With a slow wave of his shaggy, buffalo shaped head my friend Antonio speaks on desebrada: “Listen brah, us Mexicans got all kinds of names for stuff we all grew up eating on. Desebrada ain’t nothing but Mexican pot roast. My mom take a chuck roast, sticks it in the crock pot and lets it ride for 6 or 7 hours, once it’s done she gets out her comal and starts making tortillas. It ain’t no big deal.”
I’ll never forget the first time I ever sampled a stellar version of this dish. I was standing in a gravel parking lot in Pilot Knob Texas under a brilliant blue sky waiting for the ladies in Taqueria El Chanclas to make my food.
My project at the time was mapping out the taco carts of unincorporated Travis County and Pilot Knob was on the way to where I was going.
I didn’t make my destination that day. The food at el Chanclas was incredible and I ended up spending all my taco dollars right there.
While the cuisine at El Chanclas was only stellar for a spell [til they lost Carmen, their tortilla lady] it did inspire in me a life long love for desebrada.
Here’s part one of my seven part series on the form.
A cold chill washes over me as I roll into the parking lot of El Taquito. A Fiesta tortilla truck is wheeling out of the driveway and I know this to be one of the dominant [ and pitiful ] commercial tortilla providers in the Austin area.
A second cold chill hits me as I open the door to the restaurant. A gaggle of teenagers are making their way out the door and they’re decked from head to toe in Hot Topic gear. I generally like to eat Mexican food surrounded by beefy honchos with tape measures buckled to their waist, their trousers covered with spackle. Not kiddos wearing bondage bracelets.
El Taquito has the look of restaurant number one in a would be chain. The menu has the slick professional feel of a Chipotle Grill [ I entered one once, notated that a burrito cost 8 dollars and left ] or some other chain outlet.
No matter, I spy desebrada on the menu, place my order for one taco and a chips and salsa [ $1.75 ] make my way to table and begin my hang.
It’s a very good scene.
Loud, modern Latino top 40 is pumping, children are wailing while their parents stare at the boulevard of broken dreams that is Riverside Drive, two dead-gorgeous Mexican professionals are plowing through some huge combo platters and I’m sampling a bevy of respectable salsas of which there are four: a standard bright red Tex Mex offers little but a thin, tart tomatilla is fine as is a heavily roasted red tomato version. The final of the four and my favorite is an odd, orange hued sauce with a very prominent vinegar note and a vegetal escabeche flavor that reminds me of carrots. Odd but good.
The desebrada arrives on a faux rustic bright yellow corn tortilla. It’s a good sized portion but unfortunately the meat is waterlogged from being stored in warm water. The tortilla is the standard issue that lazy restaurant owners the world over offer. I heavily salt, salsa-fy and apply limon but this taco is d.o.a.
A special note must be made of the low grade totopos that El Taquito charges $ 1.75 for as they are beyond redemption. Stale, cold and not tasty.
I wish restaurants would start charging for chips and salsa in Austin.
And make their corn tortillas from scratch, cook them, cut them and deep fry them per order. Then I’d gladly pay for what we now still commonly get for free.
However, when you charge for chips and salsa and then serve lousy totopos what have you accomplished? You made a couple dollars and ensured that you will never see that patron again.
I remember when El Taquito was just a little cart down the hill from their nice brick and mortar restaurant. They had delicious carnitas and very long operating hours. At some point though this little mom and pop has lost their culinary chops.
1713 E Riverside Dr