.

Carne guisada—Stewed, tough small squares of beef (maybe 1-centimeter cubes, if not smaller) in bland but thick gravy. This was pretty flavorless, like they were trying to play it safe with this dish. I should have ordered the carne guisada en salsa roja instead [stewed pork in red sauce].

Al pastor—The pieces of pork were of the same size as the carne guisada, and had some of the same problems. The meat was tough. There was a hint of sweet and savory flavors from dried-red-chile seasoning, but not much. This was not a good version of al pastor.

Lengua guisada—The stewed tongue was the best filling of the bunch. It seemed to have been steamed in more or less plain water. Fortunately, since this is an inherently flavorful cut of meat, it still tasted good. A touch of their green salsa elevated this taco to pretty satisfying.

Barbacoa—This was not the traditional cow’s head barbacoa but the shredded-roast-beef variety. I’m using the term "shredded" loosely, since some of the meat was just in big chunks. The main problem with this filling was that it seemed to be from a bad cut of meat. The barbacoa tasted dull, like boiled beef, even though its reddish color suggested the use of chiles or tomatoes. Given that it wasn’t sweet, I’d guess that some dried red chiles made were added to the beef during the steaming process. It wasn't enough. This was quite disappointing.

Other filings available were chicken or beef fajitas, [beef] bistek, and carne guisada en salsa roja [with pork, rather than beef.]

All tacos came with lots of cilantro and thick, large chunks of white onion. I’d suggest skipping these toppings, or at least asking for them on the side.

The store-bought flour tortillas were not good. The corn tortillas seemed fresher—and had a soft texture, despite the light brown spots that indicate that they were warmed on a comal [griddle]. A sour, watery salsa reminded me of canned green chiles that had been pureed without being drained of their liquid.

All in all, this taco trailer was very mediocre. After one of my visits, I felt the need to compensate for the lack of flavor by returning home to make my own chorizo con huevo. Although I didn’t get to try Moy’s carne guisada made with pork in red sauce or their menudo, I doubt I’ll return. Just down Montopolis, TomGro is a much better choice. Plus, there are many better taco-trucks around town.

* Pollo Asado y Carne Azada [sic], 753 Montopolis

This taco trailer is off to one side of the parking lot of a small shopping center. There's a Pac n’Save Foods, a couple of hair salons, and a washateria in this center. I found this taco trailer closed on my first few passes, too. Once was around 5:30 on a Monday. When they’re open, you’re likely to see a guy out front standing over two barrel-shaped grills. A friendly woman and a young guy, both of whom are bilingual, have waited on me.

After checking out the tempting meat coming off the grill, I ordered the carne asada on my first visit. [Note that “bistec” tacos are the same thing, though I thought I had ordered two different menu items.] The grilled beef was salty and good, with a good char to it, though the flavor of the meat was pretty plain unless you added some fresh, cilantro-heavy pico de gallo; one of their salsas; and/or a squirt of Mexican lime. With these additions, however, the carne asada was good. On this visit, the grilled onions that came with the beef were not grilled enough and were still very hard.

As is often the case when tortillas are store-bought, the corn ones were the better of the two options. As for side dishes, their beans were very good! They’re not spicy "a la charra" beans or refrieds. I’d say they were more like homemade ranch-style or BBQ beans, with lots of bacon and onion pieces and a tangy, vinegar-like sauce. The soft, yellow rice was good and seemed to have been made with chicken broth or drippings.

For those of you who love the heat, the pureed, chile-based salsas at this taco trailer are quite hot! I preferred the green, but the red one also had a good kick to it. These aren’t the best super-hot salsas that I’ve ever had (that honor, to date, goes to La Regiomontana), but they were a very pleasant surprise.

On my next visit, I ordered their specialty of pollo asado [grilled chicken]. I liked this much better than the carne asada, which was still a pretty good treatment of not-the-best cut of meat. The grilled chicken, on the other hand, was excellent just with a generous addition of Mexican lime: The meat itself was flavorful, juicy, and nicely charred. This taco stand's pollo asado may not be as good as the grilled chicken from El Regio. (Whose chicken is?) Still, Pollo Asado y Carne Azada offers the kind of good, simple stuff that you’d be happy to get at a backyard barbecue. Plus, the laid-back atmosphere will make you feel like you're at just that kind of party.

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  1. Thanks for your noble service in the name of comida buena.

    6 Replies
    1. re: yehudimenuhin

      :"-) Thanks for the kind words, especially since culinary delights were relatively few this time around. However, I could also say the same thing about many of my "fine dining" experiences. I figure it’s more rewarding to take a chance on something new than it is to stick with predictable mediocrity.

      Besides, I got a lead on a taco-truck extravaganza during my field work for this report. More on that to come. . .


      1. re: MPH

        I'm waiting patiently for your thoughts on El Taco Rico at 809 Vargas in the Montopolis neighborhood.The tiny Latina running this cart has a deathgrip on authentic renditions of all the classic Mexican cart offerings.Her salsas are very fine and the ambience[blacktop parking lot,lots of interesting characters strolling about]couldn't be finer.

        1. re: scrumptiouschef

          I was going to ask you about this place! Locations of taco trailers can be transitory, so I was afraid El Rico had disappeared. Now that I check my notes, I see that you said it opens at 3 P.M. I bet it's in the parking lot of the Vargas Food Store, which I drove by twice, but when there was no cart around.

          For those reading along, I searched for and pulled up scrumptiouschef's old report:

          I can't make it to El Rico tonight, but I'll check it out tomorrow and report back. That is, if I make it that long. The anticipation is already killing me.

          1. re: MPH

            The hours: Mon:closed Tue:3-10 Wed:3-10 Thu:8am-10pm Fri 8am-10pm Sat:8am-10pm Sun:8am-5pm

          2. re: scrumptiouschef

            I saw a Taco Rico truck (small silver pull behind trailer with women serving food painted on side) a couple Saturdays ago at Rundberg and I35 in the Chevron parking lot. It was about 1pm and was not open (although there was another trailer across the intersection in the Shell parking lot doing a hopping business...unfortunately I was late for something and couldn't spare the time to try it out). Not sure if this is the same trailer or even related.

            1. re: ashes

              That sounds like something else. The trailer we're discussing is called "El Rico." I think the color is tan; plus, there are definitely no pictures of food painted on the side of it. More than likely, it was open for business in its usual spot in the Montopolis neighborhood at 1 P.M. on that Saturday.

              If you do check out those two taco trucks in north Austin, though, I hope you'll start a new thread about them.


      2. I just moved offices to this neck of the woods, so I'll be checking all these places out real soon. Unfortunately, I checked out the wrong one the other day -- Moy's. I hadn't consulted the boards at all prior to going, but decided to stop at any trailer at random. Should've pulled over at TomGro. Moy's was pretty bad. Your descriptions MPH pretty much reflect my experience as well -- lacking in flavour, dry and/or chewy meats.

        The folks who moved to the new offices with me are all complaining about the lack of lunch options in the new nabe (compared to the S.1st area) .... I couldn't be any happier. One thing I'll need to keep in mind now though -- always have cash in pocket !! I drove through there today, only to realize I had 75 cents in my pocket, which as cheap as everything is, can't even get me a taco !!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Nab

          That's a great move, Nab—chow-wise, at least! The east side is a hike for me, but I still happily make the trek, shaking my head in bemusement as I pass hordes of folks lined up at overrated places (P. Terry's, for example).

          Moy's was pretty awful. Worse still, I was afraid that Moy's had replaced El Rico (which scrumptiouschef had raved about), since it was the only taco trailer located in a convenience-store parking lot on Montopolis. Fortunately, I was mistaken. I checked out El Rico today, scrumptious, and loved it. The tostada, the barbacoa, the chicharrones, the handmade corn tortillas—they're all wonderful. Some may become new favorite versions of these dishes. I really liked their green salsa, too, though I'm still trying to figure out how they do it. I'll be trying out a few more dishes over the weekend before writing up all the details in my next report. Thanks so much for another great chow tip. I really needed a good meal.