The puffy tacos on Mexican Mondays at Goat Town
An old friend of mine, Julie Farias, recently took over as chef at Goat Town, an East Village bistro. Julie was born and raised in San Antonio, and with her assistance, I made a trip there a couple of years ago. The Central Texas city is one of the capitals of the cuisine sometimes called “Tex-Mex,” but known as “Mexican” to its most adept practitioners, and I went there to taste the cuisine on its home territory. I spent a couple of days visiting with Julie’s relatives and eating and drinking my way through several bars and taco stands, and even one street festival.
You can wash the puffy tacos down with the chili-laced beer called “michelada.”
It wasn’t long before Julie created a special Mexican menu for Goat Town. It’s been served every Monday night for the last month or so. After waiting what I thought was a respectable amount of time, I went to check it out. Note that this isn’t a review; I couldn’t very well review the work of a friend.
The menu consists of eight “Especialidades” of varying sizes, and two “Favoritos.” Taken together, they make a fair picture of Mexican cooking as it has evolved in San Antonio, which has a few different specialties from the same cuisine as found in, say, Houston or Austin (where I went to college and was extensively exposed to Tex-Mex at places like Su Casa, El Mat, Cisco’s, and the notorious Tamale Shack, then just off Congress way downtown).
One of the characteristic specialties of the Alamo City is the puffy taco. This consists of stewed, braised, or barbecued meats deposited in a tortilla that has been formed into a U and deep-fried, causing the tortilla (usually flour) to puff up. At Goat Town, little corn tortillas are used, but they puff up very nicely, too. Inside the trio is deposited long-braised cow tongue, cut in strips. The tongue tastes faintly of chilies, and the dark broth is especially rich. The appearance of the puffy tacos is decidedly labial, and thus it was appropriate, as the chef noted with a wink, that they are filled with tongue.
In the San Antonio-style cheese enchiladas, the edges of the tortillas are crisped a bit before the dish is brought to the table.
The sopa de lima comes with chili oil and shaved aromatics.
While the tacos were on the money (offered in NYC for the first time, I believe), what I really went for were the cheese enchiladas. These are filled with American cheese (which is what Mexican immigrants of the mid-20th-century found when they arrived in Central Texas, and what they had to improvise with), and topped with a meaty, coarse chili con carne of the type I hadn’t eaten since I was a teen in Texas. It made my eyes water, and not from the heat, which is characteristically restrained in most of the dishes on Mexican Mondays.
Another dish my dining companion liked was a soup called sopa de Lima, which sported two chicken drumsticks, avocado, a very tart and citrusy broth, and a handful of tortilla chips, making it a species of tortilla soup. A dried-shrimp chili oil accompanied. The menu also includes chips and three salsas, chips and guac, and a barbacoa (goat) salad.
The city hasn’t seen food quite like this before. Though we’ve had plenty of places that serve a modified form of Tex-Mex, this menu takes it back to one of its historical sources.
511 East 5th Street