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No Taco Left Behind in Austin

Jo Piazza
Managing Editor
March 15, 2015

(Photo: Urban Sea Star)

You could call it excessive, even gluttonous. I like to call it  the best decision I made over the course of my 72-hour trip to Austin, Texas—my resolution to exclusively eat tacos for every meal, leaving no taco behind in the Weird City.

What I learned upon landing here is that the combination of music-lovers, aging hippies, tech geeks, and a vibrant Latino population has created a place that just understands the taco. In Austin, the taco is widely considered to be the perfect meal…not just for dinner time, but for any time. A taco at 7 a.m. is held in as high esteem as the one eaten later in the evening.

Consuming 21 tacos in just three days may not be your thing. Lucky for you, I took one for the team so, if you do want to indulge in one, two, or even three tacos in Austin, you will be able to choose the taco that is right for you. You’re welcome.

Chicken tacos at La Condensa. (Photo: Despi Ross)

The Fancy Tacos: The carnitas pork tacos at La Condesa, one of Austin’s most celebrated modern Mexican restaurants may cost $12 for two teeny tiny tacos, but don’t let their size fool you. The crispy pork shoulder taco smothered in fermented black beans, tomatillo-avocado salsa crudo, baby arugula, mixed radish, and queso cotija is one of the tastiest treats you will ever try and well worth the price and a small wait to get a table on a Friday night.

400 West 2nd Street

The Fish Tacos You Can’t Live Without (Part 1): “Get the black cod,” the ruddy-faced gentleman behind the counter of Turf & Surf Po-Boy drawled with intention. “It’s fresh.” When I cocked my head, he amended his statement. “It’s all fresh, but that came in an hour ago,” he replied sheepishly. After grabbing one black cod and one blackened catfish, I settled into a table next to locals happily competing in a makeshift skee-ball tournament. Both the buttery cod and spicy catfish were perfectly complemented by the exact right amount of cilantro, tomatoes, and onions. Part po’boy, part taco (a hybrid I can actually get behind), with enough heft that you might need two hands to shovel it in your mouth, these were among the best fish tacos of my life.

405 Lavaca Street

The Taco that Will Make you Look Five-Months Pregnant: I found myself at Juan in a Million by virtue of the fact that I cannot resist a bad pun and will support any place where breakfast is served all day long. I left over an hour later, conquering just one taco, the Don Juan, a breakfast taco of epic proportions that includes a full pound of potatoes, eggs, bacon, and cheese wrapped in three tortillas just to rein it all in.

2300 Cesar Chavez Street

Great name, great tacos. (Photo: A Continuous Lean)

The 3 a.m. Tacos: Piedras Negras keeps selling tacos until they run out in the wee hours of the morning. The tacos are on the smaller side, but they definitely make up for it in flavor. Make sure to ask for extra green sauce on your al pastor, al carbon, or barbacoa tacos.

2700 Cesar Chavez Street

The Taco You’ll Eat Just for the Shell: The handmade thick corn tortillas Amaya’s Taco Village really raise the bar on taco casings. Fried fresh every day, Amaya’s tacos would be amazing with nothing in them at all. Thankfully, the seasoned boneless chicken and beef is every bit as good as the deep-fried delicious casing.

5804 IH-35

Tacos al Pastor at Changos. (Photo: Buz Bros)

The Fish Tacos You Can’t Live Without (Part 2): Changos Taqueria’s tacos del mar come a couple of ways. Choose the healthier grilled option or the more decadent battered and fried. Ask for mahi mahi or shrimp—or go crazy and get both. My recommendation: go a really crazy and top it all off with their Baja cabbage salsa.

3023 Guadalupe Street

The Partisan Tacos: Michael Rypka left his fancy executive job and mortgaged his house for the pure love of tacos, with Torchy’s Tacos ending up as the result. His taco shop is as fair and balanced as they come. There’s the Democrat (shredded beef barbacoa, topped with fresh avocado, queso fresco, cilantro, onions) and the Republican (grilled jalapeño sausage, shredded cheese, pico de gallo).

2809 South First Street

The Vegan Tacos: Should vegan and taco ever be in the same sentence? I didn’t think so, but El Chilito’s Vegetal, filled with seasoned zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and serranos is good enough that you will forget to scoff at the idea of a taco that shuns meat.

2219 Manor Road

The Best Taco Ever from a Walk-Up Window: It’s easy to miss the little red window of Taco Mex on Manor Road in East Austin. For $1.75 you will get one of the best breakfast tacos in the city. The best part about Taco Mex is that they are so easy to work with and aren’t too precious about the propriety of their tacos. If they’ve got it in the kitchen they will happily throw it on the grill and put it in a taco for you.

2611 Manor Road

The Taco to Eat While Playing Drag-Queen Bingo: Like a lot of Austin food joints, Maria’s Taco XPress got its start as a food cart 17 years ago. Frankly, $2.79 is a steal for the carne guisada, filled with flavorful stew meat, that is slow simmered in a chipotle sauce. You can and should enjoy Maria’s ridiculously good tacos during drag queen bingo on the first Tuesday of every month.

2529 South Lamar Boulevard