Tex-Mex meets low ’n’ slow barbecue at Barbecue Mafia’s taco concept South Austin
Austin’s food scene is a veritable melting pot of cuisines, though most residents will likely concede that barbecue and Tex-Mex stand out from the pack as the two most quintessentially Texan choices. Although distinct in their styles and offering, some savvy operators have melded low ’n’ slow Texas barbecue and Tex-Mex together to create a remarkable culinary fusion. It’s this union that forms the inspirational crux of South Austin – the brand-new taco concept from the smoked-meat monarchs behind Barbecue Mafia. South Austin is the team’s love letter to The Lone Star State, with a menu that places tender morsels atop soft tortillas to create a salivation-inducing tandem largely unseen in Brisbane. South Austin officially opens today, Thursday January 28 – here’s what to expect …
Much like how a Michelin-starred chef spends years learning the delicate intricacies of French cooking, or how a baker works tirelessly to perfect the preparatory steps for each baked item, mastering the craft of low ’n’ slow barbecue takes time and effort. Ryan Marstella, Andrew Walliker and Gareth Dosser of Barbecue Mafia decided the best way to enhance their smoking skills was to learn from the masters, so in 2015 the trio jetted off to Austin to glean some tips and tricks from local pitmasters that were highly skilled in the ways of smoky Texas barbecue. The trip paid off, as Barbecue Mafia’s lovingly smoked morsels are now regarded by the carnivorous crowd as some of Brisbane’s best. That being said, the trio will be the first to tell you that there’s always more to learn – often things you’d never think to consider. During a second skill-sharpening sojourn to Austin in 2018 the crew encountered Miguel Vidal’s beloved food truck Valentina’s, which specialises in a striking synthesis of tender barbecued meat and Tex-Mex-style cuisine. This traditionally Texan tandem quickly ensnared the tastebuds of the Barbecue Mafia crew, whose dreams were filled with visions of slow-smoked pork carnitas and mesquite-smoked brisket tacos for months after returning to Australian shores. Never ones to shy away from a bit of culinary experimentation (and with the barbecue side of the equation already firmly in hand), Ryan, Drew and Gareth decided to have a crack at Tex-Mex – Barbecue Mafia style. The trio tinkered with recipes for a range of tacos that featured low ’n’ slow meats at their core, sometimes slinging them as specials from Barbecue Mafia’s Sherwood outpost. When Vince Dickson of Cenzo’s Café + Bar in Upper Mount Gravatt approached the team with an offer to have Barbecue Mafia take over the cafe’s kitchen at night, Ryan, Drew and Gareth realised they had the perfect opportunity to show off what they’d be working on. Thus, South Austin was born.
As its name attests, South Austin is an ode to the Texan capital’s percolating food scene, which blends time-tested techniques with border-crossing flair. Three nights a week the Barbecue Mafia team smokes and transports meaty melt-in-your-mouth morsels to Cenzo’s kitchen, which then feature across a tight menu of homestyle tacos. Any taco lover will know that the all-important starting block is always the tortilla. The Barbecue Mafia team has spent many months of research and development perfecting its recipe for soft flour tortillas, which are light and fluffy but retain enough structural integrity to hold a slab of juicy brisket. These tortillas are then stuffed with choice cuts of smoked meat and garnished with homemade salsas and a hearty scoop of pico de gallo. South Austin’s menu currently features a smoked-brisket taco that comes with tomatillo salsa, guacamole and pickled onion, pork-shoulder carnitas boasting pineapple-and-mint salsa and caramelised onion, lamb-shoulder tacos with roasted-tomato salsa and diced white onion, and a roasted curried-cauliflower taco served on a gluten-free blue-corn tortilla with charred-tomato salsa, pine nuts, dates, pickled onion and pineapple salsa. The South Austin team pivots away quickly from Tex-Mex for its specialty item – the birria taco. Originating in the state of Jalisco, this traditional Mexican dish is often seen served as a style of stew or as a taco filling. At South Austin, the team smokes beef shin and beef rib until tender, then braises the meat in broth for another 24 hours until it falls off the bone at the slightest touch. This rich filling is then lovingly scooped onto a tortilla with salted mozzarella, chilli and coriander before being fried until crispy and served hot with a scoop of broth for dipping. South Austin’s menu is further fleshed out with make-your-own beef-rib tacos served with homemade queso (made using Oaxaca-style cheese crafted for South Austin by a cheesemaker near Mount Tamborine), crispy onions, tomatillo salsa and tortillas. The Cenzo’s bar has assembled a beverage menu to complement the fare, with a range of tequilas, Mexican and Californian beers and margaritas elevating a taco party into a taco fiesta.
South Austin officially opens today, Thursday January 28. For operating hours and booking details, click over to the Stumble Guide.
The Stumble Guide is our comprehensive Brisbane dining guide with more than 2400 places to eat, drink, shop and play.