Photo: poopoorama, Flickr.
Tacos are as synonymous with Austin, Texas, as the South by Southwest Festival. The breakfast taco, the energizing early rising big brother, is to Austin what the bagel is to New York. A breakfast taco is required eating in Austin, available at regional fast-food chains and mom-and-pop shops to mini-empires and trailers. They are Austinites' go-to, on-the-fly morning meal.
Just don't confuse them with breakfast burritos, those bursting-at-the-seams paramours of Californians. They might have similar components, but breakfast burritos are all-in-one leviathans of a tortilla envelope found only in a few Austin restaurants. They are clearly in the minority.
A breakfast taco can include bacon, egg, cheese, potato, refried beans, chorizo, barbacoa and migas, all hugged by a flour tortilla. Of the myriad amalgams, bacon, egg and cheese as well as chorizo and egg are big crowd-pleasers. Migas tacos, fried corn tortilla strips with eggs, chiles, tomatoes and cheese, are also much adored. But eggs aren't sacrosanct. "Our biggest breakfast seller, the Otto, doesn't have eggs in it," says Roberto Espinosa, owner of Tacodeli. It's made with refried black beans, bacon, avocado and Monterey Jack.
The allure of breakfast tacos is simplicity. "Austinites gravitate toward the simple. The attractiveness of breakfast tacos involves the cheap protein and portability," says Espinosa. "You can grab one, get in a car and go."
Mando Rayo of Taco Journalism believes it's rooted in cultural mingling and pride. "People and food are regional. Texas has a long history and relationship with Mexico. Because of that, we have had tacos and somehow, maybe in a Texas breakfast, a cowboy or ranchero added eggs to the taco. Hence, the breakfast taco. New Mexico has hatch chiles [and] red and green enchiladas, and California has burritos. There must be a relationship with people and the food that is grown there."
Another reason for the popularity of breakfast tacos is their affordability -- usually less than two dollars. Tamale House has such gems. Although tamales aren't on the menu, the restaurant does serve delicious, straight-forward 85-cent tacos. Try the hardy chorizo and egg or potato and bacon.
San Juanita is a stripped-down, family-owned South Austin restaurant where the monster chorizo and cheese is enough. Kicking and stuffed with dripping vermillion-colored juice, the spongy flour tortilla prevents the contents from being jettisoned.
Juan in a Million, a nationally recognized institution, has lines out the door, and the $3.60 Don Juan breakfast taco has much to do with it. The gargantuan taco comprises "a secret combination" of potato, egg, bacon and cheese. The majority of the other tacos can be had for under two dollars.
Seldom seen outside of Texas, the breakfast taco is a staple esteemed as highly as BBQ in the Lone Star State. As much as tacos have gained popularity in the Big Apple, you'll find nary a breakfast taco there. They are treasures. Those who haven't had the pleasure of eating a breakfast taco are impoverished because, as Rayo so succinctly puts it, "It warms up your heart and your belly."
What is your favorite breakfast taco spot? Tell us in the comments.