Trailer Treasure: El Naranjo
85 Rainey St. 474.2776 Hours: 6 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays. 6 p.m. to midnight Thursdays through Saturdays.
In Houston where I grew up, I had come to associate Mexican food with beans, rice and an entrée covered in bubbly orange heartburn, not fresh ingredients and bright colors. El Naranjo has made a mighty effort at changing that association.
Named after a town in Mexico, El Naranjo opened its trailer window in Austin the same week as South by Southwest in the driveway of a house that will eventually become its brick-and-mortar restaurant. It shares the same residential neighborhood as the Indian trailer G'Raj Mahal and the bars Lustre Pearl and Clive.
A tall glass of hibiscus iced tea was surpisingly bitter, but once I knew what to expect, I grew fond of the shock of tartness and drank three glasses. The tea complemented an order of four molotes ($4.25), bite-sized fried nuggets that look like mini corndogs, two filled with meat and two with vegetables. They're tasty, but they're small, so don't count on sharing.
We also had a warm, juicy cochinita pibil taco and a cold, salad-like salpicón de res taco ($4.50 for the pair). Since the guacamole ($6) is house-made, we couldn't resist getting it, too. I watched, wide-eyed and hungry, as chef Iliana de la Vega mashed together the ingredients and topped the bowl with tortilla chips. By the end, we were pretty stuffed, but the plátanos fritos were calling, slightly caramelized, perfectly ripe slices of heaven. Sure, you might argue that anything dipped in a side of heavy cream is going to taste good, but these were worth the second trip to the trailer.
El Naranjo has a spacious, gravel-covered front lawn with many picnic tables, perfect for this time of year. Bring a six-pack of Negra Modelo (the trailer is BYOB), let the gracious staff bring the food right to your table and plan on staying for a while.