Tales from Taco Town, TX
Austin, TX —— The unofficial City of Live Music is, like any funky young municipality worth its salt, also a hotbed of meritorious culinary options. This American barbecue hub also gave birth to everyone’s favourite pre-peeled, fruit-selling Whole Foods, and– perhaps most notably – breakfast tacos have carved a cult following.
But what is it about this deceptively simple dish that elicits such strong feelings from residents that they’re currently locked in a war with a fellow Texas city over whose are better?
“It’s our version of comfort food,” taco expert, Armando Rayo told me. “It’s something you wake up to, we grew up with it. Whether it was a bean and cheese [taco], or going out to a trailer; they’re available whether you wake up 7 a.m. or two in afternoon.”
As the co-author of “Austin Breakfast Tacos,” “Tacos of Texas,” and food blog, Taco Journalism, Rayo knows a thing or two about Austin’s unofficial dish. Primarily that they weren’t created here, like some claim.
“It’s not true!” he says. “People discount the history of where the food comes from – and because Austin’s trendy, people say they were created here.”
Instead, Rayo says the breakfast taco is a well-loved recipe passed down through families in Mexico, that was brought to Austin by families who’ve lived in the area for generations, and Mexicans who moved to the city.
Mexicans, like Reyna Vazquez, who moved to Austin and started Veracruz All Natural, a food truck specialising in tacos, including breakfast ones just like she and her co-owner sister would find in their hometown of Veracruz, Mexico.
“I believe that when I opened up my truck we were one of the first breakfast taco trucks," said Vazquez. "People eat breakfast tacos all day long, and they are good.”
If time of day may not be a qualifier of a breakfast taco, then what is? The only real answer I could find through my extensive field research was that a breakfast taco builds on two key ingredients: eggs, and cheese.
Vazquez is certainly doing something right, as her “Migas” (meaning “leftovers”) taco bested the city’s hundreds of iterations to land the food truck a spot on Food Network’s Top 5 Tacos in America. Poised to open the company’s first brick-and-mortar store in April, the Veracruz All Natural taco trucks and stands have become a staple of South and East Austin.
And being in the city, it would’ve been rude not to at least try one. I visited Vazquez’ truck stationed outside a hip coffee shop with beer on tap (shoutout to Austin’s lax alcohol consumption laws), and in the dimly lit, dark wooded environment, I was served my Migas taco, wrapped in a thin layer of foil, housed in a white paper bag.
It was hefty — bigger than the other breakfast tacos I’d tried in my week, and marginally more expensive, at $3.50, than other taco options on the menu. The shell was a homemade flour quilt for the blend of eggs, cheese, pico de gallo, and avocado, all vying for my tastebuds’ attention. But all those fresh, savoury ingredients were overshadowed by the piercing salty stab of the tortilla chips, scrambled in with the egg. The taco disappeared far too quickly for my stomach’s liking.
While the breakfast taco may have originated in Mexico, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been given a unique, Tex-Mex identity as chefs transform an essential bite into a creative culinary creation, popular with both hispanic and white residents.
“[The taco is] something that lends itself to interpretation, something cross cultural,” Ryan Meyer, Veracruz AllNatural’s media co-ordinator and Vazquez’ husband said. “The large Mexican and Hispanic culture here set up a foundation for the food, then the experimentation, and creativity with it has lead to it — along with barbecue — really being the staple food of Austin.”
And that staple has exploded in popularity, Rayo says. “It’s grown so fast with the explosion of the food trend,” he explained. “You can grab a breakfast taco in barbecue places, in American diners, at gas stations. You don’t have to go to Mexican restaurants or taco trucks. There are some Asian joints that serve breakfast tacos. You can get them anywhere!”
And speaking of Asian joints, while breakfast tacos may have embedded themselves as an Austin institution, Meyer reckons the next trendy dish to jump on before it goes mainstream may draw from the East, rather than the South.
“There’s another truck called ‘Chi’lantro’,” an Asian-fusion spot, Meyer explains. “One of the things they serve is a kimchi french fry. I think it’s genius and I think it’s delicious.”