Although Texans might know Machete, the character made famous by actor Danny Trejo under the direction of Robert Rodriguez, few are likely to be familiar with the Mexican dish of the same name. An edible machete is a thin corn-tortilla quesadilla that is astonishingly long—anywhere from eighteen inches to two feet. It resembles the narrow blade used by field workers. Because of its unusual size and shape, the corn tortilla exterior must be handmade, often with a custom-made tortilla press. As with traditional quesadillas, huitlacoche and flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) are typical fillings; since they’re so long, machetes sometimes come stuffed with a variety of fillings, each in a different section of the tortilla.
Machetes are a street food, usually served at taco trucks or small stands. They may have originated in Mexico City’s Colonia Guerrero, where the Montoya family has been making them since 1964 at the ever-popular Los Machetes Amparito. The giant quesadillas have since spread across Mexico City, but they remain a rarity in Texas. That is, with one exception: Austin, which, after scouring the city for the hearty treat, I suggest we nickname “Machete City.”
Casita Nicole became the first machete purveyor in Austin when it opened six years ago, according to co-owner Ivonne Vizuet. Her inspiration was Los Machetes Amparito, which she visited as a child during family trips from her home state of Hidalgo. For Vizuet, the street food signifies nostalgia and entrepreneurial spirit. “I just remember too much about them and found my way to making them,” she explains. She and her husband, Noel Marure, started their trailer with $20,000 in savings and named it Casita Nicole in honor of their daughter. They use recipes Vizuet developed from her childhood memories and further visits to Los Machetes Amparito. Casita Nicole was immediately popular. “We were selling so much that we couldn’t do it by hand anymore,” she says. “We had to buy [a special tortilla press] to make them.”
To understand why Casita Nicole is so beloved, you need only bite into the flor de calabaza machete. It’s twisted in white cheese, soft and gooey in contrast to the crispy-edged corn tortilla. But my favorites were the campechano (a mixture of chorizo and carne asada) and the juicy, chipotle-stewed chicken tinga.
While visiting Casita Nicole, look for Vizuet’s homemade honey, harvested from her thirteen beehives. It’s just one of the many side businesses she and her family have. Another is a mechanical bull they rent out for parties. That operation is overseen by her twelve-year-old son, who takes calls, makes reservations, and gets to keep the money. Hard work runs in the family. 9618 Manchaca Road, 512-909-8226
Taqueria Casita Vizuet
The one-year-old Taqueria Casita Vizuet trailer sits in a grocery store parking lot on North Lamar Boulevard, in a part of the city dense with mobile food vendors. The name Vizuet comes from its co-owner, Maria Vizuet, mother of the aforementioned Ivonne. Maria and her husband had operated a second location of Casita Nicole for Ivonne before opening Casita Vizuet on their own. Although initially the independent operation was a surprise to Ivonne, she says that the family drama is behind them. She’s happy to see machetes flourish in Austin: “It’s good for competition.”
Here, the machete to order is the herbaceous flor de calabaza, mixed in a generous foundation of cheese in a crunchy, golden brown corn tortilla. It’s best enjoyed under the wood-framed seating area, which is decorated with hand-painted signage advertising machetes and other street foods available from the trailer.
Maria says that although she is from Hidalgo, she calls Mesa, Arizona, home. It’s there where she worked as a counselor, a career she hopes to return to someday. “It’s what I really love to do,” she says, though making machetes isn’t bad either. In the meantime, Taqueria Casita Vizuet is a not-to-be-missed machete spot. 10014 N. Lamar Boulevard, 512-679-8590
Machetes Doña Leova
A few blocks up the road from Taqueria Casita Vizuet, Machetes Doña Leova serves from the parking lot of Austin Appliance Rebuilders, next door to a Chuy’s Tex-Mex restaurant, and across the street from an indoor Latin American flea market. This family operation had its grand opening in August and is overseen by Leticia Santos Gonzalez and her brother Gonzalo. The menu has a long list of filling options, with standouts including shrimp (a customer favorite), tripe, and barbacoa. Don’t hesitate to order the flavorful cecina, deliberately chewy salted beef. Its salinity is offset by the slick caramelized onions and peppers, all of it bound in stretchy, milky cheese. The long, narrow quesadillas are served with palate-cleansing cucumbers and radishes, as well as a fiery green chile and pickled onions.
Similar to Taqueria Casita Vizuet, Machetes Doña Leova has a colorful covered seating area with picnic tables. But here the roof is corrugated metal, cheerful Christmas lights are wrapped around every post, and papel picado hangs from the interior. Even in a crowded section of North Lamar, this trailer stands out. 10600 N. Lamar Boulevard, 512-983-0378
In stark contrast to the other machete purveyors I visited, Aparicio’s specializes in all manner of flashy Mexican street foods. Here you can try tacos made with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos-infused corn tortillas, or take on the monstrous, best-selling salchiburger, which is piled high with a sliced hot dog, beef patty, bacon, ham, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. The menu even includes tacos topped with flakes of edible gold.
Then there are Aparicio’s machetes. The Hot Cheetos–sprinkled machete, with your filling of choice, is a disappointment because the wildly popular corn puffs lack kick. But the charcoal-grilled carne asada, a straightforward preparation, is a beefy delight of large, juicy chunks with darkened edges. Owner Victor Aparicio suggests adding cilantro, onions, and avocado, but I think it’s perfect the way it is. Wash down the machete or any of the other dishes with one of several creative milkshakes. Kids will love the Cookie Monster shake, which comes topped with whipped cream, blue sprinkles, an Oreo, and a pair of edible sugar eyes.
When asked why the insane menu, Aparicio says he’s been crazy since he was a kid, so why not? “Every day is crazy,” he laughs. And if you’re not laughing while enjoying his outlandish and no-holds-barred dishes, there might be something wrong with your sense of humor. 9310 Georgian Drive, 512-897-5169