The overarching theme to Iliana de la Vega’s cuisine is a subtlety that’s not apparent in other Mexican kitchens in Austin, Texas.
Walking through the beautiful, shade-drawn streets of the Rainey Street neighborhood, big changes are afoot with new bars and restaurants popping up while the Four Seasons condo tower looms overhead, a Castle Grayskull bellwether of the new Austin.
A few thoughts on one meal at El Naranjo Mobile on a recent Monday evening:
Tacos Tinga Verde: We remark that they’re like Mexican baby food. The shredded chicken is so soft that it’s like pap but in a good way. The green sauce is bright and fresh. Commercial corn tortillas are fine but with so many carts in town putting remarkable homemade tortillas on table, it bespeaks a lack of seriousness to merely open a bag of Fiesta and call it a day.
Empanadas:Once again subtlety is the order of the day. The promised serrano punch never comes but the earthiness of the mushrooms and the epazote make sweet love while the pastry’s crunch voyeurs down over in the corner.
Cochinita Pibil: The classic in a healthy portion on a commercial, deep-fried corn tortilla. A schmear of pureed black beans and a few tidbits of pickled purple onion complete the plate.
Guacamole: Fresh, bright green and fruity. The accompanying house-fried chips are delicious and a far cry from the lousy totopos most places in town serve.
Our server is a nice girl with an incongruous, wispy black mustache.
Pricing is fair other than the six dollar guacamole. El Zunzal’s giant, made per order, rendition puts lie to all other guacamole pricing in Austin at a mere two dollars.
Was El Naranjo’s version 3 times as good? No, it was fine but the good Salvadorans over on Calle street need not fear, their avocado crown is still secure for the time being.
Ambience is nice. We sit under massive oak trees at pic-nic tables on a converted front lawn of a 80-90 year old home. Lighting is soft and laughter from the nearby bars echoes down the street.
Ms. de la Vega’s cuisine brings a note of sophistication to the Austin food cart scene. While she can’t vie with the top tier Mexican carts who produce wholly scratch menus in carts of decidedly more modest means, her food is a welcome addition to our thriving, mobile food culture.
85 Rainey Street
Austin, TX 78701