Luis “Beto” Robledo’s plan for Cuantos Tacos was to take a year to see if he could successfully operate a taco truck specializing in Mexico City-style tacos. That was back in September. He already had the truck, a squat, almost squished-looking yellow rig positioned on the lot of an auto repair shop on Manor Road, in Austin. The truck was a holdover from a previous short-lived project fusing Japanese and Mexican food by Robledo, an Austin native and classically trained chef whose family hails from Matamoros, Brownsville’s Mexican sister city.
On a trip to Mexico City, Robledo was introduced to the stainless-steel convex comal—called the chorizera or choricera—which has a raised center that acts as a secondary cooking surface and is found at many iconic taco stands there, including Tacos Tony. He decided to build Cuantos Tacos around the chorizera, in which he would cook the fillings typical of street tacos across not just Mexico City (such as suadero) but across the country and beyond. Among the offerings on the short menu are tacos filled with lengua (beef tongue), which Robledo and his small team of three serve only on Wednesdays.
Cooked in manteca (pork lard) in the chorizera alongside the suadero, chorizo, and other fillings, the soft, subtle lengua is sliced in a rough rectangular swath. There’s a nearly imperceptible herbaceousness to the beef too. It’s served in a corn tortilla and topped with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro and white onion and a choice of smoky salsa roja or cheek-smacking, flavorful salsa verde. The garnishes brighten up the filling.
But it’s the tortillas, served doubled up, slightly greasy, and plenty aromatic, that seal the deal. As with all good tortillas, their scent lingers for hours on your fingertips. They come from the San Antonio Colonial Tortilla Factory on the city’s West Side and are made the traditional way, beginning with the nixtamalization process. Robledo drives down to the tortilleria twice a week for pickups.
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Even though taco trucks are better suited than other eateries to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, Robledo temporarily closed Cuantos for a week in mid-March. “Everything was changing by the hour,” he told me at the time. “I decided to take a risk and just close down the whole week and see how things were going to be playing out—they’re still playing out.” He decided to reopen because he has a family to support and a small team he wants to keep employed. And besides, it’s not like there’s been a rush on beef tongue, he jokes.
We should be thankful for that. We should also be thankful for Cuantos’s large open lot. Customers can wait and eat in their cars at acceptable distances from others. Nevertheless, Robledo admits, it’s been rough. “I’ve hit the reset button. All my plans are gone, and I’m thinking only two to three weeks ahead.” But the good news is that Cuantos Tacos is starting to sell out regularly once again, especially on lengua Wednesdays.