Sunday, November 25, 2007

Day 2

The day started a little slower than Saturday as the whole family came along. We got the kids loaded up in the bike trailer and headed down to Tacodeli for our first tacos of the day.
20. Tacodeli: Steak & Eggs - good, but not as good as the Cowboy or the Al pastor which aren't served until 11:00.

As we rode up the hills between there and Town Lake, I started to realize that this might not be the best way to start the day. Not having done a lot of riding over the past few months, I was feeling pretty worked from the day before. And the kids with their gear and trailer weighed about 80 pounds.
29. Magnolia Cafe
But it was almost balanced by the fun of having them along. They really appreciated the crazy Austin Art house that inspired much of this challenge idea. We let them out to run around and look at all the cool sculptures
31. Keep Austin Weird Art House
Everything was going well - until Carly had her first meltdown that is...
30. Pemberton Castle
There we were in one of the ritziest neighborhoods in Austin. We had just left Pemberton Castle (the picture gives you some idea of the type of neighborhood), when Pug announced that he had to pee.
"Can you wait until we get to the next taco shack?"
So we pulled over and got him out of the five point harness system. He jumped out and ran for the nearest bush. He couldn't make it and so dropped trousers in the middle of the manicured lawn. We hoped that the residents of the mansion might have thought he was a new fountain that they had forgotten they had recently purchased. But then the wailing began. For the next thirty minutes, Carly let us know that she did not support the Birthday Challenge and wanted to go to the playscape.
31. Bottle Tree
Then started the frustrating search for breakfast tacos. At our first stop, Magnolia cafe, they informed us that they did not serve tacos to go on the weekend. Clearly we couldn't afford the delays of sitting down, so we just snapped a picture and then moved on. Next stop, the original Taco Shack. Does it make any sense to you that a place that has become so famous for breakfast tacos that it could open 5 more locations in Austin alone should decide to be closed on Sundays?
Just to make sure it wasn't only a phenomenon applying to the original location, we rode to another one nearby and found it to be closed too. So we tried the People's Pharmacy which had a sign proudly announcing that they served organic breakfast tacos. Of course, that didn't apply to Sunday mornings either.
So we got creative and found two alternate locations on Burnet that provided nice tacos:
21. Cafe Consuela: Barbacoa - VERY greasy. Even the lime had a tough time cutting it. But we were starving.
22. Pacha: Egg Cheese and Spinach with tomatillo sauce. What a great and unexpected find

Then it was off to Mount Bonnell. This is where my legs were completely done in. One short hill was so steep, I almost couldn't keep peddling with the trailer dragging me back. But we made it, and Pug got to come out and hike up to the top to enjoy the view with me.
32. Mt Bonnell
The ride down to Laguna Gloria was quick and refreshing. We stopped for a quick photo at the Museum and caught the peacocks next door at Mayfield Park.
33. Laguna Gloria (Austin Museum of Art)
Then it was back to Town Lake to drop off the kids and get serious about eating tacos. Unfortunately it was after 1:00 by the time we set off again. On our way to South Lamar, we took in a couple of the classic examples of Austin art along the lake:
34. Voodoo Pew on Town Lake
35. Stevie Ray Vaughn Statue at Town Lake
The first taco of the afternoon was the best of the day. I highly recommend Sazon for the interesting menu, the quality of the food, and the vibe of the place. The last time I had been in the building it had been a tex mex place called La Feria. They regularly had Mariachi singers. But the day we stopped in, we were greeted to a woman playing harp - no, not the harmonica, a 5 foot tall harp. Very nice...
23. Sazon: Al Pastor with Pina - you have to try it!
As we headed south on Lamar, we took in several tacos and some of the classic establishments which epitomize Austin culture
36. Saxon Pub
37. Horseshoe Lounge
24. Maria's Taco Xpress: Migas taco - one of the top three breakfast tacos in South Austin
25. Matt's El Rancho: Brisket taco - I have been meaning to try Matt's since I landed in Austin 13 years ago. It did not disappoint. What a fun alternative to the standard Mexican fare.
26. Changos: Fish taco - Very nice change of pace on day two.
38. Broken Spoke (THE Austin country dance hall)
After leaving the Broken Spoke, we headed across Ben White and had to pretty much play things by ear. ALL of the taco trailers (and a good number of the restaurants) I had planned to visit were closed. So we took advantage of the fact that this area of town has become the new Little Mexico - ever since, as Eric pointed out, everyone got priced out of 78704.
But before we found our first taco, we found the best Austin art of the challenge. You have to see this place to believe it. It is in the backyard of a nondescript cottage.
39. Cathedral of Junk:
27. Casa Maria: Carne Guisada - the gravy was a little pale for my taste, but it was the best , think tortilla I had on the whole challenge
28. Meat Market Taqueria: Lengua - My first experience with Tongue and it was fantastic. I also appreciated that I did not have the option of speaking English and I go the taco at a cafeteria in a supermarket. The culture shift was sudden and excellent.
29. Taqueria Vallarta Jalisco: Avocado - needed a break from the meat, but there were many choice alternatives on the menu. Again no English. I will be back...
At this point, we were as far south as we ever got. Having run out of the planned taco trailers, we headed North east. I stopped into one corner mini-market that advertised a taqueria. Once inside, I realized that it doubled as an insurance sales, convenience store, butcher, and a taqueria. The smell was powerfully disgusting. The vats of taco filling looked like they had been sitting there for days. Suddenly, my minimal remaining appetite was gone. The sun was also starting to set and Eric and I had not come prepared for an urban night ride. So we took the most direct route home.
But once again, Eric inspired me and wouldn't let me pass by two of the taco places right along East Riverside.
30. Taqueria El Regio: Tripa - My first tripe taco and it was fantastic
31. Janitizio: Carne Asada - The best Carne Asada I have had in Austin.
The rest of the ride home was a blur of exhaustion and belly distension. I have rarely been so happy to roll up my driveway. The beer and hot tub have never been so good.

The Write-up

Before I begin, I have to thank some people who made this possible:
  • Eric Swann, who rode the whole thing and attempted to go taco for taco with me. Luckily, he had no idea what he was getting himself into when he agreed to join me. It may have had something to do with the fact that I asked him after he had been drinking margaritas all day at our pool party last summer! But seriously, I don't think I would have nearly as well without him along to keep me motivated.
  • Megan and the Kids, who put up with these crazy events every year. And even though I paid for it with burning thighs later in the day, it was great to have them along on Sunday Morning.
  • All of you who sent in ideas for taco places, art, and landmarks
Day 1

The ride started Saturday morning at my house. We rode up 360 to Maudie's Milagro to have the first taco. Fortunately, we had gotten a late start, because it turned out that Maudie's doesn't open until 9:00. So we called in our order from the parking lot and were the first customer's when they opened the door a few minutes later.

1. Maudie's: Potato, Egg, & Cheese - nothing special, but it was tasty as it was the first of the day

We then rode up 360, over the bridge, and then up the steep hills through the neighborhoods just to the north of 2222. It was probably a good thing I only had one taco in my belly at that point - and definitly a good thing I didn't have the kids in the trailer. As we came up and over the hill top onto Far West, we spotted the small convenient store on Northwest Hills. What a great find this was. They have a small kitchen in the back where they make very good, authentic tacos.

1. 360 Bridge:

2. Stop & Go: Sausage & Egg with Verde sauce - thick, homemade tortillas, excellent sauce.

Next we headed across Mopac on the Far West pedestrian bridge and wove through the neighborhoods over to Elsie's on Burnet and then down Shoal Creek to our first example of random austin yard art - one of my favorite houses to ride by as they constantly change their painted branch art creations.

3. Elsie's: Chorizo & Egg - not bad, but not very flavorful

2. Shoal Creek Yard Art

As we moved south and East, we passed by my old neighborhood. I was pleased to find that the next taco recommendation turned out to be a restaurant that I had always meant to try when I was living in the area. El Caribe is the real deal. I will definitely be back to explore the rest of their menu.

4. El Caribe: Egg & Nopalito - Fantastic. Nopalito is prickly pear cactus leaf and has a tangy almost pickled flavor. Highly recommend this one

The next stop was one of my all time favorites, and one of the most consistent breakfast taco businesses in Austin. In an old shack on the side of a busy road, the Tamale House has arguably the best breakfast tacos in Austin. It always has a line out the door. I hadn't been there since I moved down to South Austin eight years ago. Now I will have to find reasons to get back to the north side on weekend mornings!

5. The Tamale House: Potato, Egg, & Cheese - Simply the best with one of the best (and simplest) salsa fresca's in town

After this, we took our lives in our hands and headed over I-35 and north on Cameron to get to Amaya's Taco Village. With a name like that, I had to check it out. What a zoo. The place was packed. This was our first lunch tacos of the day and they didn't dissapoint.

6. Amaya's Taco Village: Picadillo on corn tortillas - Simple and delicious

We then rode my old route to school when I was getting my degree at UT. We snapped a few pics of the old neighborhood haunts and then settled in at Trudy's for a taco and a bloody mary. I need to remind myself that Trudy's is famouse for atmosphere and great drinks - not for food. This was a turning point for the day. The guts were churning for the next several hours, and really never completely recovered for the rest of the day.

3. Hyde Park Fork

4. Crown & Anchor Pub (scene of many study breaks and philosophic conversations

7. Trudy's: Migas taco & Bloody Mary - Nasty taco, velveeta cheese, runny eggs. Great drink

The next hour or so was a slow meandering through downtown with lots of stops to capture some of the many things that make Austin Uniqe:

5. Bannanna Moon Neon House Art

6. Wheatsville Co-op
7. Junior's Kegs

8. Hole in the Wall

9. UT Tower

10. George Washington proud stance

11. Hi How Are You Mural

12. Dog & Duck Pub

13. Texas State Capitol

14. Cheap-O discs (home of the original Whole Foods Market)

15. Shoal Creek Saloon

16. Waterloo Records

The tour of downtown landmarks was just what I needed to work off the bloody many and processed cheese, so we stopped into Wahoo's for a change of pace.

8. Wahoo's: Fish taco & a beer - very refreshing

Then we were back on the road visiting more landmarks until we got to the south side of Congress Bridge and officially entered South Austin, the home of Austin's little Mexico. Unfortunately, this was also when it started raining. The rest of the afternoon found us riding through light rain to heavy downpours. At least it gave us something else to complain about other than our rapidly filling stomach's.

17. Antone's - Home of the Blues

18. Esther's Follies

19. Congress Avenue Bat Bridge and Bat Statue

20. Threadgill's World Headquarters (home of the old Armadillo World Headquarters)

21. Austin Motel
22. Continental Club
South Austin was the beginning of our serious afternoon taco binge. Starting with El Sol y La Luna, at the base of the Austin Motel Sign, we stopped at most of the taco shacks that we passed as we rode down South Congress and then back up South First Streets. The low point of the day was definitely the limp chicken tacos (tasted like the chicken was boiled) at El Gallo, and the high point (possibly of the whole challenge) was the slow cooked pork tacos with cilantro and cotija cheese at Torchies, a trailer on South First.

9. El Sol y La Luna: Puerco - dried out and not great flavor

10. Curra's: Steak - very tasty, but a bit heavy on the cheese

11. El Gallo: Chicken - disgusting (almost couldn't get it down. This was the taco that killed Eric for the day)

12. El Flaco: Chicken Asado - very good and simple - just grilled chicken and onions on a toasted tortilla

13. El Borrego de Oro: Avocado - Very refreshing and a nice break from all the meat

14. Arrandas: Carnitas - one of my favorites

Most of the stops on Saturday had worked out exactly according to my pre-planned route. But I had to make a game time call with Buenos Aires. This little restaurant is located on the sight of the old El Borrego de Oro, which I used to frequent regularly when I lived in the hood. Buenos Aires is an Argentinian place that I have heard a lot of good things about. Unfortunately, they do not have tacos. So I went with the Empanada instead.

15. Buenos Aires Cafe: Chicken Empanada - delicious. Nice place too. I will be back for a slower paced meal with some wine sometime

16. Polvos: Machacado & Egg - my standard breakfast taco order

17. La Mexicana Bakery: Barbacoa - greasy in the traditional style. It was cut nicely by lime

18. La Reyna - Steak Fajitas: nothing special

19. Torchies: Pork - The best taco of the challenge.

23. Peter Pan Mini Golf 24. Chuy's Tex Mex

25. Trail of Lights
26. Barton Springs

27. Philosopher's Rock

28. Moontower Xmas Tree

Click here to see the write-up for Day 2

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Challenge completed...Well, mostly anyway

What did I do?

It is now three days later and I am finally able to start looking forward to food again. Good thing since it is Thanksgiving day and I will be frying turkeys in just a few hours.

As usual, the challenge I designed last summer was much more difficult than I expected it would be. Actually I had no idea in advance what my taco capacity would turn out to be. Now I know. While I still think that 38 tacos in 38 hours is possible, it can only be done with careful planning and even spacing through the time. In the case of my challenge, several logistical problems and bad decisions limited my intake to 31:

1. Each morning started with a long ride without many taco places available along the route. So I got a late start (worse on Sunday) and had to eat that many more per hour after that. I also didn't get to take advantage of those morning miles to burn off the extra calories.

2. Saturday morning, the seventh taco was at a Tex-Mex place. Bad idea. The cheese was heavy and something like velveeta. I also decided to wash it down with a pint of spicy bloody mary. Somehow this sat worse in my stomach the rest of the day than all the salsa combined.

3. Sunday morning, Megan and the kids came along for the first part of the ride. I did about 30 miles over the hilliest section of the route (including the ride up Mt Bonnell) while towing two kids in the bike trailer. My thighs were pretty much spent by 1:00.

4. I didn't consider that most of the taco trailers just serve breakfast and lunch so many were closed in the late afternoon and evening. I also didn't consider that many of these trailers are run by traditional catholic Mexican families who go to church on Sunday morning. So it was tough finding open trailers on Sunday. Many of the ones that had been recommended were closed.

I am off to the Thanksgiving campout now, so I will write more and post the pictures later.

Here's one of my distended belly on Saturday night with 19 tacos down in the first 15 hours:

Click here for the entire challenge write-up

Monday, November 12, 2007

The map

I will continue to update it, but here is a link to the map I will be using on the ride:,-97.738838&spn=0.162737,0.249939&z=12&om=1

Some modifications

Unfortunately, while I was delaying the start of the challenge, there was a charity auction held in Austin and all the giant painted guitars have been sold. So there is no chance to go and visit them now.

Also, I haven't gotten a huge number of ideas submitted for Austin Landmarks and Austin public art - and in many cases, it was hard to tell which of these categories a given item should fall in (e.g. Stevie Ray Vaughn statue on Ladybird Lake).

So I am consolidating. The challenge now reads:
In 38 hours, I will ride 38 miles per day and allong the way:
1. visit and photograph 38 Austin landmarks or examples of public art
2. Stop at 38 restaurants famous for their tacos and eat a taco at each one

The date is set

Due to a number of illnesses at our house and a bunch of traveling, this challenge has been put off for about 3 months. The date is now set:

November 17th and 18th

Saturday, August 18, 2007

This challenge is all about taking some time to appreciate some of the things Austin is known for. Given that I already did a challenge (2004) where I explored Austin's music and drinking establishments, I am choosing some of Austin's other notable characteristics, namely: weird art, landmarks, and taco purveyors.

The Challenge:

In 38 hours,
I will ride 38 miles a day and along the way:

visit and photograph 38 Austin Landmarks

find and capture 38 examples of Austin's "Weird" Public Art

      Visit and photograph the AustinGuitarTown's 35 10-foot guitar sculpures and 3 of the life-sized painted guitars

      Stop in to 38 restaurants famous for their tacos, and eat a taco at each one!

        Related posts:
        The write-up
        The final list of events
        Map of the challenge