In 2015, food critic Mike Sutter embarked on a quest Don Quixote would envy when he ate at a different taco joint in Austin, Texas every day for an entire year. During his 365-day adventure, he consumed a whopping 1,600 tacos. When he moved from Austin to San Antonio, he embarked on a similar venture and not even life-altering thyroid cancer and its associated treatments and surgery could stay this critic from his appointed quest. He had surgery on a Tuesday and was back on the taco trail on Friday. Asked what his favorite taco was, he singled out a simple carnitas taco with a balance of lean, fatty and crispy bits and salsa–not some elegant or complicated creation of sundry fusion ingredients.
That’s the way it goes with tacos sometimes. My Kim prefers the simplicity of carnitas, but will occasionally go wild and order tacos al pastor. Her mad scientist of a husband will invariably order the weirdest tacos on the menu and tends to find classics such as carnitas tacos boring. Tacos offer such a potential for diversity that there’s bound to be a taco for every taste…and for every level of weirdness. In Austin where Mike Sutter upped his taco game, you an find a gummy bear taco not even I would try (unless someone else paid for it). You can also find chicken Pad Thai tacos, bulgogi tacos, and spicy eggplant tacos.
In comparison to the “keep Austin weird” tacos of its neighbor to the south, tacos in Dallas tend to be more conventional and straight-laced. When Dallas-based Rusty Taco set up shop at the Coronado Mall, I figured it would be a great place to take my Kim, but it probably wouldn’t excite me too much. It also didn’t excite me that Rusty Taco is owned by the same parent company which owns and operates Arby’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. Yep, it’s a chain and readers know how I feel about them.
Launched in 2010, Rusty Taco probably didn’t set out to propagate across the fruited plain. In fact, founder Rusty Fenton envisioned “a simple neighborhood taco stand. Nothing fancy. Just real flavor. Cheap, too. He wanted to keep it affordable so everyone could enjoy it. And the place had to be friendly, of course. Somewhere everyone wanted to hang out.” Somehow the neighborhood feel just goes out the window when you’re jostling for a parking spot with ten million other cars at the Coronado Mall. But, I digress. We’re here to talk about tacos.
Rusty Taco starts mornings off right with the most important meal of the day, offering all-day breakfast tacos served on flour tortillas (or corn if you prefer). There are eight breakfast tacos though they’re all pretty standard (potato, egg and cheese, for example). The “handmade street tacos” menu lists a baker’s dozen tacos–again pretty standard stuff with nothing off-beat or wildly unexpected. Homemade sides “queso, guacamole and more. Always fresh and made with love.” round off the savory portion of the menu while sopaipillas and churros are available for dessert.
In the great state of Texas, chile con queso is almost a religion and could probably qualify as its own food group. Heck, it’s almost as beloved in the Lone Star state as the Dallas Cowboys and The Alamo. Is it any wonder this “fondue” is a fixture on restaurant menus and parties, favored even over salsa? The menu will tell you the con queso and chips is a mere 740 calories, but its creamy flavor seems to scream wickedly indulgent. The chips are rather on the thin side, but don’t assume they’re brittle. They hold up nicely even against Gil-sized scoops.
While everyone knows chicken fried steak is every Texan’s idea of fine-dining, we had no idea Texas restaurants prepared fried chicken as well as they prepare brisket until we spent a week in Austin in November, 2018. It seems every other meal we had featured fried chicken…not that we’re complaining. Seeing tacos 3-ways on the Rusty Taco menu took me back to a week of delicious eating at the city which likes to keep it weird. The three ways in which the tacos are offered are original (jalpeño ranch, slaw and cilantro), spicy (tossed in a traditional hot sauce with jalapeño ranch, slaw and cilantro) and team fave (topped with queso, bacon and pico de gallo). From that description, you’d think every taco in this triumvirate would be discernibly unique. In our experience, however, there wasn’t enough to distinguish one fried chicken from the other. Sure, the fried chicken was terrific, but the accentuating ingredients were more “one note” than you might think.
According to Mexican Food Journal, rajas is a Spanish term which literally translates to “strips” or “slices.” Paramours of the poblano throughout Mexico, however, reserve the term for roasted poblano chile strips. Rusty Taco’s rajas taco features grilled poblanos, mushrooms, onions and red peppers topped with queso fresco and cilantro. It’s an excellent taco in which all the veggies save for the mushrooms are roasted to an al dente consistency. The queso fresco is a light touch which complements the veggies nicely while the cilantro adds bright, breezy notes.
If you want to up your taco game in the manner of food critic Mike Sutter, you won’t find enough taco joints to fill every day of the year, but among the taquerias we do have, you’ll find some terrific tacos. Among them are the tacos at Rusty Taco.
6600 Menaul, N.E., #T-002
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 1 June 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Chicken Tacos Three Way, Rajas Taco, Con Queso