Rusty Taco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rusty Taco in the Coronado Mall

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.

Chips and Con Queso

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.

Fried Chicken Tacos Three Ways

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.

Rajas Taco

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.

Rusty Taco
6600 Menaul, N.E., #T-002
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 966-4915
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 June 2019
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Chicken Tacos Three Way, Rajas Taco, Con Queso
REVIEW #1113

6 thoughts on “Rusty Taco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

  1. Had lunch this week with three adult family members. We ordered a dozen tacos. They cut the limes into eight pieces, I prefer a larger piece of lime. I had two of the Rusty tacos, roasted pork with pineapple, not a traditional Al Pastor. About half the tacos pork was crunchy, why would serve it when it was obviously overcooked. The Picadillo Tacos were good, seasoned ground beef and potatoes with cilantro and onions. We also had the Fajita tacos which were cooked well and came with onions and bell peppers. We also had the Brisket tacos which were flavorful, onions, cilantro and cheese. The hot sauces come in pint sized squeeze bottles, the green is mild, the red is medium and the orange is hot, made with Habanero, all three were adequate with the Habanero being the favorite. We had Guacamole which was mostly avocado which came with very thin small chips . We ordered the black beans expecting them to be hot with melted cheese, they came as a cold salad. We drank water, Mexican Coke and Iced Tea. They use normal sized corn tortillas with a good amount of fillings. I was expecting the smaller street taco corn tortillas doubled up.
    They had some black board specials as well. You order at the counter then they call your name and you pick up your tacos. The hot sauces are kept in a small frig and you can get what you want and take them to your table.

  2. Tacos are as versatile as WD-40 only better tasting. Growing up in my household tacos were a time to celebrate the entire El Paso product portfolio. Pan-fried hamburger meat with El Paso taco seasoning scooped into a rigid u-shaped El Paso corn shell and topped with grated American cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream if one were feeling reckless. I still buy-off on the El Paso corn shell if I’m feeling nostalgic about my deceased mother.

    Years later, in 1990, I found myself in an advertising job in Chicago whose office was just around the corner from Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill. There, I was introduced to a world of taco treatment much more broadly interpreted than my mother’s El Paso suburban creations. Frontera Grill offered as many variations on tacos as Wolfgang Puck did with pizza when I lived in Los Angeles.

    Both of the restaurants, by the way, snagged by attention with duck offerings. I don’t know what is is about duck that makes me pay attention (which is something for someone with ADD) but Rick Bayless’ seared duck taco focused me like a shot of lower back pain. It combined tomatillos, garlic, green chile and cilantro in a blender puree, with coarsely shredded roast duck meat (pulled off half of a Chinese roast duck).

    Tacos are the United Nations of culinary diversity. Put the very best of your country into a rigid u-shaped corn shell (okay, soft flour tacos are awesome, too) and celebrate the fact that as a species we have hand dexterity which clearly differentiates us from our non-opposable-thumbed co-habitants and makes tacos the ultimate primate finger food.

  3. … And right next to this new import from Texas is a Menchies, a new import from SoCal. Frozen yogurt and free-range yummy toppings. We loved Menchies when they first started with the original store in Studio City (but not as much after a few years). Still well worth a try.

  4. When they first had signage up at Coronado, I had to do a double take. I told my wife I wasn’t sure if it was a $h!tty Mexican joint, or a place that BOTVOLR would go to…especially when he has a stack of $1 bills just burning a hole is his pocket, or the ashtray in his Firebird! 🙂

  5. Gil “Cox” Garduno,

    Have you written a book? If not, you should. It would be a great read with your skills and talents and the gift of gab.


    1. Thank you for the kind words, Dr. John Holmes-Bennett

      I actually have two books in mind. The first will be a self-help “career planning in two minutes” book based on the career counseling techniques you learned from your idol and mentor Smiling Steve Cox. The second is a heart-warming story about a numismatist from Oklahoma who went to Juarez with two dollars and came back with four pockets, a knapsack and two suitcases full of Mexican coins. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.

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