- By Matthew Odam American-Statesman Staff
Taco Town, U.S.A. I haven’t seen a shirt repping Austin as such, but I wouldn’t be surprised. We’ve got high-end tacos, cheap tacos, breakfast tacos, tacos from trailers, tacos with a unique Austin spin. You could eat tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week and not get bored. I speak from experience.
In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I run down 10 of my favorite tacos in town. I could probably list 100 more that I love, but we don’t have the space for that. If you want to tell me about your favorite tacos, visit Facebook.com/thefeed360 and let me know.
El Borrego de Oro
3900 S. Congress Ave. 512-383-0031
This restaurant looks like a bowling trophy store plucked from the 1970s Midwest and plopped down in South Austin. Or maybe that’s a Midwestern Chinese restaurant. You still can see the previous tenant’s faint sign on the pale yellow brick building.
The restaurant’s name translates to Lamb of Gold, but the chicken deserves a medal, as well. The braised meat of the pollo guisado taco ($2) steams and softens the tortilla. The tender strands of chicken look simple but have depth of flavor and taste like they were pulled from a long-simmering stew. Add a dash of the salsa flecked with black pepper and jalapeño. Also make sure to try their excellent mole and guacamole.
400 W. Second St. 512-499-0300, lacondesa.com
One of the most beautiful dining rooms downtown, this upscale restaurant remains the crown jewel of the 2nd Street District’s restaurant scene. Middle Eastern, Texan and Mexican flavors meet on the arábicos tacos (2 for $14), which were inspired by a Mexico City street vendor who sells shawarma tacos. Pickled cucumbers, creamy yogurt and chipotle harissa blend tangy, cool and heat atop thin, seared slices of venison. Order it with their classic margarita, my favorite in town, and sit outside.
915 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-428-5077, fresaschicken.com
I’m not sure why Fresas waited so long to add tacos to their menu, but I’m glad the wait is over. I like all four tacos they serve, but for the purposes of this piece, I’ll go with the El Rey ($4.25), its name a nod to chef Rene Ortiz’s homie Robert Rodriguez. The snappy tang of escabeche and slaw shroud a pile of slow-cooked brisket, supple with fat and punched by a spicy cream sauce. Also try the signature achiote chicken taco with cotija cheese. Bonus points for having a drive-thru.
1503 S. First. St. 512-916-4996, mellizoztacos.com
Not a more appropriate name for a taco in town than the Old School ($2.75) at this colorful South First Street trailer. It will remind you of a well done version of the tacos you ate at a cafeteria as a kid or one that those fast-food tacos hope to be when they grow up. The difference here: fresh, quality ingredients. Ground beef studded with tomatoes and onions and draped with fresh spinach overflow from a buttery fried taco shell. And, of course, relaxed slices of cheddar cheese warmed from the heat of the beef. Classic Tex-Mex. Old School.
1201 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-433-6521, oddduckaustin.com
Chef Bryce Gilmore and his crew like to play with local proteins, so no telling what taco you might get at his beautiful and rustic restaurant that opened earlier this year. On my last visit, a homemade tortilla with sunglow bubbles served as bed for ruby-centered goat heart medallions tinged with spicy mayonnaise and brightened by leaves of mint ($6).
2803 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-804-2474, yumpapalote.com
The owners of Azul Tequila, a Mexican restaurant next to Target on Ben White Boulevard that deserves more attention, operate this little restaurant on South Lamar Boulevard, so you know the food is legit and the bona fides are secure. Here you’ll find Mexican puerco in pipian ($3.25), the strands of pork loin slathered with a nutty and spicy mole pipian enlivened by the vinegar tingle of pickled onions and soothed by the creaminess of sliced avocado.
Rosita’s al Pastor
1911 E. Riverside Drive. 512-442-8402
The rotisserie pork spinning on a “trompo” glows like an “open” sign inside this trailer in a parking lot on Riverside. A crispy edge surrounds the juicy citrus-marinated pork that comes in slightly charred homemade tortillas topped with the floral tang of cilantro and onions. In a town full of al pastor tacos, this is one of the best.
1500 Spyglass Drive. 512-732-0303; www.tacodeli.com
With consistent lines and legions of fans, it’s always baffled me that these guys don’t stay open into the evening or have a dozen more locations. But their commitment to what they do shows in consistently well-executed tacos with thoughtful flavor profiles and great ingredients. Roasted garlic and caramelized onions give savory depth and sweetness to ground beef spiked with jalapeno and cooled by cilantro and Jack cheese in the Akaushi picadillo ($3.95). Veggie lovers should try the roasted potatoes, grilled corn and toasted pepitas of the papadolce. Tacodeli, which also has North Lamar Boulevard and Burnet Road locations, expands to Westlake in the coming weeks, so maybe total taco domination is in the works after all.
1411 E. Seventh St. 512-628-4466, takobarestaurant.com
Crisp yet tender sweet potatoes, spicy green chiles and crunchy hunks of zucchini make the verudras ($11) at this expansive East Austin restaurant one of my favorite vegetarian taco plates in town. The sautéed veggies come in lightly charred flour tortillas and topped with salty queso fresco and wonderful citrusy guacamole. Takoba also gets high marks for having daily happy hour (3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday).
1704 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-981-1760
I’m at liberty to change my mind at any time, but right now the migas taco ($3.25) at Veracruz All Natural is my favorite taco in town. The creations from sisters Maritza and Reyna Vazquez’s trailer have drawn raves from visiting chefs such as John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss. The chef, who visited for last week’s Austin Food & Wine Festival, tweeted about Veracruz, “I may have a new favorite place on the planet.”
What’s so special? Broad slivers of feathered avocado fanned across a heap of fluffy steaming eggs and gooey cheese that ensnares crunchy tortilla strips. What else: perfect salt-and-pepper balance and fantastic homemade tortillas. Pair it with an agua fresca from the trailer that started as a fruit and sno-cone stand on Cesar Chavez Street about seven years ago.