Tacos. I could probably devote the rest of my life to trying every taco offered in the city of Austin and come nowhere close to achieving my goal. There are so many taco trucks, Tex-Mex restaurants, and taquerias all within a stone's throw away from one another...every couple blocks or so :). So when The Daily Meal came out with their list of the 35 Best Tacos in America, I wasn't too surprised to see a number of local joints on the list (actually I was secretly cheering on the inside cuz I now knew where I'd be dragging, I mean, delightfully escorting my wife to on our next dates). Out of the 35 eateries, 13 were from Texas, with 6 of those being located right here in the Cap City. I definitely have my favorites (e.g. Torchy's, TacoDeli), but I'm always up for something new. Introducing #26 on The Daily Meal's list... Located on South Lamar, locally-owned Papalote Taco House is a small li'l joint serving Mexican food based off of family recipes passed down through the generations. Now when I dine at a place for the first time, I try to observe the natives...those people who have clearly been here before. I try to pick up on the ordering lingo, popular items, general processes, etc... Weird. I know. I'm not quite sure why I do this. I think it's because I don't like appearing lost. So I scoped out the diminutive establishment as MJ snapped some pics and when I thought I was ready, walked up to the counter to take a look at the menu and place my order. However, I failed to realize one key aspect - the main menu was on the wall OUTSIDE the restaurant. There were also some smaller ones at the door, but I failed to notice those as well. So after some awkward silence, the waitress kindly ushered me in the direction of the main menu. So much for trying to look like a regular.
Sheepishly, I returned to the counter and placed our order. Summoning all the Spanish that I learned in high school, I tried my best to pronounce the dishes as correctly as possible (in an attempt to save some face from the earlier awkwardness). I stuck with a couple of classics and went with the Pastor (pineapple huajillo rubbed grilled pork, topped with onions and cilantro) and the Chicharron (refried beans and pork cracklings covered with homemade red sauce and topped with cabbage, queso fresco, and crema). And I don't know when my love affair with horchata began, but whenever I see it offered on a menu, I feel compelled to order it. There's just something about that milky, rice water-y, cinnamon-y flavor that I can't resist. MJ just shook her head as I walked back to the table with a stupid grin on my face and horchata in hand. Although the Pastor was incredibly flavorful on its own, I couldn't resist using their special red and green sauces to give it that extra zing and added heat. For me, the combination of the two sauces was far superior to either one on its own and paired well with the tender, seasoned pork. The Chicharron, on the other hand, was a little bit of a disappointment. I'm all for pork cracklings, but the especially soft texture of the pieces used in this taco made for a rather unpleasant experience. The smooth, rich beans combined with the almost gelatinous chicharrones tired my palate quickly. Even with the slaw and a heavy dousing of the red and green sauces, I struggled to finish my taco. MJ went with Austin Chronicle's Critics Best Vegetarian Taco, the Tortas de Coliflor, and one of their corn specialties, Tlacoyos, both of which were amazing. The Tortas de Coliflor (cauliflower cakes covered in huajillo sauce and topped with cabbage, queso fresco and a slice of fresh avocado) packed quite a spicy kick as well loads of flavor.
The Tlacoyos (oval shaped black bean corn masa cake stuffed with potato covered in homemade green and red sauces and topped with fresh cheese, cilantro and onion), dressed to resemble the Mexican flag, took me back to my mission trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. Not that I had this dish while I was there, but the flavor profile reminded me of those mornings when I would eat black beans with homemade corn tortillas beachside. Delicious!
Papalote is offering up authentic Mexican cuisine at prices that are easy on the wallet ($3.25/taco). With organic coffee and free Wi-Fi to boot, it's a wonder how they ever get their customers to leave!
Papalote Taco House, 2803 S. Lamar Blvd, Austin TX 78704