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Best barbacoa

I'm new to Austin and curious to check out barbacoa-- I never saw it before moving to Texas. I've read that the best barbacoa comes from the head or cheeks. Where's the best place to try it in Austin? How do you know they're not using shoulder or roast?

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  1. el taco rico has the best 'coa in town. miles better then anything else I've tried locally.

    1. My favorite barbacoa is Tacos Rico. Give it a shot. I don't think this is a very controversial opinion.

      Additionally, search the Austin board for every post by MPH and scrumptiouschef, who were the undisputed lords of topics like these. Their takes are dated, but still mostly relevant.

      We're now in the Chowhound Austin Dark Ages, which began when MPH was "taken up" like Elijah, but were compounded when we fortunate few allowed the Chowocracy to drive off Scrumptious. During that period, other talented young magi also exited (Twill, LixLix et al) while important elder sages receded into the hinterlands of memory (Nab, Kent Wang, etc.) [Note that they still post from time to time, but there was a time that they were *present*, and you knew it.)

      Don't get me wrong, a few oldschool powerhouses remain, although they are hardly as prolific as they once were. I'd blame a mix of burnout and reality (most notably, having kids destroys your dining capabilities).

      Our current Dark Age is ironic as Austin's chow has never been better. Where Tyson Cole, Ray Tatum, and Parind Vora were once our great hopes, we've seen such creativity and explosive growth since the Chowhound elite forum participants have gone dormant. At the top tier of food: Paul Qui (a Cole acolyte) has overtaken his mentor, helming Uchiko, winning Top Chef, and creating a successful chain of carts, now minting a new restaurant; Bryce Gillmore, heir to the Z Tejas dynasty, creates Odd Duck and then shuts it down to start up Barley Swine. And so much change in the world of barbecue, even if we limit the discussion to Aaron Franklin and J Mueller! (We Austinites used to have to drive 30+ miles to get BBQ this good!) And all of that says nothing of the hundreds of tiny advances in Austin's food scenes. I'm dying to know what MPH, Twill, and many others would think about so many things. (For Scrumptious, I have his blog, thank goodness.)

      What will bring Chowhound Austin back to it's former glory? I'm not sure, but I hope for it daily.

      Other good barbacoa (IMHO) can be found at La Moreliana and several other places. Let us know what you find, gillsnthrills!

      8 Replies
      1. re: tom in austin

        Well put Tom. I too miss the input of the old schoolers. Certainly their absence can't well explain the the limp traffic here now - so sparse that I wonder if Austin Chowhound is even sufficiently relevant to our community of food lovers to deserve it's own site ??

        1. re: slowcoooked

          i agree that some of the old timers leaving has left a dent in the site, but i don't really get all the doom and gloom. chowhound serves a specific niche that no other blog or site does.

          i think some of the "down in the mouth" talk is simply people pimping for other sites. i learn new things from this site regularly.

          1. re: ieathereforeiam

            I started daily reading and occasional posting to Austin Chowhound soon after moving to Austin 8 years ago. What sucks is the relative scarcity of information posted compared to even a few years ago. We "learn" a lot less now. Just look at the huge decline in posts per day - it says it all.

            And I agree, this site provides a unique forum not well matched by any other online venue that I know of. That, along with the fact our city is rapidly growing gives me reason to suspect "intrinsic" factors moreso than the loss of an audience or development of other food blogs or sites are contributing to the current low Austin Chow volume.

            BTW, I currently only pimp for great fried catfish and coconut cream pies. Not other blogs and not even Chow.

            1. re: slowcoooked

              Slowcooked, you're exactly right. I still enjoy this forum and look forward to continuing to eat vicariously through our community. Additionally, pound for pound, a Chowhound thread is still better recon on a new restaurant then a Yelp page.

              Ieathereforeiam, I wouldn't say "doom and gloom", I'd say nostalgia. Also, I'm not "pimping for other sites". Don't be ridiculous.

              I tried the barbacoa at Ashley's Tacos again on Friday morning, and it was just OK. They don't make their own tortillas, but the beef was tender and flavorful. Their green sauce is quite hot, but was also quite thin, and it didn't offer nearly the flavor as some of the other notable green sauces around town (Regio, Ranchito).

              1. re: tom in austin

                I've been around since the roaring days of MPH et al, too. The Chowocracy got to me eventually, so I tend to limit my posts to openings and closings. Still around, though.

                1. re: TAF

                  TAF, I've thought of putting together the Chowhound Austin "Dramatis Personae" - a list of all of the participants over the last ten years, along with some narrative of our story. I think you can break Chow Austin into several epochs, and it would be fun to research and write.

                  I had the barbacoa from El Tacorrido today. I like the convenience of their drive thru, and sometimes quite like their tacos, but I don't enjoy their unreliability of product. Today I thought it wasn't even as good as Ashely's, yet their carnitas was above average. (Often, they don't have it at all.) However, Tacorrido's green sauce today was insipid - c'mon guys, this is a requirement!

                  1. re: tom in austin

                    There's a guy at my work that comes around with Igloo coolers that makes a mean barbacoa (of course I work at Ohlen and 183, so there is an abundance).

                    I miss the old times. I too was moderated to the point I gave up trying to put together any narrative or opinion.

                    1. re: amysuehere

                      If you're ever near that intersection on the weekends, La Familia market sells really good barbacoa as well as carnitas from the meat counter. (It's a convenience-store-sized Mexican market and Shell station at the corner of 183 and Fairfield.) Both come with this wicked green salsa that appears to be nothing but jalapenos and onion whirred up together.

                      I do a lot of shopping for Mexican staples there. The place is small, well stocked and inexpensive. Sometimes the leafy produce looks a little sad, but they have epazote (can be difficult to find) and better avocados than the HEB ever has. Also, both the produce section and meat market always smell fine; you can tell the whole place gets a regular, thorough cleaning.

                      The only other place in the general area that had decent barbacoa is the Taqueria Arandas on Burnet, but for some reason, I always fajita or chicken tacos there.

      2. If you throw the stuff at the wall and it sticks, then it's cheek meat rather than chuck roast. Cheek meat is very gelatinous and sticky.

        As much as I hate Taco Shack, they do it OK. El Pollo Regio, if they're still around (Riverside?). Also, many HEB delis have it hot and ready in 8-16oz containers or pre-made tacos on weekends (and maybe weekdays, too).

        1 Reply
        1. re: sqwertz

          I think there is still an El Pollo Regio on 183 and Ohlen.

        2. It has been a while, but last time i had it a Mi Victoria (aka La victoria) on Burnet and north Loop it was very good. They have the good creamy green sauce on the side, but I don't think the tortillas are homemade.
          They also have Carnitas to go. I think, somewhere around 5.50/lb.

          1. File this plug under the category of "I have never had their barboca, but it is probably good, because everything else I had there is"
            You might try the La Fogata Trailer on Burnet. It had been a while since i had been there, and was still good. I had some Carnitas tacos there on Saturday and they were good as I remembered. On homemade corn tortillas, nice and greasy, umm.
            BTW, La Fogata is a trailer in the parking lot of a do-it-yourself car wash on Burnet, just south of Colfax(south of 183, north of Steck)
            See also:

            1 Reply
            1. re: TroyTempest

              Ah yes! It is quite good. I'm partial to the fajita, too!

            2. There is a lot of good barbacoa to be had all over Austin. Nobody is using shoulder or roast, although barbacoa is made with beef chuck, and even goat, pork, or to be healthy, chicken, in various parts of Mexico.

              But in Austin and generally in TX and into the border regions of MX when you say barbacoa you can pretty much be sure that it will be cheek, and some menus will call it cabeza (head) instead of barbacoa depending on where the establishment's owners are from---this is norteño style barbacoa of the border regions.

              You would know immediately if they served you anything but cheek because barbacoa de cachete de res (beef cheek) is extremely soft from long cooking and slightly sticky from the collagen, it has a really unique and unmistakeable texture and taste. When you cut the meat off of the cow head, it is almost all to be found only on the cheeks and a little under the neck, so it is really mainly cheek you are eating.

              As far as where to get it, for me, the difference between bad and good is just that it be a fresh batch (of course not prepared fresh to order, but I mean fresh from being cooked overnight or that morning) and well salted (it isn't served soused or full of seasonings, at least the norteño style we have in Austin---then you add a little lime juice, cilantro, onion, and a salsa of choice) because at worst I have had to add a sprinkle of salt. It can also seem gristly if they haven't done a good job removing the membranes from the cheeks. But after a sprinkle of salt, I can't recall having ever had barbacoa that I thought was particularly bad, just good vs. great. I think it is hard to screw up. My family likes Mi Victoria Bakery for by the pound. I know some of yall will throw your shoe at me, especially for trying to sound like Ms. Barbacoa expert over here, but I love Taco Cabana's barbacoa tacos.

              All of the barbacoa I have ever had in Austin (usually my taco of choice) is cooked by steaming and not done the traditional norteño style of burying in the ground, I have no idea where to acquire that style if it is ever at all available in the US. At home, it can be made easily in an oven or crockpot...but I suppose you won't need to be making it at home since it is prolifically available in Austin.

              1. At Izzoz's, they have a taco kinda like that called the el padre!