To say that Austinites love tacos would be the understatement of the year. We eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and sometimes, especially during SXSW, at 2 a.m.) We develop extreme loyalties to our favorite spots around town. Like your astrological sign, the place you go to get your morning breakfast taco speaks volumes about your character. The taco business in this town is a serious one, as the thirteen chef-testants demonstrated at the Austin Taco Experiment on Sunday, serving up some killer tacos in the hopes of winning prizes and (most importantly) bragging rights.
With much horn-blowing and shouts of “Hallelujah!” the Holy Smokers served up a Grec-Mex taco that effortlessly fused Greek and Mexican flavors. Served on a mini pita square, the Grec-Mex boasted gyro meat laid on a slathering of habanero hummus, topped with jalapeno tzatziki sauce and “Greco de gallo,” a fresh mixture of tomato, corn, onion, cucumber and mint. It was unlike any other taco there, and everyone at the table agreed it was a welcome change from the abundance of pork and beef tacos. This was the taco experiment, after all- and the team was rewarded for their bold ingredient choices with second place from both the audience and judges.
I have a huge sweet tooth, so I was excited to find a dessert taco at the very last table. Mary Makes Dinner presented The Frio Tillo, a bite-sized ice cream sandwich with roasted tomatillo buttermilk ice cream and avocado buttercream layers sandwiched between two mini corn tortilla shells, topped with a candied jalapeno slice. The cold ice cream neutralized the burning feeling left on my tongue from some of the spicier tacos, and the avocado and tomatillo flavors were clean and fresh. It was a perfect end to the taco experiment experience, and it was naturally vegetarian!
And the winning taco? Depends on who you ask. The judges chose Zesty Bean Dog’s Pecan Smoked Duck Pastrami taco as their number one. Starting with a made from scratch tortilla, the succulent duck was topped with a pickled yuzu slaw, Brooklyn Lager duck egg aioli, and crunchy tortilla strips. The audience loved Sous Me Alchemy’s Tacos Amores, a slow-smoked pork taco with homemade queso fresco, roasted corn, pico de gallo, sour cream, and a choice of red or green salsa. This also happened to be my favorite taco. Everything was so incredibly fresh, and they happily gave me extra queso fresco in place of meat. I’m such a sucker for homemade cheese.
It was evident that lots of love, patience and quality ingredients went into both the winning tacos. Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to Brooklyn Brewery for hosting such a fantastic event. Looking forward to next year! To see all thirteen tacos, check out guest judge Stella’s mouthwatering taco by taco round-up.