May 12, 2015
While Austin is enjoying its reputation as a stylish, music-savvy capital, it has also picked up a fair few admirers on the foodie scene, with trendy new eateries opening almost on a daily basis. But alongside the celebrity chefs and award-winning restaurants, you’ll also find one beloved local food that will always have a place in the hearts of Austinites: the taco.
From breakfast to a post-party, late-night snack, there’s a taco for every occasion in Austin. Some say the taco was born in the days of cowboys and vaqueros, while others say it was a product of Tex-Mex culture. But one thing is certain: Austin serves up some of the state’s very best tacos. Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece wrote the book on tacos “” literally. Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day was published in 2013 as a natural offshoot of the duo’s blog, Taco Journalism, both of which have led hungry followers on a quest for the top tacos in Austin. The taco lovers also have a new book on the way, titled The Tacos of Texas.
We caught up with Mando Rayo to get his top 10 tacos in Austin.
While there are plenty of breakfast tacos to choose from in Austin, Rayo’s go-to is the Migas Taco at Veracruz All Natural. We’re talking about fresh tortillas hechas a mano (made by hand), with eggs, jalapenos, onions, and tomatoes – all cooked with house-made tortilla chips, topped with cheese and a slice of avocado. With three food trailer locations – two on the East Side and one in South Austin – Veracruz has your taco needs covered.
Nothing says familia like Joe’s Bakery, with handmade tortillas, fluffy eggs, creamy beans and bacon that is battered “” yes, battered! “” for that extra crunch. This place knows what it’s doing, having been around for more than 50 years. “Going to Joe’s Bakery on East 7th Street is a must if you like the classic taste of good Mexican food,” Rayo says. “It’s been one of my favourite joints since I moved here more than 10 years ago.”
Transport yourself back to Mexico at Rosita’s and Mi Tradicion, offering both a taco truck and bricks-and-mortar restaurant. Al Pastor is the people’s taco, bright achiote pork straight off the trompo “” a skewer used to grill the meat shawarma style – and topped with sweet pineapple chunks.
Rayo offers an insider tip: “If you take a peek over the counter and into the kitchen before you sit down, you can catch a glimpse of the vertical rotisserie that makes this place something special. Genuine spit roasted al pastor is a thing of beauty, and is not found in a whole lot of places.”
Amayas Taco Village has been serving up hearty, traditional Austin Tex-Mex for over 35 years, and Rayo has been eating there for more than 10 of those. A staple in Tex-Mex, the crispy taco doesn’t get better than this, served with ground beef, pico de gallo and cheese. Amaya’s serves crispy tacos that haven’t lost their edge.
Rancho is a big flavour in Texas and in Tex-Mex food; and nothing nails its flavours like Mi Madre’s dried shredded beef “” Machacado with pico and a fresh flour tortilla. The family-owned restaurant is a staple in Austin, having just celebrated their 25th year.
Don’t think that vegetarians are left out of enjoying one of Austin’s most popular foods. One of Rayo’s favourite spots for tacos serves up this veggie head taco, which he calls a “stand out.” Cauliflower patties come with with salsa de huajillo, re-chicken or repollo (which is actually cabbage), and queso fresco, topped with fresh avocado.
Habanero’s prepares their fajitas al mesquite style, with plenty of spices and jalapeos. Rayo calls this “one of the best fajitas in town,” and also gives kudos to that important taco accompaniment, salsa. “Red salsa is a funny thing in this town. It’s absolutely ubiquitous, and has to be pretty bad or pretty good to be remarkable at all. The salsa at Habanero was really excellent; a thick pureed tomato salsa with a nice vinegar twang and a healthy amount of heat.”
An Austin family institution, Tamale House East serves up some of best breakfast tacos in town. While migas is a Mexican and Austin Tex-Mex staple, Tamale House takes the traditional Texas taco to the next level of sabor (flavour) with their chipotle migas. The smoky, spicy chipotle flavour warms the heart, just like abuelita’s warm hugs.
Tacodeli‘s tacos are the New Americano favourites, taking Mexican tradition and mixing it up Austin-style with locally sourced produce, meats and eggs. Rayo loves the Vaquero (eggs, corn, rajas & cheese) with an added spice, their house-made chorizo. And don’t forget the Doa Sauce – Mayan Gold, according to Rayo and his taco experts.
South Austin’s favourite taco trailer, El Primo serves up traditional Mexican tacos cooked to order, and their bistek sirloin is spot on – thinly sliced steak with spices on a double corn tortilla. One of his top tacos in Austin, Rayo promises “it hits the spot every time”.
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Have you sampled any of these Austin Tex-Mex favourites? Where do you go for the best tacos in Austin? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Shelly Seale