Exploring Austin’s Taco Scene: Paying Tribute To Regions All Over Mexico and Texas
Austin chefs are celebrating the culinary delights of Mexico's diverse cuisine, proving not all tacos are created equal
Austin’s taco scene is serious business. What makes the capital city’s most popular food group is the diversity of flavor, ingredients, and influence. Austin’s best taco spots pay homage to the unique traditions of the specific regions of the country including Texas’s Rio Grand Valley, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Baja and beyond. Consider this your taco geography lesson.
Rio Grande Valley: Con Todo
Must Order Taco: Bistec estilo Matamoros
Joseph Gomez brings the Rio Grande Valley to Austin at his bright pink food truck Con Todo parked at Celis Brewery. Tacos come “con todo,” or with everything, including cilantro, onions and salsa. Order the bistec estilo Matamoros (beef topped with onion, cilantro, guacamole and queso fresco), which although named for Brownsville’s across-the-border neighbor, has roots in the Lone Star State where it’s typically served with avocado instead.
El Paso: El Perrito ATX
Must Order Taco: ELP
Ivan Enriquez is serving El Paso’s iconic rolled tacos — also known as taquitos ahogados, which come drowned in a tomato-chile sauce and covered with a generous helping of cheddar cheese and a smattering of salsa verde — out of his food truck in South Austin.
Mexico City: Cuantos Tacos
Must Order Taco: Suadero
The Mexico City-style tacos at Cuantos are diminutive in size but not in flavor. Thankfully their dainty stature makes it easy to consume a whole plateful and not feel overly stuffed. Nestled into the Arbor Food Park, this food truck is dishing up traditional tacos of suadero, lengua, longaniza, buche, champiñones and so much more on top of Nixtamal corn tortillas. Grab at least three tacos — don’t skip the suadero, a thinly cut beef.
South Texas: Vaquero Taquero
Must Order Taco: Al Pastor
This taqueria may serve some of the best breakfast tacos in town, but it’s equally as well known for its succulent al pastor pork made on the trompo (vertical roasting spit). Daniel and Miguel Cobbs, two brothers who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and Monterrey, Mexico, are serving their South Texas flavors at two locations: downtown and near the UT Austin campus.
Northern Mexico: Discada
Must Order Taco: Discada
If you are going to do one thing, do it well. Discada takes this notion to heart by offering a solitary type of taco hailing from Northern Mexico. Decide on orders of three, five or eight of the pork-and-beef tacos cooked on a discada — traditionally a round plow blade used as griddle, also known as a cowboy wok.
Guadalajara: Sabor Tapatio
Must Order Taco: Barbacoa Taco
“Tapatio” means “someone or something from Guadalajara,” which is the state capital of Jalisco in Mexico. So, needless to say, you’re getting a taste of Guadalajara with this South Congress trailer’s dishes, especially their barbacoa tacos. The lightly fried corn tortillas are filled with barbacoa and served with cilantro, onion and guacamole sauce, and served with a dipping consommé.
Oaxaca: El Naranjo
Must Order Taco: Cochinita Pibil
El Naranjo’s James Beard Award-winning Chef Iliana de la Vega draws on inspiration from her former internationally acclaimed restaurant in Oaxaca while also drawing upon the rich traditions throughout Mexico. Nowhere is this better apparent than her heirloom corn tortillas, which are the perfect vessels for decadent moles and comforting cochinita pibil.
Must Order Taco: Fish Taco
Landlocked Austin may not be known for its fish tacos, but that hopefully will be changing soon if mother-daughter Baja California natives Liz Everett and Stephanie Everett Martin have anything to do with it. At Ensenada, order crispy fried fish or shrimp tacos, both which come covered in pico de gallo and cabbage. Don’t skip the salsa macha condiment!
West Texas: Texsueño
Must Order Taco: Crispy Beef Taco
Recently relocated from East Sixth Street to Fierce Whiskers Distillery, this food truck is the brainchild of West Texas native Brandon Martin, who freshly fries nixtamalized corn tortillas and lovingly stuffs them with ground beef, chopped lettuce, cheese and onions. It’s nostalgia in a perfect bite.
Michoacán: Carnitas El Güero
Must Order Taco: Carnitas
Pro tip: If it’s in the name, you should probably order it. The traditional carnitas michoacanas from Gustavo Reyes are so popular that “El Güero” now has five Austin-area locations (plus one each in San Antonio and Mexico City). Pork carnitas (made from multiple cuts) are slowly cooked in lard in a cazo, a gigantic pot in the middle of the kitchen, similar to French-style confit cooking. Even better: The Lamar Boulevard hotspot allows you to get your carnitas taco fix until 2 a.m.
Central Texas: Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
Must Order Taco: Real Deal Holyfield
The Central Texas spirit of barbecue co-mingles with Mexican-American flavors at this South Austin joint from Miguel Vidal. While the menu is split up into “Tex” and “Mex,” as well as offers smoked meats by the pound, the absolute star of the show is the breakfast taco Real Deal Holyfield, which is only offered until 11 a.m. This beauty is served on a flour tortilla with a fried egg, refried beans, bacon and your choice of beef fajita, pulled pork, or, our favorite smoked brisket.