In the relatively short time since we started this little culinary adventure there is one thing that we have found to be consistently true: most of the best food in town seems to come from the trailers that are sprinkled throughout Austin. I have been asking myself for weeks now why it is that chefs with the ability to turn out such quality would opt for an Airstream over a brick-and-mortar operation or a job at high-profile and well-established restaurant. The only answer I have been able to come up with is freedom.
Freedom not just to be your own boss, but to create as you see fit. Freedom to make the food that you want to make. And these little trailers are the perfect venue for it. It could be Gourdough's Doughnuts and their giant, mutant concoctions that make you do a double take. It might be Crêpes Mille on S. Congress (they will be the subject of a future review) with their crêpes stuffed with all manner of wonderfulness like chicken burgundy or Panang curry. These little places seem to work perfectly because they are based out of a trailer. I can't imagine some of these places working in a traditional restaurant setting. I wish them the best of luck and continued success. Not only are they delicious and exciting, but they add so much character to our cityscape. They fit perfectly in a town like Austin and I hope that they continue to flourish.
After reading that overly long intro it should come as no surprise that this week's review is about a trailer, a taco trailer actually. I think the thing I like most about good Mexican food is its homey feel. The best Mexican food, even if served in a restaurant, still has the feel of a home-cooked meal. And at some of the better places in town, grandma really is in the kitchen helping to make dinner. I know what you're thinking, "A taco trailer? Really? There's practically one on every corner in Austin and most are not that great."
Well no worries because the place we went to was Izzoz Tacos, which is now one of my two favorite places for tacos. Unlike my other favorite place, where grandma actually is in the kitchen, Izzoz is run by a very skilled chef, John Galindo. How does his food stack up to the standard? The first thing that struck me was how true this food was to its roots. The second thing I noticed was that he is not trying to reinvent the wheel. He has taken some of my favorite things and added touches that only a chef can, while staying true to the original. Take the Escobar, a carne guisada taco, for example.
For my money there's really nothing better than a good plate/taco of carne guisada, and this taco is as good as any I've ever had. It tastes like it could have come from grandma's kitchen. It's just beef stew served in a tortilla and finished with a little cilantro, onion, and tomato. There's no pretense, it just wants to be a good plate of stew and it achieves exactly that.
The chef's touch comes in here as it is finished with a little fresh cilantro. John's understanding of Mexican cuisine is apparent because it is only a little cilantro. I don't know how many times I've seen some chef on TV (who thinks that he or she knows Mexican food) absolutely demolish a dish or a salsa by adding a huge amount of cilantro. So to any trained chefs out there: Yes, Mexican food uses cilantro, but it's not the only flavor you're going for. It's powerful stuff, take it easy, people! Maybe you should all go to Izzoz to see how to use it properly.
Speaking of salsa, the Escobar is served with a roasted salsa that is made fresh daily. How good is the salsa? Chef Galindo told me that on whim, literally hours before it was to start, he decided to enter a recent hot sauce competition. So he quickly made a batch, brought it to the competition and ended up taking second place. In short, it's pretty awesome.
Ah, yes the vegetarian sandwich. This is one of the best sandwiches I have ever had. I have had tortas (sandwiches) in Monterrey, Mexico, and this one stands tall among the best of them — perfectly fried portabella, fried avocado with a sherry chipotle vinaigrette. You might be tempted to think that there should be some sort of meat on this sandwich. But let me tell you, this is quite possibly one of the most perfect sandwiches ever created. Everything works in perfect harmony to create a sandwich that is very well-balanced in flavor and size. If you just can't decide on what you want, this makes a good go-to meal. It is also served with a large side of fries. The fries are done exactly as they should be: hand-cut, perfectly-crispy, and lightly-salted. They also have a little bit of roasted garlic. Very nice indeed.
Now for something that is near and dear to my heart: the fried avocado taco. I love a deep-fried avocado. In fact I made a batch a couple of nights ago. This is one of my favorite tacos of all time. I suppose it's not too traditional but who cares? If you've never had one, then you are depriving yourselves, dear friends. A properly-fried avocado should just about melt in your mouth like butter, and that is exactly what is accomplished here. It is basically a tempura batter that stays crunchy long after being removed from the oil. The result is a perfect texture of crunchy and soft. The taco comes served with arugula, cotija and a sherry chipotle sauce. Yet again, these ingredients serve only to highlight the real star of the show, the avocado. Not only is the avocado fried to order, but it is cut to order as well.
John was kind enough to sit and chat with us for a while, which is a good lesson for any current or aspiring restaurant owner. Your customers will love it if you are friendly enough to take a personal interest in them. We found out that, not surprisingly, he has been in the business for quite a while, about 15 years. His passion for food really shows in the final product. But this comes as no surprise from a person who on his days off is known to show up at his friends' restaurants and help out in their kitchens. Now that's dedication. It's a dedication that shows in the products he turns out.
Take the guacamole, for example. If you order a side of guacamole or if something comes with guacamole it is made to order at Izzoz. Why go to all of that trouble? Because it tastes better that way. In fact, the guacamole is exactly as I like it — uncomplicated. It is just avocado, salt, garlic, and lime finished with a little tomato. Nothing fancy, just good food. While the tortillas at Izzoz are not made in-house, they're about as close as you can get. He orders them from a local tortilla shop called El Milagro, on 6th Street. But these are not the run-of-the -mill tortillas either. He special orders them according to his recipe, and they do not contain any preservatives. They're just the basic ingredients, which are all you need.
So how much weight will your precious wallet lose by stopping by Izzoz? Not very much, actually. Prices start at $2 and go up to $6. You'll leave Izzoz with a full belly, and a plump wallet. Portions are nothing to scoff at.
Lastly, in case there is anyone out there thinking, "Man, I'd love to cook like that," he's got you covered. John offers cooking lessons. If you're interested, check the Izzoz website for more information. Now get out there and get yourselves a taco!
The Austin Food Junkies are Alex Artibee, Matt Braley, and Dave Braley, "Two guys who love food, and one chef, trained at the Texas Culinary Institute." Check out their reviews of other Austin area restaurants on their blog, Austin Food Junkies.