Best Thing I Ate This Week: Tacos and tequila at De Nada Cantina in East Austin
You can nail the decor — the colorful brick-lined patio, vintage chandeliers, wood and wrought iron door, metal Corona tables, Mexican textiles and tropical plants — but the quality of a taqueria comes down to the tacos.
Fortunately, De Nada Cantina tastes as good as it looks. Hospitality veteran Stephen Shallcross brought East Austin the flavors of Louisiana with his Sawyer & Co, but his new venture mines even more familiar flavors.
Shallcross tapped members of his Dine 4 culinary team to create the tight taco menu at his stylized but worn East Austin taqueria and also wisely recruited the input of ATX Cocina chef de cuisine Allie McMillan, who also previously worked at La Condesa.
The tacos here aren’t modernized, chefy takes on tradition, but more reminiscent of straightforward street tacos showered with onions and cilantro (OK, there is a very glaring gringo concession of confit chicken draped in queso, but I’m not mad at it).
Strands of fat-laced beef soak up a smoky salsa tingled with habanero on a barbacoa taco, and the flat top puts a crispy, crunchy edge on threads of carnitas enlivened by pickled onions on another.
The vegetable offerings, which, like all of the tacos here, come on gentle, housemade blue corn tortillas, carry as much flavor and heft as the ones aimed at carnivores. Hunks of zucchini as thick as steak fries carry caramelized sweetness brought on by a grilled char, with a fine mince of mushrooms grounding the flavors; chimichurri and lardy black beans enhance the sweetness and fat of sweet potato chunks on another taco.
You won’t find many taquerias with this kind of next-level drinks program. Created by Chris Bostick, one of the state’s top bar men and founder of Half Step on Rainey Street, the list of agave spirits includes about 50 additive free, non-diffused tequilas and a dozen mezcals, and the cocktails include a punchy margarita finished with Jarritos grapefruit and a wild 50/50 house draft margarita and Fairweather Tejano Dreams Cider with a spicy chamoy straw. I got the sense the crowd of mostly hospitality workers I saw dining there for lunch on a Monday this summer weren’t solely there for the tasty tacos.
If you go
De Nada Cantina
Where: 4715 E. Cesar Chavez St.
More info: denadacantina.com