El Taco Rico
The two ladies at this little blue taco truck outside a laudromat serve perhaps the finest barbacoa ($2) in Austin. The beef is slow-cooked to tender perfection and just slightly crispy. Their tortillas aren't homemade, but hey, you can't get everything you want.
El Taco Rico: 810 Vargas Road Austin, TX 78741 (map)
La Familia Meat Market
Hiding in the shadow of an elevated highway, this meat market looks like a gas station quickie mart turned clean and inviting Mexican grocery store. Every weekend a steamer appears at the end of the meat case cradling luscious barbacoa and succulent carnitas. The butcher packs the heaving cheek meat in a container ($5.99 per pound) and includes a plastic sandwich bag full of chunky green salsa. Pick up some tortillas while you're there to eat at home.
La Familia Meat Market: 8540 Research Boulevard Austin TX 78757(map); 512-458-6500
Taqueria Los Canarios
This unassuming white taco truck serves barbacoa de res (beef barbacoa) and barbacoa de chivo (roasted goat) wrapped in two layers of fresh corn tortillas. The tiny tacos ($1.75) are the perfect lunch size—the meat is aggressively flavored with clove and doesn't feel too heavy on the stomach. This is not the South Congress Avenue you likely visited on trips to Austin.
Taqueria Los Canarios: 5433 South Congress Avenue Austin, TX 78745 (map)
La Fruta Feliz
According to the name, this East Austin restaurant specializes in aguas frescas and fresh fruit juices. But they're also serving quite possibly the best homemade corn tortillas in Austin. Both the barbacoa de res and barbacoa de chivo (roast goat) is subtly flavored with clove, and the tacos ($2.00) are served alongside bowls filled generously with cilantro and chopped onion.
La Fruta Feliz:3124 Manor Road Austin TX 78723(map); 512-473-0037
La Hacienda Meat Market
Order your tacos ($1.50) at the register at this meat market and give your receipt to the ladies at the taco counter. Both cheek barbacoa and another slightly sweeter and drier version likely made from beef shoulder are available. All tacos are garnished with cilantro and onion, and there is salsa bar with a large selection. You can also buy the meat by the pound to eat at home with a stack of fresh tortillas.
La Hacienda Market: 717 North Lamar Boulevard Austin TX 78753(map); 512-339-4773
The lady at this truck in a gas station parking lot is committed to crisping up the barbacoa meat on the griddle top before serving it. I was startled when handed an open-faced taco (more like a tostada?) ($1.75) garnished with cabbage, tomato, and green onions instead of the requisted cilantro and onions. This is the best barbacoa option for people who dislike the the meat's typically sticky texture.
Matamoros Tacos: 10810 North Lamar Boulevard 78753(map); 512-997-7822
Mi Victoria Bakery
Don't let the overflowing cases of conchas, polverones, and flan discourage you from ordering tacos at Mi Victoria Bakery. They make a respectable beef barbacoa ($1.50) in the traditional South Texas style. I didn't detect any added spices or flavorings.
Mi Victoria Bakery: 15245 Burnet Road
Austin, TX 78756(map); 512-458-1898
You'll find a relatively new taco truck just south of the food trailer courts of South Congress. I suspect the friendly owners are from Central Mexico judging from the thick homemade corn tortilla enveloping the finely shredded beef. ($1.75)
Sarita's Tacos: 2110 South Congress 78704(map); 512-740-6656
Taqueria Las Rosas
The signs call out to drivers on South 1st Street: "Tortillas hechas a mano." The texture of the barbacoa ($2.00) was perfect, but it was on the salty side. That's okay—the fresh tortilla more than made up for it, and it wasn't anything that the fiery green salsa couldn't mask.
Taqueria las Rosas: 4111 South 1st Street, Austin TX 78745(map); 512-317-2285
The Democrat at Torchy's Tacos
Torchy's Tacos, with its fried chicken and blackened salmon tacos, is by no means an authentic Mexican establishment. So I was pleasantly surprised to find decent barbacoa there. The Democract ($4) is a corn tortilla piled high with barbacoa and garnished with the usual cilantro and onions. Torchy's addition of queso fresco and chunks of fresh avocado are an indulgent complement to the rich beef, and a refreshing roasted tomatillo salsa is served on the side.