Austin City Taco Co., 517 University Dr, FW. 817-945-1234.
7am-10pm Mon-Wed, 7am-11pm Thu-Sat.
All major credit cards accepted.
Then I blinked. And my Thursday dinner order was fast-casual processed.
In all of about 100 seconds, my order was taken at Austin City Taco Co. –– the spiffy, several-months-old taco-centric restaurant bordering the traffic buzz of Fort Worth’s University Drive.
Foodie insiders know Juan Rodriguez, the culinary director for Austin City Taco Co., as the former executive chef at Reata and from Magdalena’s, the Northside catering company and pop-up supper club.
Rodriguez understands you can’t toss a sombrero two feet in the Fort without hitting some kind of taco concept, from the posh varieties served by Torchy’s Tacos to more late-night, hangover-fighting fare from Velvet Taco.
But with such quintessential Central Texas fillings as brisket, plus daily hand-pressed tortillas, all set in an Austin-inspired interior, Austin City Taco Co. aspires to stand out from the local tortilla hoi polloi.
The legitimate food and beverage bona fides of Austin City Taco Co. were established early as I passed a turquoise-colored cooler brimming with such trendy beverages as Armadillo Ale Works and Austin Eastciders Original Dry Cider. The Austin atmosphere was reinforced by the alt-rock playing on the sound system and the nonchalantly minimalist interior of comfy banquettes, wood-slatted ceiling, and communal tables bordered by backless stools.
The first of my protein-palooza tacos –– the chicken al carbon –– packed inherent tenderness, thanks to its brine of orange juice, salt, and citrusy achiote paste, before taking an hour-long spin on the in-house rotisserie. This chicken taco was my first introduction to Austin City’s signature mix of white-and-blue corn tortillas. The chicken chunks, while neutral tasting, were a winning foil for such confident plate-mates as creamy guacamole, the chunky texture of pico de gallo, shredded white cabbage, and a shower of twangy queso fresco, all accented by a stream of serrano crema.
The pork al pastor was so secure in its flavor prowess, it shared space in its corn soft taco shell only with little bits of grilled pineapple that also popped with sprightly flavor.
My gustatory guilt streak compelled me to order the SoCo veggie taco. Its healthful credentials were immediately established by the good-fat of avocado, napped by a buttermilk-ranch dressing enveloping other salutary ingredients as shredded cabbage, cilantro, and queso fresco, all nestled in a flour tortilla. Sorry to report that the entire tousled concoction had a touch of the blahs.
Time, as in a brisket spending 12 hours in a smoker burning post-oak at 250 degrees, can heal any culinary missteps. The Revolution 12-hour brisket taco definitely did not leave my palate feeling “meh” but rather “mahvelous.” Basted every three hours with a spray of apple cider vinegar and water, the brisket was imbued with a mellow smoky air and found a flour tortilla home amid cabbage and the crackle of fried onion strings.
Perhaps the tastiest of my taco quintet was the Baja shrimp. Before grilling, these Gulf crustaceans are bathed in brown sugar, vinegar, and Old Bay seasoning. A final sweetly singeing jalapeño glaze was added to harmonize the flavors before they mingled with more queso fresco crumbles and textured red cabbage.
All of the tacos I sampled were goosed by an occasional lime spritz and a judicious dunking in one of the four squeeze-bottle sauces: a jalapeño vinegar glaze’s fruity notes, a habanero sauce tinged with vinegar and non-weaponized heat, the pale jade jalapeño sauce’s vinegary punch, and the brick-red tinted guajillo sauce shot through with wood-fired smoke.
Soft-serve vanilla ice cream offered a desired cooling after all that chile-ignited heat. Atop the confection was a crunchy scattering of honey-oat cereal and the ultimate kid’s treat: Fruity Pebbles.
For some reason, Austin City Taco Co.’s name initially suggests the possibility of corporate homogeneity and little of the endearingly offbeat “Keep Austin Weird” sensibility. But that first impression quickly dissipates while taking a short stroll along Austin City Taco’s outer wall.
There’s the cheerfully lit up Zen slogan “Choosing Happiness,” and the outside mural contains such decidedly idiosyncratic, non-corporate motifs as abstract hieroglyphics, blue stars, and a rising sun in fluorescent yellow.
And as if to reinforce the idea that this Austin City Taco Co. is one of a kind, its outer wall greets customers with benevolent multiple peace signs –– promising a generosity of food and, yes, a touch of that Austin distinctiveness that awaits every customer inside.
Austin City Taco Co.
Fire roasted salsa w/tortilla chips $3.80
Chicken al carbon taco $4.15
Pork al pastor $4.25
SoCo (veggie taco) $3.55
Revolution (12-hour brisket taco) $4.50
Baja shrimp taco $5.75
Soft serve gelato $2.50