Flavorful tacos hide in bland stands

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Taco Stand by Me

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a weekly series searching for the best undiscovered taco stands in town.

There’s nothing particularly distinguishing about the appearance of El Taco Norteño. The red and white taco stand sits unassumingly in the parking lot of a Conoco gas station off Ben White Boulevard and Manchaca Road.

What you will remember about this stand is the tacos. Norteño carries all of your traditional options — there’s nothing too out-of-the-ordinary about its carne asada or bistec tacos. But what really makes the drive to South Austin worth it are the gringa and pirata tacos, which sell for $2.50 each.

The gringa taco is a dish of bright, spicy, red al pastor meat melded with gooey cheese between two layers of tortillas. The pirata consists of strips of steak with cheese, served in a flour tortilla with two big slices of avocado.

If you’re a connoisseur of breakfast tacos, get there before 10 a.m. But you won’t want to miss out on the trompos al pastor, small tacos that come in plates of five for $5.50. After tasting your first bite of the rotisserie pork wrapped in corn tortillas, one of them won’t be enough.

Norteño doesn’t make a splash with style or presentation but instead focuses on the food you came there looking for.

Five minutes east of campus, at Ben White Boulevard and South Congress Avenue, you’ll find our second pick of the week. Tuesday through Sunday nights, Taquerias Olivas competes with restaurant options like Wendy’s to serve the late-night crowd in the St. Edward’s University area.

Their bestselling item, the bistec taco, is a juicy marinated steak taco topped with cilantro and onions.

Olivas is another stand unremarkable in appearance, just a short drive from the flashier (and pricier) food stands in the SoCo shopping district. But readers of this column know by now that the best dining experiences are often had at these hidden gems.