Yep. There’s no better way to begin the day than with a taco. While this may raise eyebrows elsewhere, the combination of a warm tortilla rolled around eggs scrambled with onions, tomatoes, jalapeños and whatever else will fit is comfort food for those of us in Austin, the home town of LATINO Magazine. Our contribution to the Tex-Mex culinary landscape is justly celebrated in Austin Breakfast Tacos, by Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece. A seasoned Latino marketer, Mando is a fixture in Austin’s food scene and together with Jarod, who works for Austin’s mega-hip SXSW festival, he runs TacoJournalism.com, a hugely popular website devoted to tacomania. This book takes up where the website leaves off and shows why no one should have breakfast without chips and salsa. Below is an excerpt from Austin Breakfast Tacos.
Is 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 hung over, 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.
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—no mas 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.
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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. [In the book] are some of their stories.
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Down in the West Texas town of...Austin? No. But this is still cowboy country, right? Let me tell you about this leyenda. True or not, you be the judge—and historians, don’t judge me. Part of my discovery exercise with this book is to find out how the breakfast taco came to be. Well, here it is.
Back in the day, circa 1800s, in the days of cowboys and vaqueros in this big ol’ state called Tejas, vaqueros worked to drive cattle from Texas to Mexico while the Texan cowboys made land deals and worked on the ranches (although cowboys also worked on cattle drives, obviously). Remember, this is my myth. As you know, the cowboys’ breakfast typically consists of eggs, bacon, sausage and biscuits. Over history, Mexicans have been known to eat a taco or two for lunch or dinner, but for breakfast? I don’t know. The vaqueros of the past—and to this day, Mexicans and many Latinos I know—used the tortilla as a utensil. Shoot, I do it with my huevos estrellados all the time. Tear off a piece and scoop up the eggs— you should try it. While muchos Mexicans eat eggs for breakfast, they may not necessarily make breakfast tacos. I know I didn’t grow up with them.
But I digress. So one day, the cowboys and vaqueros were eating their desayunos, separately of course, when Garrett the cook noticed that they were out of biscuits. What’s a cowboy to do? Well, luckily for them, they worked side-by-side with some friendly vaqueros who were muy generous and willing to share their fresh, buttery tortillas. What happened next changed the world according to Texas, and the breakfast taco was born when Garrett and Juanito shared a folded tortilla with bacon and eggs. Yee haw! and Ajua!—the breakfast taco was born. What do you think? Prove me wrong, historians.
Reprinted with permission of the History Press. Copyright2013 by Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece.