Friday, June 25, 2010

El Naranjo

There's been a good amount of positive buzz on El Naranjo, a new interior-Mexican foods trailer, on what has become a very hip Rainey Street. In about a 2 block area, Lustre Pearl, Clive, Garaj Mahal, El Naranjo were all thriving on a warm Thursday night (for Austin summers, the evening was actually quite decent). LP & Clive (same owner, I am fairly certain) are both in renovated houses, GM is a trailer with a fancy awning &  yard art (see February's food trailer tour story), and El N is a trailer parked in the driveway of a house that's undergoing renovations for the future permanent home of El N. Not sure what will become of the trailer at that point, but it comes with a good pedigree; the owner had a restaurant of the same name in Oaxaca for years that was very well-received.
Two friends and I arrived a little before 7 pm. We ordered, and sat at one of the picnic tables that's covered by a very nice semi-permanent canopy, complete with fans and bug zappers (need more low-tech fly paper!) First up were the molotes and empandas. They offer 2 types of molotes, and there are 3 pieces to an order. These are little cigar shaped lengths of masa, with different stuffings, that are fried. Our helpful order taker offered to do 1 veracruzano (w/plaintain & Mexican cheese) and 2 oaxaqueno (w/chorizo & potato) as we couldn't decide what to get. They had no trace of grease/oil whatsoever, but unfortunately, were not real flavorful; the masa was a bit dense, and therefore it was hard to taste the fillings. The empanadas were a little on the greasy side; they're stuffed with mushrooms, epazote & some serrano pepper, and were very crisp & tasty; a fresh red salsa (salsa rojo) accompanied them, and a green (salsa verde) with the molotes. Wish the empanadas came with more choices of fillings!
On the recommendation of the recent Austin Chronicle review, I ordered the chicken tinga soft tacos, which come 2 to the plate, and are topped with a slice of avocado. While it was very finely shredded chicken tossed in the salsa verde, they were underwhelming in flavor; a tiny bit of zip from the salsa, but it needed more. One of my friends got the cochinita pibil tacos (also 2 per order), which had been criticized by the Chronicle as too vinegary. Either it had been an off night in the kitchen, or they read the review and corrected it, because they were outstanding! The tender, well-seasoned pork was nicely complemented by pickled red onions. My other friend got the fish taco special of the evening -- 3 tacos per plate, with slaw and a chipotle crema Mexicana. I did not try them, but she said they were great. All three taco plates were served on what I presume to be homemade corn tortillas; they were very tender white corn, but perfectly round, so who knows!
I have heard that El Naranjo makes an outstanding mole sauce, and as I have said before, I do love a good mole. I would actually be highly disappointed if a place with Oaxacan roots didn't have a good mole, given the "seven moles of Oaxaca" were made famous in that region of Mexico. We asked the owner if there was a set day for moles, and she said Wednesdays, so we will have to go back and investigate for ourselves. They have a website, but it is under construction; they also post a little bit on Twitter (@elnaranjoaustin). A chalk board on the grounds had the hours posted, Mon - Sat, lunch & dinner; closed on Sundays. I was glad to see they take all major credit cards, and have trashcans for recycling glass & plastic bottles.  Everything was well-prepared, and except for the swarm of flies, it was quite comfortable out.  Can't wait to get back for the mole!

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