Late Night Tacos.

It’s a beautiful sight to come across. A random carwash that has been closed for hours, taken over by a string of work lights, and a crowd of people happily staring at large piles of sizzling meats. You dream of your impending taco order while being mesmerized by a spatula that is oh so carefully herding those sizzling morsels, ensuring that each one has a perfectly crisped edge, a juicy interior, and is worthy of a salsa that could launch a thousand ships. Also, did I mention this meal is about as cheap as it get?

Unlike some of you fortunate souls, I didn’t grow up on Authentic Mexican food. I do like to think that I made up for my 18 years of Taco Bell and Naugles with my 20 years roaming the streets of LA after dark, in search of a master taquero. With that being said, I’m new to the Austin taco scene and there has been an adjustment period. Tacos are more expensive. And where is all that Al Pastor that seems to be omnipresent in LA? Oh, and where can I get my Late Night Taco fix? Which brings me to this piece of taco spotting I’m sharing today. Starting just north of Anderson Lane running through Rundberg Lane and beyond, lies a glorious stretch of Lamar Boulevard that looks plain jane in the daylight hours, but come night fall, I see the familiar markings of Late Night Taco spots. And there be Al Pastor out there too.

Tacoriddo

The Vitals:
the spot: El Tacorrido 9320 N. Lamar Blvd Austin, TX 78753 
the taco: Al Pastor, cooked on griddle, homemade tortilla
the bucks: $2.00
the full: two tacos will satisfy, four may lead to early death

If you thought the TARDIS was some box that stood out, you should check out El Tacorrido, lodged smack in the middle of a parking lot on N. Lamar and Rundberg. Die hard Dr. Who fans will point out that El Tacorrido cannot travel through time and space and doesn’t boast nearly the same interior as the TARDIS but Tacorrido sells tacos and meat by the pound. I’d call that checkmate, dear die hard Comic Con attendee.

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Back to legit tacos, and boy does El Tacorrido have them. Classic Tejano-Mex is on display with beef barbacoa available everyday and goat on the weekends. My go to at Tacorrido is the “Revuelta”; a mix of different cuts of carnitas including the shoulder(simply called carnitas) plus cueritos(braised pork skin) and buche(slow cooked stomach). This taco reminds me of the surtidos I would get at Carnitas joints in LA where the mix would include offal, snout, ears and ribs(minus the bones). Though the mix of different cuts of pork adds that depth of dimension every true carnitas enthusiast longs for, the meat lacks crispness. Great carnitas simmer slowly in it’s own fat, the Mexican answer to confit. I suspect this version may have been boiled and then griddled which yields a texture closer to barbacoa. Mexican cooking has proven to me that steamed meats can yield delicious results but in the world of carnitas excellence, I would mark this a 7.5 out of 10.

Tacoriddo Al Pastor

Just beyond that delicious distraction of carnitas goodness lies the Helen of Troy that stirred my late night taco crawl in the first place: Al Pastor. For the record, that delicious stack of marinated pork cooked like shawerma traces it’s lineage to Lebanese immigrants who brought the art of vertical rotisserie cooking to Mexico back in the 19th century. The natural spicy porcine evolution was inevitable and awesome. Yet good Al Pastor is hard to find. Until I had Leo’s Tacos in LA, I didn’t even know how good this taco genre could be. Trompo, the name for the spits that cook Al Pastor, are seldom scene around here. Many places simply get by with the ubiquitous spice rub/marinade, some chopping and a little time on the griddle. And that’s the good version. Some places alter the technique where the final product resembles something closer to a semi braise, as was the case at El Tacorrido. So from the Al Pastor purist stand point, expect a textural disappointment. I went with a generous gob of green salsa here, made creamy with avocado. Since moving to Texas, I have become obsessed with that creamy seductive heat that is the great “green sauce of Texas”. El Tacoriddo’s salsa lacks that heat, and interestingly reminds me more of the avocado salsas that are common in Los Angeles taco stands. Despite these shortcomings $4 gets you a solid meal here. The fresh tortilla, the hefty size of this taco, the fact that they have a drive thru and take plastic all warrant a return visit. Just don’t expect these tacos to take your breath away.

7 Estrellas

The Vitals:
the spot: Taqueria 7 Estrellas 8631 N. Lamar Blvd Austin, TX 78753 
the taco: Al Pastor, cooked on griddle,  
the bucks: $2.00
the full:  start with 3 and strongly consider the tripa as your 4th man option

The taco joint that brought me to this stretch of Austin in the first place is indeed a sight to see. The used tire shop it resides in serves as the perfect backdrop for a real deal taqueria experience. When I think of people being drawn into the cold commercial design of Chipotle, this is the place I instantly wish to transport them. If it wasn’t for Google Maps, one would think they were in Old Mexico with all the dirt and gravel being kicked up by very large pick up trucks. Yeah, as far as ambiance goes, it doesn’t get any better.

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For some, the sight of pineapple on one’s pastor taco is a good thing, a sign of authenticity. I am not one of those people. 7 estrellas got pineapple, but the Al Pastor they got is off the mark. The only trompo they have is in 2-D, a picture on there menu. And the texture was mealy. The rest of the menu, which is large and includes few gut bomb tortas like a Cubano are time better spent especially when you consider that they stay open till 4am on the weekend. I’ve had more success with the tripa(tripe) and suadero(beef navel) here, so be sure to diversify your taco plate. Unless it’s 4am, chances are you will have better options that are literally a stone’s throw away.

Tacos Al Pastor

The Vitals:
the spot: Tacos Al Pastor 8512 N. Lamar Blvd Austin, TX 78753 
the taco: Al Pastor, cooked on trompo
the bucks: $2.00
the full: you will want at least three, bet on 5. 

In Memoriam.

Yes, I’m writing about a taco trailer that has closed. Much to my dismay, Tacos Al Pastor, easily a ringer for best Pastor by virtue of name alone, has been shuddered for weeks, with my worst fears coming true when a sign popped up just days ago saying “for sale”. I guess I just didn’t want to believe it, but the best Al Pastor taco on N. Lamar is gone. Still it is a memory I feel compelled to honor. And they even cooked on a trompo .  .  .

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Tacos Al Pastor didn’t boast the prettiest trompo the world has ever seen but they still churned out a damn fine product. Looking for some Bang for your Taco Buck? These guys would sling you 5 tacos for $6, Mondays through Thursdays. Maybe the deal was too good, since they are now closed. Still, it was the finest Al Pastor on N. Lamar and you can clearly see why.

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Perfectly crisped exterior, flavorful spice rub, and tortilla toasted on a griddle greased by God. The only thing missing was the lengthwise slices you see at Shawerma stands or by the hands of Al Pastor/Tacos Arabes specialists. But a small detail on an otherwise very fine Al Pastor taco. They certainly lived up to their name.

If only they lived a little longer.

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The Vitals:
the spot: Taqueria Aylin 8610 N. Lamar Blvd Austin, TX 78753 
the taco: Al Pastor, cooked on griddle
the bucks: $2.00
the full: you will want at least three, and be sure to mix it up with a campechana, tripa, lengua or even the standard old fajita(carne asada for the non Tejano)
 

Taqueria Aylin is my favorite taco spot on N. Lamar. It’s the definitive late night Austin taco spot: bright colors, multiple tacos that pop, a green sauce with kick, and they put out a damn solid Al Pastor. It’s a place that seems to draw in taco heads of all stripes; recently I met a Seattle transplant who heard the sirens call for tacos at 8610 N. Lamar and is now a Aylin regular. Those taco stands that have an uncanny draw and stay consistent, are destined to become your next nightcap tradition. You should take a stroll down the menu here. Fajita, campechana(chorizo and asada), tripe and tongue are all tempting options. But that Al Pastor, now that is a must order.

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Though they don’t utilize the trompo, they know how to work that griddle into serving perfectly crisped morsels of red chile tinged pork goodness. The almost glow in the dark red pieces of pork remind me of Char Siu, that Chinese style barbecue pork that’s a specialty of Cantonese cooking. The tacos here are on the smaller side, almost LA size, albeit with a stiffer tariff. No, they aren’t the cheapest in town, their green sauce is nowhere near the best, but Taqueria Aylin is a favorite. It reminds me of my old late night taco haunts. It reminds me of my former home. A home that served good tacos. On a good night you will drive off from Taqueria Aylin with your mouth catching a searing wave of heat from a particularly spicy batch of green sauce. You wrestle with the notion that maybe you had one taco too many or too much salsa on that last lengua taco. Contemplating taco excess in a state of bliss while driving down N. Lamar during the dead of night.

Good thoughts to have on your drive home.

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