A 2016 Guide to Breakfast Tacos in Austin

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Breakfast tacos are a touchy subject around these parts. Mention that Tacodeli is your favorite spot in town in the wrong crowd and you risk getting punched in the face. For the rigidly authentic set, real  breakfast tacos are served up on homemade griddled flour tortillas, they’re huge, they’re cheap, and they’re probably not from Austin. The big names in breakfast tacos around town- Torchy’s, Tacodeli, Maria’s Taco Xpress, Mi Madre’s, Juan in a Million- none of them meet this criteria. I, myself, am not rigidly authentic. I think there are pros and cons to all of these places. Some places nail the tortilla and then stuff the things with sub-par fillings. Other places have amazing fillings, or salsas, or ambience, and are worth trying in spite of their weak points. A few, a precious few, get everything right.

I spent the past month eating tacos from 13 places around town. This included the big chains that are bemoaned by the traditionalists on yelp, little food trucks on the east side, tacos from a tortilleria, breakfast tacos that maybe aren’t fair to call breakfast tacos, and ones that are perfect in every way except they’re in Buda, so maybe also don’t count.

I ordered my tacos on flour tortillas, unless I knew the corn ones were recommended/homemade/the only option. I ordered a chorizo and egg taco at every place to have a control taco that would allow me to directly compare one place to another. I live in South Austin and you’ll notice that I mostly stuck to the southside for this review. Scroll to the bottom of this post for links to additional breakfast taco readings that cast a wider net.

So here we go. In alphabetical order, because it’s the easiest order.

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Casa Alde
108 N. Main Street, Buda, TX 78610
Breakfast tacos served all day | Prices Start at $1.75

I’m starting off my guide to the best breakfast tacos in Austin with a restaurant that’s not in Austin. But it’s close, you guys, really close. And it’s my favorite. I grew up in Buda, and we ate these tacos as often as we could scrape $2 together. An enterprising Hays High classmate used to show up to first period government class with a sackful and auction them off to the highest bidder. They’ve got the nostalgia thing going for them, but even if your knowledge of Buda is limited to Cabela’s and a vague association with wiener dogs (it’s a thing), you should make the trek down to try these tacos. The tortillas are big and floury, handmade every day, and the fillings are perfect. The migas taco features tons of thick hand-fried tortilla chips, folded with fluffy scrambled eggs and topped with a heavy pour of queso. Potatoes are hash brown-like, sausage is crumbled Jimmy Dean, and bacon is left whole and crispy. They’re famous for The Fattie, a monster of a taco that delivers you potato, egg, bacon, sausage, and cheese in that perfect tortilla for $2.90. The chorizo could go toe-to-toe with any version in Austin, and they make a fantastic barbacoa. One taco is just about enough to fill you up. Two might put you face down on the couch for a while, a gut packed with taco and a greasy smile on your lips.

Highlights: huge tacos, homemade thick and chewy flour tortillas, migas with crunchy hand-fried tortilla chips, the fattie, barbacoa, low prices

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El Tacorrido
2316 South 1st St, Austin, TX 78704
Breakfast tacos served all day | Prices start at $2.00

I drove right past the speaker where you’re supposed to order and pulled up to the first window like a jackass. The lady inside was cool about it though. They got my order just right, and it was super fast, and the food smelled insanely good on the drive home. And then we ate, and I was sort of disappointed. The potatoes in a potato/bacon/cheese/bean taco were desperately undercooked and unpleasantly crunchy, and the beans really needed salt. The tacos with egg had an odd sort of sweetness to them. The chorizo was not spicy, nor was it very flavorful, and the same went for the barbacoa, which tasted mostly of the onions and cilantro it was topped with. I got a carne guisada taco too, and I shouldn’t even mention it because it’s not a breakfast-y taco, but it was amazing! Fiery, flavorful, with tender chopped beef and correctly-cooked potatoes. The salsas too were glorious and if you like coffee you can get a cool horchata+espresso drink called El Equinox. A friend I trust swears by that bacon/potato/bean/cheese taco, so I think I might have just hit them on an off day. Still, I think I’d rather try more of their non-breakfast tacos, and I’ll definitely go back for another carne guisada.

Highlights: carne guisada, salsas, authentic offerings, fast service, cool drinks

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Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon
915 North Lamar, Austin, TX 78703
Breakfast tacos served till 11 on weekdays, noon on weekends | Prices start at $2.60

This bright, modern building with a giant neon chicken looks like it would be right at home in the Hamptons. At least as far as I understand them from watching the Barefoot Contessa. It’s beachy. It’s adorable. It looks like it’s for rich people. I mean, look at those stickers, you guys! These are breakfast tacos sold to you by friendly bearded hipsters and stamped with labels designed by someone who went to RISD or Parsons or somewhere. Does the inauthenticity make your blood boil? Does looking at those cheerful stickers make you feel stabby?  I think the whole thing is adorable. There was no one in line at the drive thru at 11 on a Saturday, everyone was really nice, and the tacos were pretty damn good. They make their own tortillas, but you probably won’t notice, except maybe to be momentarily saddened that they’re a bit smaller than the norm. The steak and egg taco, The Margie, was the big hit, with generous chunks of fatty smoky brisket folded into fluffy eggs from pedigreed chickens and rajas that were obviously in there but somehow flavorless. The chorizo and egg was simple and good. The migas has a uniform consistency and features soggy chips, but has a comforting casserole kind of vibe and great flavor. The Flaco was lame. The beans were underseasoned, the potatoes were dried out, and the corn tortilla fell apart. The most pronounced flavor was from the shredded cabbage- let’s all take a moment to be sad about that. But just skip that taco (unless you’re a vegan! then, yay, cabbage!) and enjoy your fancy tiny breakfast.

Highlights: steak and egg taco, well-executed traditional breakfast tacos, a lovely place to eat, friendly staff, speedy drive thru, fancy stickers

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Juan In A Million
2300 E. Cesar Chavez St., Austin, TX 78701
Breakfast tacos served all day | Prices start at $2.39

My kids were visibly shocked to be greeted so boisterously by the man himself, Juan Meza, upon walking into this restaurant, but I loved it. No one ever cheers when I walk into the room with my two sweaty toddlers, so it was a rare treat. The waitresses wear black and white uniforms and the place feels timeless. I knew I wanted to get the big taco, the Don Juan, for science, and I had to get the chorizo and egg, also for science. The waitress didn’t bat an eyelid at my bold order, and instead asked simply, “How many extra tortillas?” “Uh, I don’t know? How many do people normally get?,” I asked. She said “Two?” and put in our order. People must stuff the shit out of those tacos because all told, it was enough filling for six tacos. I took the leftovers home and my husband and I ate them for dinner, which sounds Dickensian, one taco for three meals, but actually felt princely. The tacos are great. The tortillas are griddled, which makes all the difference in the world to me in improving a mass-produced tortilla. The Don Juan tastes of bacon, all the bacon, so much bacon, which suited me just fine. The chorizo and egg was awesome. Really nicely greasy, simply spiced, and plentiful. This is a good spot.

Highlights: the Don Juan (big enough to feed two people for $5.40), nice chorizo, old-school setting, self-esteem-boosting greeting

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Maria’s Taco Xpress
2529 South Lamar Boulevard, Austin, TX 78704
Breakfast tacos served all day | Prices start at $1.80

Maria’s was the happening place when I was in high school, at least as far as we knew from ‘happening’ in the doldrums of Hays county, but no one seems to talk about it anymore. Or maybe I’m just moving in the wrong circles. It’s fun! It’s dark inside, like you’re eating in a bar, because I guess you are? There’s a huge dark wooden counter where you order, old velvet-y sofas to lounge on while you wait, and some tables in the sunshine along a windowed wall. The walls and ceiling have that eclectic look chains like Applebees and Chili’s go for, unsuccessfully: a bunch of random crap covering every square inch. In Maria’s, it works. It feels like you’re in the pages of an I Spy book.. The tacos are okay! They came out absolutely molten hot. The migas is of the omelet-y variety with a scattering of chips thrown in to make the thing technically qualify as migas, but which offer little in the way of flavor or texture. The cheese, do note the cheese!, was mesmerizing. As I ate the taco, a blob of the stuff oozed its way past the edge of the tortilla and slowly, ever so slowly, like the great pitch drop experiment, made its way to the paper boat below. It’s a lot of cheese, is all I’m saying. This taco is listed on the website as Rachael Ray’s favorite, which surprised me. Is she still a thing? I’m out of the loop, but thought for sure that her overworked voice would have rasped its last TV show rasp by now. The bacon/egg/cheese was solid. Nice crispy bacon, a more restrained amount of cheese. The chorizo was also good. It had gotten well-crisped on the griddle and was dark in places and tasted predominantly of clove. Which was interesting. Or maybe my palette is complete shit and there’s no clove in there at all. In which case, it tasted predominantly of something. Still, we had fun here. It looks like they do cool stuff on the patio and I want to go back.

Highlights: crispy bacon, copious cheese, fun atmosphere, Rachael Ray’s seal of approval

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Mi Madre’s
2201 Manor Road, Austin, TX 78722
Breakfast tacos served all day | Prices start at $2.75

Find a seat on the vibrant, shady patio. Chat with your lovely waitress, who is so good at her job that she feels like an old friend. Bite into a warm, light-as-air tortilla chip and feel it shatter in your mouth, millions of salty shards dancing across your tongue. Dip the next one into the perfect homemade salsa. Taste your breakfast taco, a house made machacado, eggs, and pico de gallo, and say, “meh.” I love this place, but I don’t think their breakfast tacos are anything special. They’re a fine vehicle for that salsa, or a fine thing to fill you up in between bites of those delicious chips, but on their own, they’re sort of dry and flavorless. Their website says that they’ve got Austin’s best breakfast tacos, as voted by the Austin Chronicle, but the only mention of that after some cursory googling was an award from 1996. I’m not saying all this to convince you not to go here. You should go here. It’s fun and the chips, you guys! Just don’t pin any hopes on having a life-changing breakfast taco experience. In fact, skip the tacos all together and get the New Mexico breakfast plate. You still get the chips and you’ll probably get to spend more time on that sweet patio.

Highlights: chips, salsa, patio, waitstaff, breakfast plates

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Papalote
2803 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704
Breakfast tacos served all day | Prices start at $1.99

Papalote is one of my favorite non-breakfast taco spots. Guajolote en Mole, Puerco in Pipian, cauliflower cake tacos, a tinga de res topped with plantains. Plantains! The breakfast tacos offer some off-the-beaten-path options too: chicharon, calabaza, FRANKS. There are no preset tacos on the menu, everything is customized to your preferences. Eggs are fluffy, cheese is real, and the chorizo is one of the few in Austin that has a vinegar tang, which I want and need in my chorizo. The potatoes are big and chunky and undercooked. The sausage is cut up links, which I find far inferior to the crumbled stuff. Tortillas are mass-produced and not griddled, near as I can tell. There are great tacos to be had here, for breakfast or later, but it might take some experimenting before you settle on your favorite combination.

Highlights: chorizo, fluffy eggs, salsas, unusual ingredient options, absolute power in designing your own taco, brilliant non-breakfast tacos, aguas frescas

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Tacodeli
1500 Spyglass Dr, Austin, TX 78746
Breakfast tacos served till 11 AM M-F, all day on weekends | Prices start at $1.95

 

The first time I had Tacodeli breakfast tacos was at the farmers’ market stand at Sunset Valley. I ordered a beans, papas, and cheese and was totally and completely weirded-out by having gummy mashed potatoes instead of the standard griddled chunks. But you know what? It grew on me. It got to the point where I craved that weird soft squishy taco with it’s pasty potatoes and beans. And the salsas are honestly wonderful. Each one a shining example of its class. Everything’s soft at Tacodeli. The tortillas aren’t griddled- they’re warm and pliable with a waxy sheen. The eggs are light and fluffy. The beans, potatoes, even the chips in the migas- everything could be enjoyed just as much by a toothless individual. There is not a lot of textural variation. Even so, the chorizo taco I ate there might have been my favorite of all the dozen-plus-one places I tried this month. It’s scooped on top of your soft pile of eggs with an ice cream scoop, and is so saucy and moist it felt a little like eating a sloppy joe. It’s got way more acid than other versions around  town, vinegary, and it has a warm lingering heat that you don’t get from most chorizos. They’ve got options, delicious ones, for every dietary restriction under the sun, the salsas are good, the fillings are good, the staff is great, the tortillas are not, and taken all together I like Tacodeli. Do you want to punch me in the face?

Highlights: salsas, vinegar-y chorizo, options for those with dietary restrictions, soft and gummy mashed potatoes (if you’ve acquired a taste for that sort of thing)

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Tacos Guerrero
96 Pleasant Valley Rd, Austin, TX 78702
Breakfast tacos served all day | Prices start at $2.00

This place got a nod on the Texas Monthly list of the best tacos in Austin (linked at the bottom of this post) for its chorizo, potato and egg. That taco, the red one in the center of the above photo, really is great. The chorizo is way more garlicky and paprika-y than most around town, and tastes more like Spanish chorizo than the Mexican stuff, which is a fun change. The potatoes were undercooked though, and the other tacos were all really not good. The bacon was tattered and soft and spongy, the thick layer of cheese felt oppressive, and the tortillas, which are heralded as being homemade, really felt like store bought. If you want to try it, skip the bacon, skip the potatoes, skip the cheese, and get chorizo on everything.

Highlights: a garlicky chorizo that’s more flavorful than most, all the stuff you want to cram in a taco for $2

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Torchy’s Tacos
2809 South First St. Austin, TX 78704
Breakfast tacos served all day | Prices start at $2.25

Like Tacodeli, Torchy’s is polarizing. It’s hugely popular, but mention it online and you’re gonna get tons of comments about their mass-produced tortillas, inauthenticity, and over-hyped, overstuffed, over-the-top tacos. And, yeah, I get it. I’m not a huge fan of their breakfast tacos- the eggs are of the overcooked, omelet-style variety, but with a nice amount of crispy bacon pieces or decent chorizo embedded in the underside. Tortillas have that weird raw quality from not being griddled, and a vague industrial solvent-flavor from the lubed-up conveyor belt they were conceived on. But Torchy’s has stuff going for it too. The Jack of Clubs, from the secret menu, is a study in excess but is pretty damn good. The guy behind the counter said it was amazing with pickled onions added, so I did that, and I enjoyed the whole thing, runny yolk oozing down the side of my taco and between my fingers. I love the shady patio in this location, I love the missionary style green chile pork, also from the secret menu, and even the most hard-hearted Torchy’s hater would have to agree that they’ve nailed the queso. Also, if you have a 4 year old who is devastated to have to eat at another breakfast taco joint because he doesn’t care for the things, Torchy’s kids menu has The Little Devil, a peanut butter and banana “quesadilla”, coated in cornflakes, deep-fried, and served with strawberry jam. So chill out with your Torchy’s-bashing and let’s go eat some queso.

Highlights: outrageous and generally more delicious secret menu fare, queso, shady patio

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Tortilleria Rio Grande #2
500 W William Cannon Dr, Austin, TX 78745
Breakfast tacos served till 10:30 AM | Prices start at $1.83

This is one of the few places on my list that passes the authenticity test: are there more Hispanic people in the place than white people? Yes. Are order numbers called out in Spanish? Yes. The tortillas are made on site, obviously, this being a tortilleria and all, and it shows. The flour tortillas are thin and elemental. They’re flaky, with a paper-thin crispy layer on the griddled outside. The egg and chorizo is simple and delicious, and the bean and cheese is great too- the beans oozy in a good way and the cheese is a real Mexican melting cheese, not the pre-shredded orange stuff you typically find. The creamy green tomatillo and avocado sauce has no heat but adds a lovely brightness, the red sauce is 40% pepper seeds and is fiery and toasty. They’re great together. There’s a constant hum of activity while you eat as people come in to buy the salsa in 8 ounce containers from the cooler, or a fat stack of corn tortillas, fresh off the griddle. It’s outside the purview of this guide, but their lunch tacos are fantastic too, especially the desebrada, a simple and delicious stewed beef. If I’m not up for driving to Buda, or interested in spending $7 on a taco stuffed with sweet sweet barbecue (coming up next!), then Tortilleria Rio Grande is my pick for the best standard breakfast tacos.

Highlights: light and flaky flour tortillas, creamy bean and cheese tacos, nice chorizo, really cheap prices

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Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
7612 Brodie Ln., Austin, TX 78745
Breakfast tacos served till 11 AM | Prices start at $2.50

Is it fair to compare these to other breakfast tacos? Would you like this bean and cheese taco or this  bean and cheese taco that comes with a gold watch on top? I’m gonna pick the gold watch taco. Does this allegory make any sense? Do you understand what I’m saying? The fantastic barbecue they’re stuffing into already over-the-top breakfast tacos (with peppery fried eggs, perfectly crispy bacon, and flavorful homemade tortillas) is the gold watch. It feels like cheating- it’s just all too good. We tried all three breakfast tacos they offer: the potato egg and cheese with smoked chorizo added was good, but the other two, the expensive ones, were insane. We added the pulled pork to the Ultimate Bean and Cheese ($5), and the heap of sweet, moist meat, with a strip of bacon in the mix too, was one of the best things I’ve eaten in the past year. The Real Deal Holyfield ($6.50) is a fried egg, potatoes, refried beans, bacon, and your choice of pulled pork or mesquite smoked brisket stuffed into that glorious tortilla. We picked the brisket for this one, and it was tender and juicy with a thick and glorious bark that added a delightful crunch and an explosion of sweet peppery flavor. A bite that included the bark and the yolk of the runny egg was everything good in the world. Valentina’s is my new favorite thing.

Highlights: sweet and juicy pulled pork and tender, peppery brisket mingling with well-executed traditional breakfast taco ingredients, homemade tortillas

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Veracruz All Natural
4208 Manchaca Rd., Austin, TX 78704
Breakfast tacos served all day | Prices start at $2.00

Lots of folks cite this place, specifically the Radio Coffee and Beer location, as their favorite breakfast taco, and I totally get it. Parking sucks and it’s always crowded, so I resisted, but it’s worth it. This is the best corn tortilla I’ve had in the city. It’s soft and pliable, but sturdy enough to support your taco without ripping down the side or getting soggy. It’s crisp in spots from the griddle and tastes simply and purely of corn. The migas is so good that I think it may have even bested Casa Alde’s queso-drowned version. It’s one of the few places that keeps the chips thick and crunchy. There’s tons of freshness from cilantro and bell pepper, and a perfect avocado slice on top. They have beautiful salsas too, one of which has little bits of diced avocado in it. The egg and chorizo taco wasn’t in the same league- the chorizo had very little flavor, the egg was overcooked. Skip it and get two migas tacos. I’ve heard their barbacoa is great too, but it’s only available in taco-form on the weekend.

Highlights: handmade corn tortillas that are crispy from the griddle, a pitch-perfect migas taco with thick and crispy tortilla chips, great salsas

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You guys, we did it. 13 taco joints, 4000 words. Did you skip some of it and want the cliffsnotes? Casa Alde is my pick for the best breakfast tacos in the Austin area, though you’ll have to drive to Buda. Tortilleria Rio Grande #2 is my choice for standard breakfast taco fare in the city limits. Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ is the clear winner if money, gluttony, and tradition are no object. Do you disagree with me? Did I miss your favorite taco and you want me to know about it? Do you think Jews shouldn’t get to rank breakfast tacos? Tell me in the comments! Unless it’s about the Jewish thing, cuz gross.

Need to spend more time reading about tacos? Check out these links:

2015 AFBA City Guide to the Best Breakfast Tacos over at Full and Content
Eater Austin’s Latest Breakfast Taco Map
120 Tacos to Eat Before You Die over at Texas Monthly
Austin’s Best Tacos over at Bon Appetit
The Thrilla in the Tortilla over at the Austin Chronicle. A breakfast taco tournament.

Do with this information what you will, but here’s a list of places I wanted to try for this guide and didn’t get to. Maybe next year.

Cenote – I’ve had ’em, they’re awesome. I like the patio a lot too. Just didn’t make it up there to get the photograph.
El Chilito
– I’ve eaten their lunch and dinner tacos dozens of times, but I haven’t made it there for breakfast. A friend loves their big chunks of bacon. Rumor has it that one is opening around the corner from my house, on the corner of Manchaca and Redd.
El Primo
– People love this trailer across from Polvos on S. 1st. I want to try their migas.
El Taquito – Haven’t been there in years but people are still singing its praises. 
Joe’s Bakery
on E. 7th – The barbacoa is supposed to be amazing
Ken’s Subs, Tacos, and More – Huge tacos with a cult following. The confluence of subs and tacos is intriguing to me.
La Cocina de Consuelo – The tortillas make this place look like it could be Austin’s answer to Casa Alde, but I’m suspicious of the lack of pork products. Turkey bacon? Beef chorizo? What and why?
La Flor – This food truck is around the corner from my house and was written up in that Bon Appetit list above. I’ve eaten their meaty lunchtime tacos but haven’t tried the breakfast ones. Homemade corn tortillas.
Quickie Pickie – I’d already met my quota on hipster breakfast tacos for this post, but I have heard really great things about these tacos.
Rudy’s – a barbecue breakfast taco for the common man. supposedly with great bacon.
Taco More – I love the carnitas, al pastor, and cabrito, but haven’t tried their breakfast offerings.
Taco Palenque – This is fast food, but I dare you to say those breakfast tacos don’t look awesome. You have to drive down to New Braunfels (or to the Valley) for this one and I plan to, oh I plan to.
Texas Honey Ham – I want to eat honey ham in as many different applications as possible.
The Vegan Nom: Rockin’ Vegan Tacos – Are you vegan and still want to experience breakfast tacos? Keep hope alive!
Tyson’s Tacos – I’ve heard great things, and the online menu is cryptic and weird and sure, I’ll bite.

 

 

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7 thoughts on “A 2016 Guide to Breakfast Tacos in Austin

  1. Julie March 5, 2016 / 5:56 pm

    I live in Kyle & hadn’t been to Casa Alde. I immediately put down my laptop and drove over there & got a Fattie & The Same. DELICIOUS! Your post is seriously one of the best AFBA City Guide reviews I have read. So many of the posts are just a laundry list of restaurants which isn’t very helpful, in my opinion. I really loved the thoroughness of your awesome post!!

    • arielleclementine March 7, 2016 / 2:50 pm

      Julie- thank you so much! Your comment made my day. I’m thrilled you tried and loved Casa Alde and so appreciate the kind words about this post! Did you ever read the fearless critic guides to Austin restaurants? They were my favorite reviews to read, so I tried to model my reviews in their style.

  2. kristinsheppard March 14, 2016 / 5:18 pm

    Fantastic post, Arielle! Are you on Twitter? I’m going to share this and will tag you if you have a handle.

    • arielleclementine March 15, 2016 / 12:56 am

      Thank you so much, Kristin! That means so much to me!! I’d love for you to share it on Twitter! I have an account but haven’t been on in ages, so no tag is ok with me. Thanks again! 😍

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