My first trip to Valentina’s was on a whim. I stopped at the trailer behind the Star Bar on Sixth Street in Austin on my way out of town. A friend was writing a story on taco variations, and I thought I might be able to add a novelty to his story – Texas barbecue in a taco. I didn’t know what to expect from this mash-up of Tex-Mex and barbecue, but it wasn’t much. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find crockpot pork shoulder on store-bought tortillas, until I smelled smoke. A steel offset smoker next to the trailer was going strong. They were smoking everything on site with mesquite. At the window they confirmed that only the pulled pork was ready, and that it would come on a homemade flour tortilla. Things were looking up.
Pulled pork taco
I ate the taco immediately, and it was nothing short of fantastic. The meat was so juicy and smoky that when I wrapped it up tight and took a bite, it tasted like a pork and cilantro sausage in a tortilla casing. A return visit was in order to find the genius behind the pit, Miguel Vidal. He and partner Michael Lerner opened the trailer earlier this year, and Vidal says the menu comes straight from San Antonio where he grew up, as did the choice for mesquite. That mesquite smoke is a constant perfume around the trailer since the smokers always seem to be fired up, and Vidal has found a way to temper that smokiness in the meat. On none of the three visits did anything taste over smoked.
A slice of Valentina’s brisket
The barbecue at Valentina’s is available in a taco, on a sandwich, or by the pound. If ordering a taco, the brisket comes chopped unless specified. I suggest asking for sliced. They don’t skimp on the meat, so that allows you to sneak a slice off for a pre-taco snack. After a bite of the smoky and lusciously moist brisket, you might feel compelled to order it by the pound so nothing gets between you and the brisket. Fear not, bulk meat orders come with tortillas and homemade salsa in case you change your mind mid-pound. While they offer their own barbecue sauce, I would stick with the excellent salsas. They work better with the meat, and provide just enough heat.
It was on that second visit that I discovered the smoked corn. The side dish is served like elotes, but the smoked kernels add a rich depth that you won’t get from steamed or boiled corn. I enjoyed a number of other tacos that visit as well, but those photos were worse than the one above. That’s what happens when you eat on the trunk under a high-pressure sodium street lamp. You can also take your order next door to the Star Bar if you’d like to eat at a table, which is what I did on my third visit.
A half pound of Valentina’s pulled pork
There were no tacos on the next trip. Just meat. The pulled pork was as good naked as it was wrapped in a tortilla blanket. The brisket was even better. If you hadn’t told me it came from Valentina’s, the Mex part wouldn’t have entered my mind. This was pure Texas brisket smoked a well as almost anyone else in town. There was a prominent bark layered over buttery fat, and that smoke ring run deep. The seasoning is salty with a good bit of black pepper, and the flavor doesn’t stop at the crust. I just hope they can continue that level of quality as their customer base grows. Word is spreading, and co-owner Modesty Vidal hopes they can use the popularity to make a move to a brick and mortar eventually. For now they will continue to serve barbecue and tacos late into the night in their cramped trailer. It should also be noted that in addition to their late hours (open until 2:00 am Thursday through Saturday) this is also one of Austin’s few choices for barbecue on a Monday.
Just last week I stopped in again on a cold Thursday evening. Funny enough Brad Istre from Man Up Texas BBQ saw me ordering when he drove by and suggested via text that I join him at Little Woodrow’s across the street. The bartender at Little Woodrow’s was fine with the imported tacos, so there is yet another option for where to eat your Valentina’s barbecue. This time it was a simple chopped beef taco that made me rethink the greatest and best use for chopped beef. On a bun with barbecue sauce, pickles, and onions is great way to eat it, but with salsa and guacamole on a flour tortilla is a welcome change of pace. Next to it was the first slip up I’d seen from Valentina’s. A dry serving of pulled pork had topped one of the other tacos, but I quickly forgot about it as I tucked into the daily special of a brisket, sausage and guacamole taco.
Brisket and sausage taco
So, you can get brisket, pulled pork and sausage at this trailer. What about ribs? They only do them on Wednesdays, so I haven’t had the chance to try them. Mike Sutter and others have sang their praises. It pains me to have missed out, but that just gives me an excuse to go back. I also didn’t try any of the meat on a sandwich. The tacos are just too good. Valentina’s may not serve traditional tacos, and there’s a good chance you’ll consume your barbecue here in a different way than you’re used to. Just know that whether or not the smoked meat is served in a tortilla, on a bun or with your hands, you’re sure to get some solid barbecue out of this trailer.