Thursday, January 15, 2009
Maria's Taco XPress = Austin
A week ago, a colleague of mine in Tallahassee mentioned that his wife was making a trip to Austin. He asked if I could whip up a quick list of good eats in town, and the thing that sprung immediately to mind was Maria's.
Austin has Tex Mex, and it has BBQ, and while much of that is dee-lish, it's stuff you can get anywhere in Texas. But Marias. That's just Austin.
The tacos themselves are really tasty; there are dozens of options, and they do everything fresh and right there on the giant flat top behind the register. Salsa is tasty and coffee is dineresque, but drinkable. Chorizo and Bacon are both legit and appropriately greasy. They've got a full menu, and a bar, but the place is packed all the time and I've never seen anyone eat anything but a taco. If you're going, you're going for a breakfast taco.
So, you'd think this is a simple thing, right? Tortilla. Eggs. Potatoes. Cheese. How hard is that, really? But within those four little points of goodness, a lot can happen. First off, the tortilla. Many places have some leeway here, and I prefer corn when I can get it, but Maria is all flour, all the time, and they're fresh and perfect. Then there's the order of operations. Maria's cooks the eggs and potatoes together, making almost a hash that serves as the base of the taco. Cheese is applied liberally on top, after it's off the grill. I go back and forth on this technique, sometimes, the rich easiness of the egg/potato combo is perfect, sometimes I want the elements to stay distinct. Sometimes I want my cheese to be all melty from the minute I get it.
But, it's not the tacos that make this place. Its the place that makes this place. The statue of Maria out front, arms outstretched could be our official city seal. And every last inch of this place is covered. A plant, a glowing duck, a hubcap, a signed picture of Willie Nelson, architectural models, Christmas stockings. It's fantastic. The outside is no less good, with insane tropical foliage somehow hanging on even in the dead of winter, mural after mural, plastic farm animals. I think there are a few flamingos, too - plastic lawn variety. It's so planted in place, you'd never know that this is actually the second Maria's, the first, just up Congress from the current locale was razed to make way for a Walgreen's parking lot. Everything about the place stayed intact in the move though, including the parting words: