Fresh tortillas, fluffy huevos con bacon and spicy salsa—good morning, Austin. Or good afternoon, evening, night—whenever. From taco tailgates to taquerias, there is a taco for every occasion and persuasion. Some say that it was born in the days of cowboys and vaqueros, and others say it was a creation of the Tex-Mex culture, but one thing is certain: The breakfast taco has taken over the Capital City. From South Congress to North Austin, neon and chalkboard signs tempt hungry passersby with their best morning-time handheld bites. With over forty breakfast taco recipes, Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece investigate (and masticate) the history, culture, and traditions of that indelible and delectable Austin treat: the breakfast taco.
“Casual, fun, and approachable . . . I’m betting Austin Breakfast Tacos becomes one of Austin’s favorite culinary mementos during the coming year.” —The Austin Chronicle
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THE BREAKFAST TACO CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
AUSTIN'S LOVE OF THE BREAKFAST TACO
Austin: the Breakfast Taco Capital of the World? Hell yeah it is! And why not? The people of Austin love their breakfast tacos; they love them in the morning, for lunch, when they're hungover, at midnight, on the streets and in abuelita's cocina! Wherever you go in Austin, you'll find taqueros creating a plethora of the breakfast creations that are part of the culture of Austin. We've got so many people making breakfast tacos that people were going crazy when they heard of the bacon shortage of 2012. Not only do we have traditional taqueros making them, but we also have pit masters, restaurateurs and all kinds of taco-making cooks hookin' up breakfast tacos for the people of Austin. Last time I checked, we had over 370 places in Austin that serve breakfast tacos. Shoot, as I'm writing and enjoying a cafecito at Bennu Coffee, I might just get one right now. Yeah, that's also a big thing in Austin. Coffee shop tacos.
Why do we love the breakfast taco? I think it's a mix of things. We love the simplicity of the breakfast taco, the options, the comfort it gives us in our bellies and, of course, los huevos. Gotta have eggs for breakfast, right? But not necessarily in the morning. You can have breakfast tacos at almost any time of the day, and for a lot of Austinites, after a long night working, at a show or just going out, they really hit the spot, whether you wake up at 8:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m. or even 6:00 p.m.
LA CULTURA DE AUSTIN
When in Austin, do as Austinites do. Eat barbecue, listen to live music, hang out in the East Austin bar scene (yeah, just ask los hipsters) and eat lots of breakfast tacos. La cultura de Austin is to do just that, and there are many reasons why Austinites are avid taco fans. Yes, we're a university town; we do have our share of college tacos, and students eat them up because they're cheap, quick and easy to handle. The affordability factor is a big one. You can still get breakfast tacos for one to two dollars in the east side, and that meal can get you through lunchtime. We're also an open people — or, as we say, we like to "Keep Austin Weird." (Yes, I'm going there because it's true!) I like to think that Austin has an openness to it. We're somewhat of a metropolitan city (at least we're getting there), and most cities like Austin are more open to new experiences, new cultures and new people. We aren't afraid of trying new things. That's pretty good for Texas, right? Our willingness to try new things is one of the reasons we love the breakfast taco. Being close to the border helps, too. Whether it's taco trailers or brick-and-mortar restaurants, we've experienced the influence of Mexican and Latino immigrants, Tejanos, Mexican-Americans and Chicanos in the city. And what do we do? We accept their (and my) taco ways with open arms! And for that, I thank you, Austin.
Es un fusion of the old and the new, rooted in Mexican tradition but evolving in Austin and beyond and forming a new food experience and culture that are unique to our little town. And why not? We can have the traditional Mexican from Veracruz All Natural to Tex-Mex at Joe's Bakery and try new ways of eating and making tacos with Tacodeli and Torchy's. All this mixing is part of the Austin way of life. We love our food, and that's a space where we don't really have any boundaries — nomas hazle Google a todos los trailers in Austin!
Austin: puros foodies aquí. Seriously, with over two hundred food bloggers in town and the chef-run food trailers popping up almost every weekend, Austin has become quite the food scene. From Paul Qui's Eastside King to Tacodeli's organic breakfast taco options, we're experiencing the evolution of food service out of trailers and coffee shops. But let's not forget where this all got started. We have to thank Mexicans and Mexican-Americans from as far back as 1919, when they set up chili stands in downtown Austin, and the taco trailer influx of the 1990s. Yeah, remember that? Those were the days!
Part Mexican, part American and 100 percent Tejano, breakfast tacos are a unique food that can only be found in Texas, and we love to tell the world about them. Just like with pizza in New York, hot dogs in Chicago, cabrito in the Rio Grande Valley, puffy tacos in San Antonio, Chico's Tacos in El Paso and Dallas's Gas Station Tacos, it is the people's love of the food that makes them and their cities popular. Now, the breakfast taco may not have originated in Austin, but it's the love affair that Austinites have with the handheld food that makes it so popular. People of Austin love it so much that they're broadcasting it to the world, and now anyone visiting Austin — from New Yorkers to TV show celebs to Californios — have to have breakfast tacos. It's the many breakfast taco options and plethora of people who love them that really make Austin the Breakfast Taco Capital of the World.
HISTORY OF THE BREAKFAST TACO IN AUSTIN
It all started with Old Mexican town — what is now Republic Square Park at Guadalupe and Fifth Streets. That's where the first Mexicans lived — right in downtown Austin. Before condos and the east side, families who emigrated from Mexico settled in Austin in the 1870s. A handful of immigrants came here for a better life and worked as soda jerks, ranch hands and workers in tortilla and chili factories. Those were the early days of Mexican life in Austin.
In the 1890s and early 1900s, the development of Mexican-owned businesses — a meat market (Ben Garza), a doctor's office (Alberto Garcia), the first tortilla factory (Crescenciano Segovia; Austin Tortilla Manufacturing Company, 1922) in Austin and the predecessor to the taco trailers — sprouted up in the form of tamale and chili stands. In an Austin American-Statesman article from the 1950s, writer Hamilton Wright professed, "Back in 1893 on the courthouse square one had no trouble finding a Mexican vendor." And so began the influence of Mexican culture into what we now know of taco trailers, Mexican and Tex- Mex food and cuisine.
During the Depression and into the 1930s and '40s, Austin experienced the emergence of Mexican restaurants by the Carlin family (Jose Trujillo Carlin and Elvira Hernandez), including El Charro Restaurant (Red River and Ninth Street) and El Charro #2 (on Speedway by the University of Texas) and La Tapatia. During a time when the Mexican community was establishing itself, the 1928 City Plan for Austin relocated Mexicans to the east side of town to segregate minority communities. Mexicans and Latinos have a culture of being entrepreneurial, and soon more restaurants were established, including El Mat, "home of the crispy taco" (1947); El Matamoros Restaurant (1957); and Matt's El Rancho (1952). Local east side favorites like Joe's Bakery (1962), El Azteca (1963) and Cisco's Restaurant Bakery (1959) settled in East Austin and are still open today.
The basic formula of these restaurants was to serve their customers food just like they would make at home, but there was still no sign of breakfast tacos like we have today.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, the United States experienced exponential growth in immigration. Austin was no exception. With increased community members from Mexico and Central and South America, and mixed with multigenerational Tejanos, Austin's food scene started to boom. It was in the early 1980s when the commercialization of breakfast tacos began with the Tamale House on Airport Road, Las Manitas on Congress and other established restaurants. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Austin experienced a growth of small Latino-owned businesses in the form of taco trucks and trailers. Soon thereafter, chefs and other entrepreneurs followed suit, and today Austin is a mecca for food trailers.
In sharing the history of the breakfast taco, I interviewed people I call Los Elders, restaurateurs and Austinites who have longer histories than what's in libraries and articles. These are some of their stories.
DIANA VALERA, TAMALE HOUSE EAST
A LITTLE HISTORY
Let me go back a bit. Our grandfather came from Mexico. He established Tony's Tortilla Factory right on Seventh and Lydia. My mother managed the business for many, many years.
I guess I was born with a taco in my mouth because we had them from day one. There were always hot tortillas on the table. We would love to put butter and salt and eat tacos just as they were being made. So we had tacos very early on, and we would eat mainly beans, rice and fideo. We didn't have a lot of meat, and the only meat we would eat was hamburger meat once in a while.
I guess I was about thirteen years old when my parents opened the Tamale House on First and Congress, and it was the new concept of Mexican food to go. My mother and father made the tamales by hand and sold them for about fifty cents a dozen. This was in 1959. After they opened that one, they opened one on South Lamar. I was about fifteen, and I managed that second location for awhile. My brother Robert opened his place up in 1977. I have a sister that opened one on Guadalupe. It's not operating now. I was the first one who went into the sit-down/full-service restaurant business. It's a lot of work, and that was in 1984. I called it Mexico Tipico. I operated that until 2000, when I went into real estate. Now I have been drawn back into this by my children, who decided that they wanted to try their hand at it. As a result, my five children are running Tamale House East. It's based on the concept of the original Tamale House, my brother's Tamale House and Mexico Tipico all wrapped into one. So it varies a little bit. It has a little Latin American influence sometimes. But it's all the original good food taught to us by my mother.
I was born in 1948. Robert is eight years older than me, so I think that the time when that happened, Mexican food wasn't really popular food like it is now. Also, this area was separated not only by the physical barrier of I-35 but also a mental barrier. The Hispanic community was more or less on the east side, and there were a lot of family-owned businesses, tortilla factories and panaderias. And as is customary in Hispanic culture, we are usually above our business or behind our business. We lived, breathed and ate our business. In that similar mode, we live above this business. We always have.
ON THE BREAKFAST TACO
It's like a mini home-cooked meal in a tortilla. It takes a lot of effort and love to put the ingredients that go into it. It's not like flipping burgers. The more ingredients it has, the more care and love it has. But I think in addition to that is the evolution of the appreciation of our culture. And part of a culture is their food, their music, their language. There have been a lot of people who have traveled to Austin and discovered what wonderful tacos we have and have written about it and done stories about it. For the longest time, our own community didn't know what a gem they had, which was our whole culture and our food. Mexican food is so varied. Every taco is a little piece of art. I get into the kitchen, and a customer might ask me how much are you going to put of that ingredient? And I say, well, put on some music and lemme see. That's how I personally do it. I'll remember recipes from my mother or that I've seen elsewhere. It's a creative endeavor. When someone comes in, they can tell that. They can look at a taco, the greens, the reds. It's colorful like a Mexican flag or a Mexican costume. When people visually see the presentation of the taco, they get excited, and when they put it in their mouth, they say, "Wow, I've discovered something." And every time someone tries it, I can tell people enjoy it. It's a very rewarding experience to make someone happy. It's a very basic instinct in all of us that if you satisfy someone's hunger or a craving for delicious food, you make them happy. And they want to come back. And they want to share that with their friends.
I just want to add that I think it is wonderful that we are finally being recognized as a culture and that we are able to share this wonderful food, and these wonderful tacos, with so many people from Austin and from outside Austin and outside the country.
ROBERT VASQUEZ, TAMALE HOUSE (AIRPORT BOULEVARD)
BREAKFAST TACOS TAKE OFF
I don't think anyone was selling breakfast tacos when I opened up. I think I was in business for five or six years before I actually started selling breakfast tacos. It means you gotta get up at four o'clock in the morning to make a breakfast taco. When I started in 1985–86, I started selling them. A neighbor down the street was selling them, too. So I started a taco war. My tacos went down to forty-five cents each. So he went out of business, and I kept going. About that time, my mother and my sister started selling breakfast tacos, too. Now, if you look around, everybody's selling breakfast tacos. Everybody. McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell. They never used to do it before. It's something that's caught on ... I make all my stuff in-house. We don't have anything imported. It's all made right here in our kitchens. The only thing we buy are the tortillas, but they're local.
EATING TACOS, THEN AND NOW
You wanna know what it was like as a kid eating tacos? If I took tacos to school, everyone would say shame on you. There was a lot of shame eating a taco back then. You had to hide them. You couldn't eat them in front of nobody. And this was among a school that was 80 to 90 percent Anglo and very few Mexicans. So I had to hide my food. But now, 80 to 90 percent of Anglos eat tacos! I would say 80 to 90 percent of my customers are Anglo. And they eat tacos like they've never had anything before in their life! So things have changed. I think to myself, I remember a time when I would get made fun of. And now everybody's eating tacos. It's not just Mexicans anymore.
GLENN MARTIN ROSALES, EL CHARRO
FIRST SUCCESSFUL MEXICAN FAMILY IN AUSTIN
My name is Glenn Martin Rosales. I was born in San Benito in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in 1954, and I lived there until 1972, when I moved here to Austin. This is my mother's hometown. And her mother's, Elvira Hernandez, hometown. Born here in what was then known as Mexican Town in West Austin. My grandmother grew up working in other people's homes. In the homes of the more affluent that had workers come and clean and iron.
My grandfather came when he was sixteen years old. He was born in San Diego de Alejandria, Jalisco, Mexico. His first job was as a soda jerk. He met my grandmother, Elvira Hernandez. They got together, and they started a restaurant in the 1930s called El Charro on Red River and Ninth. Today, it's called Mohawk. They started another El Charro #2 over by speedway, near UT.
They started another restaurant called La Tapatia. A very famous restaurant. I remember coming to visit in the '60s, and people were lined up down the street because it was a very good restaurant. My grandmother and my grandfather also owned cafés, other bars — about seven other businesses. They were well-to-do at that time for Hispanos, Mexicanos. And they would entertain at their home; they would serve the same food they served at the restaurants at their parties.
At that time, the men were the ones in charge. They were the businesspeople. My mom was busy raising children, as well as working at the restaurant. In 1949, my grandfather died at the age of thirty-eight. My grandmother had five small children, and she had all these businesses. She couldn't run the family and the businesses, so she started selling the businesses. So soon after, she started selling the restaurants.
PAULINE AVILA, JOE'S BAKERY AND RESTAURANT
I was born on a farm right off of Manchaca Road here in Austin. I've been here all my life. We moved from the country off Manchaca to the city in 1945. I was born in 1938; I'm seventy-five years old. My dad died in 1946, so we were brought up by my mom. I started to work when I was ten years old picking cotton, and my mom would take all ten brothers and sisters out to the fields to work. I met Joe and married him when I was seventeen. Joe's dad was ill, and his mom turned the bakery over to him. So we got started around 1962. And that's when we started the bakery on Seventh Street. We had our first bakery right where the Short Stop is now.
Tacos were the standard food for Mexican people. I remember making the tacos and taking them to lunch, and we would take them to my dad and my brothers working in the field. And we would take tacos to school since they didn't have any money to give us for lunch. But we had to hide them so the other kids wouldn't laugh at us. It was only a nickel for the lunch, but my mom didn't even have that. A lot of the kids who didn't have enough money to buy lunch would also have tacos, and we would eat them behind the burning alley where they would burn the trash. Now everybody eats tacos. Back then, there was a lot of discrimination against Mexican people. When Joe went to a restaurant, they would have a sign that this section is for white and the other section was black and Mexican people. I'd say maybe even in the '60s you would start to see white people/black people eating tortillas. The breakfast tacos, bean and egg, chorizo — all those were popular even in the '60s.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Austin Breakfast Tacos"
Copyright © 2013 Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
And Now a Breakfast Taco Service Announcement,
PART I: AUSTIN, TEXAS: THE BREAKFAST TACO CAPITAL OF THE WORLD,
Austin's Love of the Breakfast Taco,
History of the Breakfast Taco in Austin,
Breaking Tortillas—Cowboys and Vaqueros,
PART II: BREAKFAST TACO 101,
The Tortilla, Also Known as La Tortilla,
Tools of the Taco,
Breakfast Taco Ingredients,
PART III: AUSTINITES LOVE BREAKFAST TACOS,
People and Recipes,
PART IV: AUSTIN'S BEST BREAKFAST TACOS,
Breakfast Taco Map,
Restaurants and Recipes,
Photo Captions and Credits,
About the Authors,
About the Photographers,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Love it! So many great recipes and I loved reading about the history of all the places I eat tacos.