The Exaltation of the Breakfast Taco*

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Tacos - Not just for breakfast anymore

(*not just for breakfast anymore)

What’s your favorite breakfast taco? How do you take it? Are you a flour or corn tortilla person?

These are important questions, especially in Austin, Texas.

Austin, the small college town filled with big ideas and ambitious dreamers, loves to find simple things and make them larger than life. Behold the lowly taco. Once the simplest and cheapest way to serve meats, beans, rice, or whatever might be leftover in the kitchen, and wrapped in a tortilla, today has become a culinary art form. The capital city has recently exalted the taco to iconic status on the food landscape. While tacos aren’t unique to Texas, they have been the focus of constant attention since receiving the Austin treatment in the early 1990s. It took many decades, but the taco, especially the breakfast taco, is now fully-gentrified into pop food culture.

Take your pick: carne guisada, puerco en chile verde or bacon and egg at Marcelino Pan y Vino. Photo by Dennis Burnett.
Take your pick: carne guisada, puerco en chile verde or bacon and egg at Marcelino Pan y Vino. Photo by Dennis Burnett.

Pioneers

Certainly, Austin benefitted from being perfectly situated geographically, ethnically, and philosophically. And, while no single community can take full credit with popularizing the Mexican dish, Austin has shown the world that it worships tacos and the taco makers. Throughout Austin, Hispanic families trace their Austin roots back several generations. Restaurateur Diana Valera tells the story of her immigrant grandparents opening Tony’s Tortilla Factory, and then the beloved Tamale House. She boasts that, “Every taco is a little piece of art.” Now, her children are in the biz and honor their family tradition.

Natives

Among native Austinites, it’s difficult to get a complete history of the breakfast taco. Yes, it has always been a staple on Mexican-American tables, but outside of Spanish-speaking homes and restaurants, Austin natives witnessed the breakfast taco crossing over in the mid-1990s, right around the time the general public was realizing a taco wasn’t required to be in a crispy, yellow shell. Natives always knew that crossing I-35 to the east, where historically segregated Latino communities lived and worked, was how to find the best tacos in Austin. Today, that boundary line has been blurred, if not permanently lost.

Innovators

Now that the breakfast taco has “crossed over,” it has become big business for some — look at popular chains like Tacodeli, Torchy’s, and Taco Cabana. Even the beloved Texas chain Whataburger offers the legit Taquito. Barbecue rockstar Aaron Franklin prefers brisket on his breakfast taco (of course). Austin American-Statesman journalist and proud “non-hipster” Juan Castillo, Jr. declares, “This is a foodie town, but we’re not fussy or pretentious about it. Austinites appreciate good food, no matter if it’s from a trailer or a four-star restaurant.”

Author’s note:
If you’re in Austin, here are my standout breakfast taco can’t-misses: Tamale House, Tacodeli (order the Otto), Magnolia Cafe, Juan in a Million, and Rosie’s on Highway 71.

Breakfast tacos, served all day at the Pueblo Viejo trailer. Photo by Dennis Burnett.
Breakfast tacos, served all day at the Pueblo Viejo trailer. Photo by
Dennis Burnett.

Hungry Yet? If not, here’s a taco slideshow to get you going…

 


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Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day