Early one evening last summer, a friend and I showed up at El Perrito for El Paso–style taquitos ahogados. The trailer was then located outside East Austin’s Sahara Lounge, but it’s since relocated to South Congress. Operating hours had just begun. There wasn’t a line. As a matter of fact, there was no one to be found. The ramshackle brown-and-white panel setup, teetering on a sad set of wheels, could have easily been mistaken for abandoned if not for the splashing and gurgling of the fryer and flattop. “Hello. Disculpe. Perdón. Pardon me,” I called out, unsure if anyone would answer. A few minutes later, owner-cook Ivan Enriquez popped out of what looked like a segmented RV trailer next to the food trailer. He said he was only fulfilling online preorders. I hadn’t known that. But since there was no line, I asked if it wouldn’t please be possible to get one order of his fried and rolled tacos, which come bathed in tomato salsa and covered in vibrant, melted orange cheese. My no-fuss request earned me a “Yeah, yeah, my dude, just one order? I gotcha, brother.” He quickly turned to reenter the trailer. Ten minutes later, Enriquez, who wore his long black hair in a ponytail, presented a single order of the ELP Tacos, a heavy basket of three tightly rolled and fried taquitos submerged in a thin, warm salsa. A blanket of shredded cheese kept the taquitos from bobbing in the vessel. Salsa verde layered on top gave the dish a pleasant kick of green chiles blended into a tomatillo base. It was deliriously magnificent. More importantly, it was better than the inspiration, the flautas ahogadas at Sun City institution Chico’s Tacos. Or, as Enriquez and his regulars cheekily call the El Paso original, “the other guys.”
Enriquez grew up in El Paso and moved to Austin in 2017 for a job in Latino-targeted marketing. While at his corporate job, Enriquez purchased the aforementioned ramshackle trailer; in January 2019, he began to experiment with selling the signature dishes of his hometown at Crow Bar. During the pandemic, he moved El Perrito to Sahara Lounge, then to a location on Rainey Street, and then back to the lounge. In March 2021, El Perrito settled into a larger, sleeker trailer in a faux grass–carpeted lot next to a shuttered adult theater on South Congress. That’s where I revisited El Perrito recently.
The trailer’s name is taken from a friend’s nickname for Enriquez—the Spanish equivalent of the slang “Hey, dog.” Conveniently, El Perrito’s first three letters are also the acronym for El Paso. The menu is a tribute to Enriquez’s hometown. “It’s the little things that your mom, ama, or abuelita did when cooking your crispy tacos on the comal that El Pasoans love and pay attention to,” the owner says rapidly. Enriquez shows a frenetic, disarming energy while speaking, but it’s laser-focused on the food. “It’s in the details, right down to the products—not just guajillos and New Mexico Hatch chiles, though,” he adds, referring to the prevalence of green chiles in Texas’s westernmost corner. El Paso–style food is unique in the Texas Mexican gastronomic canon. It’s not fair to call it Tex-Mex, as it’s a conglomeration of Tex-Mex, Mexican, and New Mexican culinary traditions. Everything, from El Paso’s burritos and crispy tacos to its hot dogs and flautas, stands apart from the state’s other styles of Mexican food. The city’s dishes also skew hotter than other regional Mexican iterations.
Enriquez knows it’s not enough to replicate the flavors and dishes of El Chuco (one of the city’s nicknames, derived from the zoot suit–sporting pachucos of yore). He insists on perfecting them, and in my opinion, he’s done it. The ELP Tacos are perfect. That is to say, they are also everything Chico’s rolled tacos—bland, soggy, cardboard-textured corn tubes—are not. El Perrito’s longer shredded-beef flautas are splashed with salsa verde before receiving a heavy squiggle of sour cream. The long, fried tacos are capped with warm lettuce, avocado slices, and tomatoes. They are a snappy, if messy, joy to eat. Then there is El Perrito’s quixotic “round” hot dog, the ELP Doggie. It’s a delightful amalgamation of Peyton’s rustic red, salty pork-and-chicken franks sliced lengthwise; hot, zippy beans in fresh red enchilada sauce; and pickles, all between a bisected hamburger bun and smeared with a one-two punch of spicy mayonnaise and ketchup. This is also a specialty of the other guys, and El Perrito’s version is, again, much better than the original. Enriquez’s mother overnights ten pounds of the links in dry ice every other week.
During my lunch, El Perrito’s griddle-crisped tacos were the only misstep. It was a minor one, though. A take on the incredible Tacos Antonia from Lucy’s Cafe—shredded-beef fried tacos in shells powdered with Lawry’s seasoning, topped with lettuce and grated Muenster cheese—Enriquez’s crispy beef tacos sub the shredded meat for mild, tightly packed ground beef. Thankfully, the dish retains the creamy, mass-market Muenster cheese—a regional favorite in El Paso—with its fetching orange rind. The problem with the tacos, however, was that the arched tops of the shells were cold. Everything else was there. This was a phenomenon that left both Enriquez and myself befuddled when I mentioned it to him. The cheese was pleasantly above room temperature. The meat was warm, as was the bottom of each of the three shells in the order.
Small snafu aside, I’m ecstatic to see El Paso cuisine take hold in Austin. The capital city is home to a handful of notable chefs from El Paso, including Gabe Erales, formerly of Comedor and current contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef, and Fairmont Austin executive chef Andre Natera. Rico Torres, co-owner and co–executive chef at Mixtli and Kumo in San Antonio, is another child of Chuco Town. He, Natera, and Erales traveled home to collaborate on a fundraising dinner in the wake of the El Paso Walmart massacre in August 2019. Houston also has a notable El Paso contingent in the ownership of Henderson & Kane General Store and the restaurant El Burro & the Bull, which occasionally hosts El Paso–style Mexican-food pop-ups led by Veronica Avila. Michael Peticolas, owner of Peticolas Brewing Company in Dallas, is another El Pasoan, as is Omar Flores of Muchacho. Yet, Dallas doesn’t offer a taste of the Far West Texas city. Consider yourselves lucky, Austinites.
Before you visit El Perrito, make sure to check the trailer’s Instagram profile, where Enriquez updates the schedule and other details. The preferred pandemic ordering protocol is online (unlike the other guys, who only accept cash), and the trailer is open for lunch and dinner most days. That might change due to weather, mechanical problems, or electronics issues. When I visited for lunch this month, Enriquez was accepting only walk-up orders because the El Perrito trailer had been broken into the previous night, and its online-ordering-system equipment was stolen. The only way I was aware of its status was via social media. Don’t make my initial mistake; know before you go. But by all means go.