Category Archives: breakfast tacos

Where to Eat Nationwide on National Taco Day

Taco placero at Taqueria Izucar

This is list is good beyond National Taco Day too.

You might not know this but tomorrow, Thursday, October 4, is the silly sad fabricated food holiday known as National Taco Day in the United States. It offers Mexican restaurants and taquerias an opportunity for promotion, while offering multinational restaurant chains like Taco Bell an even greater boost. There are insane specials available across the country mañana. Google them.

But before you do so, consider this list of taco suggestions across the style spectrum collected while traveling for research for my forthcoming book, American Tacos: A History and Guide to the Taco Trail North of the Border (University of Texas Press). Visiting them all might even be possible if Star Trek transporter tech were real.

B.S. Taqueria

A downtown restaurant with an airy space, B.S. Taqueria has a communal table that stands tall. It makes for an excellent vantage point from which to watch the kitchen staff quietly work to send out the sprightliest churros you’ve ever had and the spice-charged brine-pouch that is the clam and lardo taco. You might even get a glimpse of chef-owner Ray Garcia. A serape pattern-stylized U.S. flag hangs on a nearby wall. The back room offers a respite from the urban center with walls decorated as the loose, open curtain of a bright forest. Plants hang from the overhead wood beams. I did not sit in the rear dining space. During my visits to B.S. Taqueria, I’ve always sat in the front room, where I’ve enjoyed the aforementioned clam and lardo taco but also the cheese-covered chorizo and potato taco, both of which came on a blue corn tortilla. It’s a taco of rich swells, showcasing Garcia’s expertise with classic preparations. Meanwhile, the bologna taco recalls Garcia’s upbringing. It was one of the first things he learned to make for himself as a kid. Heating up a tortilla, maybe a little bit burned, warming up bologna (“or not,” he tells me during a phone interview), rolling it up—and that was a snack. With rare exception, Garcia says in regards to the bologna taco and other menu selections, “there are not a whole lot of things that were a replica of a dish that my mother or my grandmother made that are still on the menu.” 514 7th St, Los Angeles, CA 90014, 213-622-3744, www.bstaqueria.com

Barrio Café

My favorite at this Phoenix institution is the Baja-style shrimp lightly enchased in a Tecate-buoyed batter, offset in texture by fans of avocado and knots of cabbage. The taco is finished with a classic chipotle cream sauce that gives the pocket zing. The restaurant’s signature cochinita pibil, pork bathed in achiote and sour orange juice that is then roasted in banana leaves is as close as one gets to the traditional in-ground preparation. The finished meat is pleasantly puckering and topped with cuts of pickled red onions. 2814 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85006, 602-636-0240, www.barriocafe.com

Boca Tacos y Tequila

Sitting along the city’s Fourth Avenue, Boca Tacos is chef Maria J. Mazon’s misperception-busting tortilla pulpit. The Tucson-born, Sonora-raised Mazon sees tacos as more than quick curbside noshes. They’re refined eats presented in tortillas, whether those be corn or flour. Mazon and crew do an excellent job of balancing renderings of traditional tacos, especially the regional sort, with interpretations of favorite foods and ingredients applied differently, beginning with house-made corn and flour tortillas. My number one out of the 24 options is the Taco Dog. This take on the beloved Sonoran hot dog comprises a bench of bacon-wrapped hotdog upon which rest a union of onion twists, tomato-dominated pico de gallo, and whole beans. Vegetarians are sated with grilled tofu lathered in honey mustard, a breakfast taco of sorts in the hash browns and fried egg taco, and my preferred choice, a ladle of poblano and Anaheim rajas and corn enveloped in cream. Don’t sleep on the northern Mexican-style discada with a beef-chorizo base or specials like the sliced rib-eye with a peanut sesame-basil salsa. 533 N 4th Ave, Tucson, AZ 85705, 520-777-8134, www.bocatacos.com

Carnitas Lonja

One of the greatest meals I’ve had this year was at a tiny San Antonio specializing in one dish—carnitas. Served as plate or as tacos, the carnitas at Lonja are mellow, juicy, and, as is true of the best tacos, world-silencing. Go early. Carnitas Lonja sells out. 1107 Roosevelt Ave, San Antonio, TX 78210, www.facebook.com/Lonja17

Chacho’s Tacos

In Corpus Christi, the flour tortillas are often thicker—like an actually comfortable futon—but they vary in width. It is here that super tacos stuffed with a ridiculous number of items become common. An extreme example of the super taco is the namesake at Chacho’s Tacos: 14 inches of squishy flour tortilla straining to harness its motley innards of everything else on the menu. It’s a gloriously intimidating wonder ideal for college-buddy dares and treating hangovers. Another option is weenies and eggs. 3700 Ayers St, Corpus Christi, TX 78415, 361-888-7378

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Filed under Best of, breakfast tacos, National Taco Day, Taco Tours

Austin Tacos (Breakfast and Otherwise) Are Overrated

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This is a taco with a handmade tortilla.

“This is Taco Country!” Those four words—painted on the burnt orange façade of San Antonio’s legendary breakfast taco haunt, Taco Haven—are carried in every Texan’s heart and stomach. They are as fundamental to the Lone Star State’s identity as Friday Night Lights, “Pancho & Lefty,” and Dr Pepper. This is true across our tortilla-based wonderland from Big Bend to the Piney Woods and South Texas to the Metroplex.

I’m not only referring to the fried envelopes whose broken shards litter much of our cultural landscape. No, I mean all the tacos: jaralillos de res, carne asada tacos smothered under a salty tarp of queso fundido at Tacos El Toro Bronco in El Paso; the ground beef-nestling airships that are Ray’s Drive Inn’s puffy tacos; the slivers of paprika-lacquered pork served across Oak Cliff; Brownsville’s many Sunday barbacoa huts; the big-city gals that love dressing up; the just-this-side-of-familiar menu at new regional restaurants; and, yes, breakfast tacos.

As part of the promotion for its 120 Tacos to Eat Before You Die issue, Texas Monthly is hosted an online reader poll to determine which Texas city has the best tacos. (Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to the editorial package, but the poll we’re addressing is all fan voting.) Ultimately, Austin won the top spot with 42 percent of the votes. The Rio Grande Valley scored a 25 percent, and Dallas, took third place with 15 percent.*

That the capital city is in first place doesn’t come as a surprise. Austin has an incredible PR machine fueled by its perceived coolness compared to other Texas cities. Austin has barbecue. Austin has SXSW. It has breakfast tacos. And, with the assistance of New York food writers who have visited Austin during a big festival or lived in the city for a spell, it’s fooled many into believing breakfast tacos are Austin-style. Let’s take as an example an article run last week by Eater Austin claiming Austin as the home of breakfast tacos. The piece by Matthew Sedacca came off as a rush job and evidence of an editorial disconnect. That same day, Eater LA published Meghan McCarron’s excellent profile of Los Angeles breakfast state mecca HomeState. In her piece, McCarron writes “Austin, Texas, is not the home of the breakfast taco, but it is the place where they became an iconic dish. … It took self-conscious, self-mythologizing Austin to turn them into a thing.” While Sedacca at least acknowledged that Texas breakfast tacos have origins across the state, he mentioned only one other city, Corpus Christi. That the city cited wasn’t San Antonio—where breakfast tacos and tacos in general are so ingrained in residents’ DNA that they’re taken for granted until Austin asserts its PR supremacy—ignited a firestorm and a tongue-in-cheek petition to have Sedacca exiled from the Lone Star State. I chuckled at the absurdity of it all. Allow me to explain why. Continue reading

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Habaneros — A Taco Revolution

Fuel up after filling up your car's gas tank.

Fuel up after filling up your car’s gas tank.

Tacos can be served from practically anywhere, one of the most popular spaces being the gas station. And why not? Customers can fill up their jalopy’s tank then stuff their own. These taco operations are busy throughout the day, but breakfast often calls for patience. Lines are common. That’s where Habaneros — The Taco Revolution in Arlington, Texas, comes in. I stopped at the gas station taqueria en route to Fort Worth. Just off the Ballpark Way exit on I-30, Habaneros takes up about half of the business with tables and booths and a salsa bar against a counter. Continue reading

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Filed under Arlington, breakfast tacos, DFW, Reviews, Tex-Mex, Texas

Taco Stop

Make time for Taco Stop.

Make time for Taco Stop.

There are taquerias I visit for years before writing about them. It’s not that the taquerias are played out or that I want to keep them to myself. Sometimes, when juggling a day job, a family and get-in-the-way adult stuff, I just want to eat at a place I know is good and don’t get around to completing a review. Taco Stop, a two-year-old walk-up joint in the Dallas Design District, has been one of those taquerias. But it’s more than good. Taco Stop is fantastic.

It’s been that way almost since the beginning. Weeks after its 2012 opening, a friend and I dropped into Taco Stop for breakfast and had our ordered bungled. It didn’t matter. An order of Taco Stop’s breakfast tacos are a great way to start the morning, especially if you’re going “all in.” This deluxe breakfast taco is equipped with bell peppers, onions and bacon or chorizo, giving you bites of sweet and salty. A follow-up visit did not disappointment. Continue reading

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La Fruta Feliz

Potato & egg, bacon & egg and barbacoa de chive tacos at La Fruta Feliz.

Potato & egg, bacon & egg and barbacoa de chivo tacos at La Fruta Feliz.

A friend and I were finishing errands in East Austin when I caught a glimpse of La Fruta Feliz in my peripheral vision, and without much prodding my friend turned his car around. In we went hungry for handmade tortillas, for what I heard were knockout tacos.

Being in the land of breakfast tacos, I ordered a potato and egg and chorizo and egg taco on flour tortillas with a taco de barbacoa de chivo (goat) on the house corn.

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Veracruz All Natural

Welcome to Veracruz All Natural.

Welcome to Veracruz All Natural.

After two foiled attempts, my excitement was high for the third try, the sure thing. I was finally going to enjoy what droves of Austinites laud as one of their greatest breakfast taco purveyors, Veracruz All Natural. The original location of the family operation of two trailers and a forthcoming brick-and-mortar sits adjacent to a party store and a barbecue trailer on Cesar Chavez Street, cordoned off by chain-link fencing. Within the confines of the fence, the ground is a mix of broken bottle glass and gravel on which plastic toddler playground equipment, a slide, a picnic table, sat. The rest of the seating was a re-purposed industrial wood spools shaded by straw umbrellas to give the place a coastal feel—the owners are from Veracruz, Mexico—and lawn furniture.

As soon as my large order with tortilla choices up to the cook’s discretion was ready, a friend and I drove five minutes—the maximum tacos will travel without being destroyed—back to his house in East Austin. That’s when the disappointment began. Continue reading

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Monterrey Cafe

MonterreyCafeTacos1

Monterrey Café was difficult to find on a rainy Sunday morning en route to Dallas from San Antonio. A friend’s Google Maps iPhone app pegged it on one side of I-35. My search had it on the opposite side. When we did find the restaurant, we what we found was a freestanding building with colorful murals on its exterior. One the façade, a matador toyed with a bull. A front window bore a scratched, sans serif font in pink declaring homemade flour and corn tortillas. While the south wall a man walked alongside an oxen-led cart. The parking lot was full. A welcoming, potentially great roadside shack, if ever there was one.

We entered into a busy dining room with another space to the left. Black slide letter signs with menu items hung above the tables in the front room where we sat. Everything was a little worn. The service was quick, attentive and in twists and turns in English and Spanish. And the breakfast tacos fresh, served on dusty, cushioned flour tortillas. Continue reading

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Where to Eat Tacos During Oak Cliff Film Festival 2014

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Everything is better with a taco, especially the young but formidable Oak Cliff Film Festival, which calls the Texas Theatre home. Within tortilla-flinging distance (and all over the neighborhood) of the historic movie house are scads of notable taquerias and restaurants. Once again, we offer our recommendations.

Los Torres Taqueria, 1322 W. Clarendon Dr., 214-946-3770
This mom-and-pop shop is something special. It’s the only Dallas restaurant specializing in Sinaloan-style meat preparations, and where you go when you want excellent tacos. The Torres family has never failed when it comes to serving northern Mexican dishes like cinnamon-spiked birria de chivo, luscious cabeza (a mix of beef cheek and tongue) and barbacoa roja estilo Sinaloa, which has pork and beef in every exquisite bite. True to the state of origin, order your tacos in handmade flour tortillas. But if you insist, at least request the handmade corn tortillas.

La Tacoqueta, 2324 W. Clarendon Dr., Ste. 100, 214-943-9991
On a strip of Clarendon dominated by auto shops and faded concrete, cheekily named La Tacoqueta is a sepia, wood and tile haven offering hit-the-spot tacos of carne asada, chicken and al pastor.Alas, there is no spit. The breakfast tacos come with handmade tortillas but others don’t. The service is always on point and the salsa is always fiery.

Fito’s Tacos de Trompo #2, 3113 W. Davis St.
This joint is hard to miss. Just look for the painting of Monterrey’s geographic landmark, the Serro de la Silla mountain, and the restaurant’s name is big red letters. Order the signature menu item, tacos de trompo—the northern Mexican cousin of tacos al pastor seasoned with paprika, not a chile, achiote and citrus adobo, and roasted on the vertical spit called, you guessed it, a trompo. But bring cash. Fito’s doesn’t accept plastic.

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Filed under breakfast tacos, Dallas, events, festivals, Oak Cliff, Uncategorized

La Tacopedia Author Alejandro Escalante Talks Breakfast Tacos

Alejandro Escalante at the North Texas Taco Festival/Alex Flores

There’s been a lot of talk about breakfast tacos lately. Much of it has focused on the people who prepare and sell Texans their favorite way to start day. The interviews amassed are crucial to the archives. We need the stories after those folks are passed. But what about the taco motherland and the breakfast taco analogs (tacos mañaneros) in Mexico? They exist, and not just in the sense that you can throw anything in a tortilla and call it a taco. Taken together, the work of culinary historians and taco experts Jeffrey M. Pilcher and Alejandro Escalante show that breakfast tacos were likely the first tacos. The word taco came into print and common usage in the 18th century with tacos mineros, named in favor of silver miners who subsisted on them and after the gunpowder-filled paper rolls (tacos) workers used to clear rock. (Of course, there are other theories.) With time, tacos mineros morphed into tacos de canasta, which today are regular morning noshes found on the streets of Mexico City. But they aren’t the only ones. In Michoacan, carnitas in freshly fried hard-shell tacos (tacos dorados) are a favorite breakfast food. In Jalisco, lamb tacos dorados are common.

Escalante, contributor to Mexican online food journal Animal Gourmet and author of the first comprehensive encyclopedia of the taco, La Tacopedia, took time to discuss Mexico’s other breakfast tacos. The interview that follows was conducted in Spanish and is presented translated into English.

Taco Trail: Tacos are eaten at all times of the day. In Mexico, tacos mañaneros, what we call breakfast tacos in the United States, include tacos de canasta. What are other tacos mañaneros, and what goes in them?

Alejandro Escalante: Tacos de canasta are the most common breakfast tacos in Mexico City. Tacos de guisados are perhaps equally popular in the capital now that they’re practically the national breakfast food: corn tortillas with one or two leftover guisados. They’re always accompanied with rice, beans, salsa and chiles…

Classic: chicharrón in a Green, red or mixed salsa; beef picadillo, rajas con crema; chorizo with potatoes, mole with shredded chicken, tinga, cochinita, bistek in salsa (pasilla, green, red, etc.), moronga [blood sausage], sausage, milanesa… Continue reading

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Filed under breakfast tacos, interviews, Lengua Sessions, Mexico City

Taco-Mex

TacoMexWindo

This is a hole in a wall. Really. Wedged between a laundromat, a hair salon and a convenience store, Taco-Mex is an orange color-framed walk-up taco window. From the menu at the right are available $1.75 vinegar-spiked cactus strips embroiled in scrambled eggs, refried beans speckled with whole pintos and a network of melted cheese, peppy chorizo and egg as well as migas minus the Scoville slap of jalapeños. The $2 barbaoca is a greasy cowhead-lovers dream and would make admirable hangover salve.

The bacon and egg and ham and egg breakfast tacos by comparison are standard fare for the varied clientele of university students, young adults who have pioneered gentrification of surrounding East Austin, locals tapping their feet to the rhythm of the washers and dryers next door, and the fashionable lot who prefer not to shop at in.gredients, the hip grocer across the street. Ratchet up their satisfaction with the creamy salsa verde, a lung-puncher of a condiment. Continue reading

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