November 29, 2016
It may be the best taco truck you'll never remember, or at the very least be able to pronounce, depending on which time of the day and under which circumstances you choose to dine. Working in its favor are the seemingly endless hours of operation (7:30 am - 2:30 am on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays) and a location that is sandwiched (well, but like with tacos) between the hip side and the dirty side of Austin's 6th street. In any case, the name can be a mouthful.
If you're not a part of the bar crowd that Pueblo Viejo feeds on a nightly basis, you may as well have no trouble with either recalling the name or spelling out any of the ingredients in your dish. Like most any food dispensary, they keep it fairly simple and straight forward here. Breakfast or street taco? Gordita or Quesadilla? These are grave decisions we face.
Similarly suited for the casual cuisine is an assortment of makeshift seating: folding chairs, deep bottomed seats made of rigid plastic like those from the grade school days, long metal benches, and round wooden spools turned to tables are among some of the prime options for one to prop their elbows and spread out. A stout tree is centered in the lot, set across from the long, white taco-slinging trailer and effectively shading nearly the entire seating area. Parked alongside the trailer is an abandoned yellow short bus with the words Pueblo Viejo painted in white, perhaps paying homage to the former base of operations. Collectively, it feels like a cross between an outing and the junk yard and a picnic in the park.
After some consideration for the approaching lunch hour, I opted to split the difference and chose one breakfast taco (Tico Taco - $2.50) and one specialty taco (Guaca Taco - $3.90), and one Topo Chico to wash it down.
"That'll be $1," she said from behind the window. "Someone here payed in advanced." She waved her hand over the crowd of strangers behind me, I looked for someone to nod or wave in assurance. Blank stares were sent my way. Resisting the temptation to add a third taco, or perhaps two more to go, I thanked her and wandered off to find something to sit on.
As I crouched, still waiting for the anonymous gift donor to reveal themselves, I became less interested in the food to come and more intrigued by the chain of reactions that were to follow when others ordered. I was half expecting word to have leaked out, via some form of social media or some funny meme, in enough time for a sudden flood of strangers to max out the open card for post-lunch grub. Aside from a pair of ladies who contemplated the menu before walking away foolishly empty handed, nothing out of the ordinary went down.
The food came with a minimal wait and bountifully it came. Each taco was filled to the brim. Now, there is an unspoken verdict among food critics (okay maybe just some of us) that a taco truck is measured by the quality and array of salsas offered. Both orange and red salsas were deployed for this meal.
Potatoes in the Tica Taco were soft, lacking any fried firmness, while a slop of creamy beans added texture but no single lasting flavor. Even still, there is only so far you can take potatoes, avocado and beans. An orange salsa helped kick up the flavor and leave a lasting impression - so lasting that my lips needed a moment to rebuild receptors - but otherwise the concoction only moderately sufficed..
Reaching the Guaca Taco was a relief of sorts, in that the array of ingredients was more interesting in both its spread and offering of individual flavors. Grilled chicken, seasoned with a red pepper spice, and seared onions were amply stuffed onto a bed of spinach and guacamole, which all together worked as a balancing act in both texture and flavor. Effectively displayed was the meaty flavor from the seared chicken. Bits of crisp spinach and grilled onion were secondary as softening elements, with the latter providing hints of sweetness.
As the afternoon wore on at Pueblo Viejo, I sat reflecting on the pair of tacos (and how sometimes there is in fact such a thing as a free lunch) while going over the practice of enunciating its name for my eventual retelling (Puh-way-blo Vee-Ay-Ho). Ideal for a pit stop on lunch break, or perhaps even more suitable for quenching a late hunger inflated from a night on the town, Pueblo Viejo's versatile menu and generous portions help propel it into the conversation as one of the finer mobile (but actually stationary) taco dispensaries in Austin.
Ate: Tica Taco, Guaca Taco
New location : 2000 E Cesar Chavez, 78702 Austin, TX (at Craftsman Bar)
Rating - 3 & 1/2 Avocados (out of five)