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Feb 10, 2008 10:42 AM

And Then There Were Three:Top 3 Taco Carts in Austin TX

I've been craving Araceli's delicious home cooking for some time now so when a Saturday afternoon bike ride finds me within striking distance of Montopolis I motor towards 809 Vargas all lean and hungry.

The little blue cart that houses El Taco Rico has moved 80 or so feet south to the other end of the quick mart parking lot...the hang has changed a little but the smells are still spot on as I park and make my way to the order window.

I've long since worked my way through the entire menu and one offering is as good as the other....the meats being the essential component of whatever it is that strikes your fancy that day.

I'm in dire need of a Tostada and the Barbacoa is a meaty gem that always bears up to inspection so that's dish one.Sopes are a specialty of the house and the Al Pastor is one of the better versions in Austin so this is dish two.I love Quesadillas and Araceli's are spot on so this rounds off the ordering.

Reared back in a comfy plastic chair under the small tent on the asphalt is a fine way to bask in a mid-Winter afternoon.Montopolis is jumping;a couple young boys are towing a small hound by a rope down the sidewalk...A young mom is riding herd on her flock of kids across the way in the laundry mart parking lot....the occasional Oldsmobile or Buick slow rolls by blaring Big Hawk,filling the community with good sounds.

The food comes in a tumult of deliciousness.The Sope hits the table first and is right at fat.The Masa is thick and fried til crisp/chewy then ladled with Refried Beans,Fresh Cabbage,Slivers of Al Pastor,Crema,Radishes,Home-pickled Jalapenos,Ripe Tomatoes,Avocado,Crema and dusted with Cotija Cheese.It's jaw dropping good.The Tostada is next and is a copy of the Sope except for the Masa being shattering thin...the Barbacoa is the real deal and succulent.I enjoy the Quesadilla on a Harina Tortilla stuffed full of molten Mexican Cheese.

The Salsas both red and green are superb.The Green is a fiery puree of Poblano Chiles,the Red not as hot but with a deeper more smoky flavor.I pour an unseemly amount all over everything I'm eating and the flavors throw a riot in my mouth.

I'm working my way through all the Taco Carts in Austin.After a few years of ardent research my top 3 are

Tacos El Rico at 809 Vargas in the Montopolis neighborhood

Taqueria Diego a mile south of the Burleson Road intersection on the East Side of Hwy 183

El Rincosito on the Northeast corner of Manor Road and Airport Blvd

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  1. I agree 100% with your review of tacos el rico. The barbacoa is simply divine!

    1. el jefe's cart on lamar across from fuego's is excellent too.

      1. Taqueria Diego has closed.The cart has a for sale sign on it.

        2 Replies
        1. re: scrumptiouschef

          Oh no! I was just about to post to ask you about landmarks that might help me find their location. This is terrible news.

          1. re: MPH

            On a whim while on my way to the airport, I stopped at the Taco Al Pastor cart on Riverside (almost across the street from HEB). Probably the best breakfast taco I've ever had in Austin. Just perfect eggs, bacon and cheese with this funky green salsa goo with some great heat. Gotta try them for lunch..

        2. Don't forget Taqueria la Canaria, at 51st and Airport next to Casey's New Orleans Snowballs. Their al pastor gorditas beat anyone's in town, at least, that's what my mouth tells me.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Manta raya

            Down at the heels is one of my favorite dining themes.You're dealt this in spades at the taco cart with no name on the Southeast corner of 51st and Manor Rd.

            I've been riding around looking for Berkshire St and a taco cart recommended to me by a friend who seldom issues recs.He knows his food but he keeps his discoveries to himself.However in a drunken haze recently[and after some careful prodding"man I sure could go for some tacos right bout now.."] he told me about a little spot he's been frequenting,homemade tortillas,good salsa...a cart.All you need to eat and eat well.

            I'm lost somewhere off Cameron Road when I spy a homely little cart in a gas station parking lot.It's lunch time and the sun is all fierce but there is a small table jammed against a cement wall in a stripe of shade it's within spitting distance of a dumpster to add to the ambience so I pull in.

            I'm not terribly hungry so I limit myself to a Carnitas taco,corn tortilla for here,adjourn to the al fresco dining patio and begin to hang out.It's a nice scene;off in the distance is a big brand new fancy building of some sort,across the street some chirrin are frolicking,enjoying a summer of being free.The quick mart parking lot where I'm about to eat enjoys a steady thrum of folks from the neighborhood hitting it big on scratchoffs and cussing amongst themselves.

            After 5 or so minutes my taco arrives on a doubled up oiled corn tortilla,the tortillas are commercial but of a good brand.The pork is the good earthy variety.A little dry but filled with the good flavor of Hog.The green salsa is quite good.Not of the calibre of Salsa Verde[sw corner of Manchaca and Matthew]but spicy and fresh.

            I chat with Denise my chef.She's in the cart from 8ish to 11ish 7 days a week.Working hard and trying to make a go of it in USA.As I roll down Manor back into downtown I notice the looming Muehller development and wonder how long the $1.50 taco stands will last in this contemporary version of Austin

            1. re: scrumptiouschef

              Reviving the thread.Noticed some strangers at Tacos el Rico the other day and they looked like Taco Tourists[nicely attired,a little frightened,agape at the pricing].

              What's your current favorite taco cart?

              Has anyone tried Hill Country Tacos across Lamar Blvd from Alamo Drafthouse?

              Has anyone tried Izzos'Tacos on South First st.just north of El Mercado?

              How about the taco cart in the parking lot of the quick mart at Oltorf and South 5th st?

              I'm really missing MPH's 1500 word essays on the profundity of tacos on Austin's East side.

              1. re: scrumptiouschef

                re: How about the taco cart in the parking lot of the quick mart at Oltorf and South 5th st?

                Taqueria Jacalitos. That place is superb. Great prices, great quality.

                1. re: RoundSparrow

                  What's your favorite taco there? Are either[flour/corn]of the tortillas homemade?What style of salsa do they serve?

                  1. re: scrumptiouschef

                    I think they allow either style of tortillas - made to order. To me that place it all about the meat. I think I've had 3 styles, we tend to mix and match beef and chicken... IIRC I think they call their Carne Asada just Fajita.

                    I'm indifferent to homemade tortillas... especially if they mimic the boring flat kind. They are either fresh and good or not....

                    I don't remember anything about the salsa... I'm on a a salsa kick it is off to Habanero Cafe or Screaming Goat for me ;) it took me about 8 times of eating the salsa at Manuel's downtown to start enjoying it...

                    Hopefully I'm not scaring you off. I'd like more people here to chime in and try them. The only other review I found of this place is now deleted off another site.