A group of wait staff broke out into a ranchera when they learned it was a customer’s birthday. There was clapping. The clapping spread. As did the singing. To my left was a photo of Vicente Fernandez, the king of ranchera music. In front of me, at Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop in East Austin, was a platter of incredible breakfast tacos, flawless homemade flour tortillas—thick without being dense, fluffy without being mistaken for an old pillow—and all. Within one envelope was snappy dredged in flour bacon, firm eggs that bore a sheen, the heavy-handed spread of captivating refried beans. The pictured round breakfast sausage patties are one of only a couple of items not made in-house, but they have to be on the menu. Reportedly, sausage patties are among the first ingredients placed in a tortilla in Texas to create a breakfast taco.
There are myriad theories on the origins and appropriate composition of breakfast tacos. Some believe that Austin can rightfully claim Texas’ favorite day starter. This declaration is justified, they insist, because Austin is where the breakfast taco was perfected and popularized. Support is found in food writers in cities like New York who slap the qualifier “Austin-style” before mentioning our homegrown staple, tourists who return to their hometowns oohing and ahhing about them, and Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop.
The best breakfast taco spot in Austin has been open since the 1960s and continues to be owned and operated by the same family, the Avilas. Their success is found in the basis of any great taco, the tortilla.
One of the fundamental characteristics of breakfast tacos in South and Central Texas is that handmade flour tortillas are preferred, though some are severed with corn. The majority of potential customers won’t take a restaurant seriously if their breakfast tacos don’t include the option of scratch-made flour tortillas. Outside the cradle, especially to the north, there is no such condition for success.
Nothing like Joe’s Bakery exists in Dallas. Not even the fantastic Los Lupes—the closest facsimile—with exceptional tortillas and traditional offerings comes close to replicating the feel and flavor of Joe’s or Tito’s or Torres Taco Haven. The same goes for Dallas’ most beloved breakfast taco spot, Good 2 Go, which purchased their flour tortillas from Luna’s Tortillas before the 89-year-old institution burned to the ground this year. Thankfully, the locally sourced, imaginative fillings like honey waffle batter fried chicken, ginger chile vinaigrette and remoulade more than make up for any deficiencies. So strong are they, that Good 2 Go is great.
But Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop is the kind of place that after eating acceptable breakfast tacos elsewhere, you immediately regret the decision. “I should’ve gone to Joe’s,” you’ll sigh. That’s even considering the bean, egg and bacon taco, too rich and heavy to put away the whole parcel after three others. It sees excess and blows passed it like a javelina to your nouveau crossover on Texas 130. One bite of it—or any of the other breakfast tacos (get the mouth-puckering barbacoa)—is all you’ll need to comprehend that when in Austin, you go to Joe’s.Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop
2305 East 7th Street, Austin