the spot: La Santa Barbacha 2806 Manor Road Austin TX 78722
the eats: Breakfast Barbacoa tacos, barbacoa, quesobarbacoa, you can’t go wrong, bring a group and try everything
the bucks: $5 each, two is a meal, three is a feast.
the full nelson: Hidalgo style beef barbacoa made into fashionable Austin tacos. Also my fav breakfast taco in town.
I love breakfast tacos. Eggs and bacon belong in a tortilla just as much as on a plate. You can order as many as you want, absolving yourself of the gut bomb that is the breakfast burrito, if you choose discretion. But there is another shocking truth to breakfast tacos: they can easily be made at home. And I am usually happy to do just that, that is until La Santa Barbacha moved into my neighborhood about a month ago.
La Santa Barbacha is a little food trailer walking distance from my house in East Austin TX. Over the course of a month, I have eaten their four times. These days I rarely tend to repeat visiting restaurants but for La Santa Barbacha, I make a wholehearted exception. At $5 a pop these tacos aren’t cheap, which is a hallmark of cherished breakfast taco spots like El Milagrito in San Antonio TX. But they are generous servings of exquisitely tender braised short rib, carefully plated on gorgeous homemade tortillas and wholly unique to the Austin taco scene, maybe even the Texas taco scene.
Rosa, Daniela and Uriel de Lima learned a lot from their parents when growing up in Guanajuato Mexico when it comes to the family tradition of barbacoa. If you’re unfamiliar, barbacoa is both a dish and method which is to slowly cook meat in a long braise that utilizes steam more than cooking liquid. Traditionally cooked underground and on weekends, the de Lima family would prepare barbacoa after church. That also inspired the first part of the name as “La Santa” means” family, religion and traditions” explains Rosa. “Our family grew up around religion, traditions and festivities. ‘La Santa’ focuses on our roots back in Mexico, where since we were kids, our parents cooked barbacoa to sell after the celebration outside of the church on a sunny sunday.”
Their father cooked the barbacoa in the “pozo”(underground pit) along with their mother who also prepared everything else. “He has been making barbacoa de pozo for over more than 50 years.” Rosa tells me. Selling barbacoa is a true family tradition as well. “When we first thought about making barbacoa in Austin, Texas and selling it, we all wanted to include ‘barbacha’ as part of the name of the business. [Barbacha] is a nickname which we all have been familiar with because our dad called [it] that. He adopted it into our family since our childhood”. “La barbacha está lista, vámonos a venderla” which translates to the barbacha(barbacoa) is ready let’s start selling it, signaled when the family would sell their barbacoa. I can totally imagine being a little kid and calling barbacoa “barbacha” – that kind of nickname is soaked in family affection, even better is that it’s a nickname soaked in so much flavor.
I really can’t pair down a favorite item on the menu but I am stuck on getting at least one breakfast taco. Rosa recommends that first timers try the classic barbacoa, dressed with cilantro, onion and tomatillo salsa. Last year, on a scorching evening in July, I was won over by that very taco, easily the most sophisticated beef barbacoa I’ve had at a food trailer.
In my experience, Tex-Mex renditions of barbacoa can come off greasy and bland. Sometimes it’s watered down salsa or a lack of trimming of the particular cut beef that is to blame. Or maybe it’s La Santa Barbacha’s use of short rib: a well marbled cut suited to the method of the cook but not as beleaguered by gristle like an untrimmed beef cheek. I’m guilty of such cooking mistakes and that pot becomes a tough sell, believe me.
I could almost re-categorize these breakfast tacos as brunch tacos, a nod to the quality. The perfectly creamy scrambled eggs are consistent because they are cooked to order. Yes, the pride and joy of their family that is the barbacoa, La Santa’s bread and butter, but the salsas are recipes easily worth keeping a family secret.
And those gorgeously colored tortillas? They are made by a process of blending the masa(nixtamalized corn) with vegetables like beet(the red tortilla), and spinach(green tortilla). “We wanted to create something colorful, fresh and authentic based on our past but presenting our future where Mexican cuisine can be elevated with simple additions making a better experience to our customers.” Rosa explains. See what I mean about brunch tacos?
It’s been a minute since I’ve been this enthused about a restaurant. Sure, $10 to $15 for some tacos out of a truck might seem expensive given the genre but these tacos defy the limits of the genre. Beyond the generous portions, there are true fine dining feels happening at La Santa Barbacha. A fine combination of family tradition and culinary ambition. Almost as fine a combination as La Santa’s barbacoa, scrambled eggs and their fiery habanero salsa. And if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make a next visit right about now.