No examination of tortillas would be complete without sampling them cut, fried, and heaped with four different kinds of artery-clogging fat. We mean nachos, of course, and according to Executive Chef Jason Dady of the Lodge in Castle Hills, Las Brazas is the place to go for late-night, post-partying heaps of cheese-filled delight. To fully enjoy the promised goodness of the calorie-laden treat, we dutifully headed out to Mercado late one night - and per instructions, Fiesta-ed it up with icy, salty, tangy margaritas until the band went home. To our right: bright pink turkey legs, fragrant corn on the cob, and sizzling gorditas fresh from the frying oil. To our left: beef fajita tacos, agua frescas, and more turkey legs. It was a difficult guantlet to walk without stopping for a snack or two - but Dady had steered us right with Thai Dee, and the anticipation of Las Brazas was enough to keep us from snatching the remains of a turkey leg from the sticky grasp of an unsuspecting child.
It was worth the wait. From the outside, Las Brazas looks like a place you would hardly stop to ask directions from, let alone eat at - especially since the legendary La Fogata is just blocks away. The building hunkers down on the side of the road, irregularly flashing neon lights, and illuminated by a single, ancient sign.
We were some of the first patrons in that round of diners that evening - but not for long. As we waited for our order, the modest wood-paneled room swelled with customers, who were in and out just as fast as they could scarf their tacos.
Finally, the nachos arrived: hearty chunks of fried corn tortilla that were amazingly still-crisp, and strong enough to support a healthy smear of beans, gobs of ground beef, melted cheese, and thick, gluey guacamole. Three kinds of mush: one amazingly addictive nacho.
Tortillas in the form of tacos were not as outstanding: The flour versions were a wee too starchy and stiff. Tortillas usually make or break the taco, but in this case, these beauties could have been wrapped in cellophane, and we would have devoured them just as rapidly. The obligatory chorizo con papas satisfied immensely: firm, tender cubes of potato, tossed with a healthy dollop of too-liquidy chorizo that squirted all over the surrounding vicinity.
The chilaquiles featured more of the intense fried corn tortillas, mixed in with a generous portion of semi-scrambled eggs, fresh jalapeños, tomatoes, and a thick lace of shredded Velveeta-esque cheese. The über-egginess was complemented by the bite of the jalapeño, and the crisp of the chips created a multitonal symphony: incredible sophistication for an inexpensive taco. Picadillo came to the table a winner - a just-right crumble of dry beef, potato, carrot, and onion that reminded us of hearty beef stew. "Slow roasted for two days!" exclaimed my friend as he tasted the carne guisada - by now we were too full to eat the tacos properly, and had resorted to picking at the meat with our forks. Whether he was right or not, the carne guisada was absolutely indescribable. I've written the word "tender" so many times that it's almost lost its meaning - but here, in the carne guisada, we have a dictionary definition of what a truly tender meat must taste like. Unlike many guisadas whose meat can be spoiled by hunks of fat, Las Brazas' version was as lean as could be, meat that somehow was so soft that was rendered pillowy.
The margaritas necessitated a trip to the ladies' room - which is located through the swinging plywood door in the kitchen. Here all of the magic happens, in this tiny room staffed by two weary-looking women. The dining area - at least on our visit - was staffed by one woman, who adeptly managed the 30-plus capacity room filled with teenage girls, drunk men, a cop doing his paperwork, and a steady stream of visitors picking up to-go orders. No one else seem surprised at the quality and quantity of the food, leading us to conjecture that this 24-7 restaurant was a favorite in the neighborhood. Seeing as how it is only 10 minutes from downtown, I'd recommend making it one of your favorites, too. •
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