Travel

A 195-Mile Texas Taco Crawl, From a Born-and-Raised Texan

August  1, 2018

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Photo by Alex Citrin

Tacos are quite possibly the perfect food. They’re portable. They’re contained. They can be quick to cook and even quicker to eat. Most importantly: A really good taco makes people happy.

I grew up in Austin (before tacos were cool). My dad made my little brother and me breakfast tacos almost every morning. My favorite were his refried bean and chorizo on my mom’s homemade flour tortillas. But he switched them up depending on his mood and what was in the kitchen that morning. My mom also had a pretty hefty taco game: Her crispy beef picadillo tacos are what Taco Tuesday™ wishes it could be. To say that tacos are important to me is a ridiculous understatement. I love them all—corn, flour, baked, fried, toasted, grilled.

My own everyday taco game has gained considerable inspiration from a road trip that somehow turned into a taco crawl. I was buying my ticket to go home to Austin for the holidays last year and had this crazy idea: I wanted to find the best tacos in Texas. Now that’s a big statement, even for a Texan. And truth be told, it would have taken years to eat my way around the state. Don’t get me wrong, I’d happily do it, but I only had a few vacation days to spare, so I opted for a clean swipe through Dallas and Fort Worth to Austin. Here's everything I ate:


The Pregame Tacos: Dallas & Fort Worth

I started in Dallas because I had lived there for five years in the 90s before moving to New York and wanted to see how the taco scene had changed. Back in the day, tacos were very traditional Mexican or Tex-Mex and relegated to predominantly Mexican-American or Mexican neighborhoods. Today, taco trucks, stands, and shops are everywhere. And the cooks behind the counters are doing some amazingly creative things.

First stop, El Come Taco (2513 North Fitzhugh Avenue). What caught my eye were the traditional Mexican tacos; beyond the classics, suadero (brisket), aranchera (skirt steak), cecina (sirloin), and longaniza. But what I loved most was the Gringa: pastor, melted cheese, pineapple, onion, and cilantro on a flour tortilla. The first time Iheard about them, I was a little skeptical, until a friend in Mexico City took me to El Vilsito, a car repair shop that doubles as an outdoor taco stand after hours with a club-like vibe and a dancing taco in the parking lot.

Next stop, Revolver Taco Lounge (2701 Main Street). I’m a sucker for anything carnitas—when I see something like octopus carnitas, that’s an automatic must-eat. Not to be overshadowed by seared duck and Cabrito (baby goat) tacos. And as if I needed another reason to go, Revolver’s chef, Regino Rojas, was a James Beard semifinalist in the Best Chef: Southwest category.

Down to Oak Cliff—my old stomping grounds—to check out Trompo (839 Singleton Boulevard). There were a lot of great Mexican restaurants and grocery stores in the Oak Cliff neighborhood back when I lived there. I would shop for herbs, spices, and dried chiles, then grab tacos on my way home. Today was no different. Trompo specializes in Monterrey-style tacos, which means flour tortillas in addition to corn. And the marinated meat on the trompo, the spit that turns the stacked meat around the flame, is paprika-forward instead of achiote and dried chiles, as a central Mexican taco al pastor would be.

On to Fort Worth to Taquería Adrec’s (the taco truck was parked at 2525 East Belknap Street at the time) for some of the best tacos al pastor (spit-roasted, marinated pork) and barbacoa (slow-roasted beef) in North Texas.

Even though I’d been eating tacos for the last eight hours, there’s one that I had to check out before I left DFW: Tacos La Banqueta Puro DF (2621 Hemphill Street). As its name suggests, (Puro DF translates to “Pure Mexico City”)—and let me tell you, I love the tacos in Mexico City. One of my favorites is Taquería Los Cocuyos specializing in offal and harderto-find cuts of meat. So you can imagine that when I saw lingua (tongue) and cabeza (head) on this menu in Texas, my eyes lit up. I have to admit, however: The thing that made my heart race was not a taco at all—it was a gordita stuffed with al pastor. So I had one of those too, of course. Then I drove home to sleep it off.


The Prodigal Taco Son Returns: Austin

Very "Austin." Photo by Me

The next morning, I drove down to my hometown in Austin, and it occurred to me that I rarely eat Mexican food when I’m home. Now, just to be clear, I love the food scene down there and eat out a lot. But my family are all there, and when I’m home, I want to eat their food. The food I grew up with is unapologetically Mexican-American and can also be very Tex-Mex. So the idea of going to a taco stand when I can hit my dad up for a half-dozen breakfast tacos is a little ridiculous. But today, I’m eating tacos for work (woe is me).

First stop: Tyson’s Tacos (4905 Airport Boulevard). It’s very “Austin” in the best possible ways. Half-shack, half-covered patio and a crazy menu with tacos named after Yoda, Leia, King George, and the Bond Girl. Lots of creative tacos with interesting flavor profiles. But my favorites, surprisingly to me, weren’t even the slightest bit Mexican. The Crispy Duck with cucumber, green onion, and hoisin on a flour tortilla and the Pok Pok with garlicky fried chicken, cucumber, cilantro, and carrot on a corn tortilla were really incredible and proved to me that tortillas really do make everything better.


Now That's What I'm Taco'ing About

For balance, I decided to go a little more traditional with the next taquería. Las Trancas (1210 East Cesar Chavez Street) did not disappoint. Small, fresh, double-layered corn tortillas wrapped around tripas (tripe) and lengua (tongue) and campechano (chorizo and beef). And a bottle of Topo Chico to wash it down.

Before the coma set in, I stopped at Dos Batos (2525 West Anderson Lane #175). Their use of a wood-fired oven for all the fillings intrigued me. Their meat tacos had a good char, but I did miss the smokiness of a pit or grill. What I did like a lot were the wood-fired mushrooms, peppers, and onions that went into the Ostin veggie taco. With a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, and a warm roasted tomato salsa, that taco blew the meats out of the oven.

The last stop. Photo by Me

It would’ve been remiss of me, as a Texan, to pass Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ (11500 Manchaca Road) without stopping for a bite. It’s on the way to my dad’s house anyway, so I felt that I could afford this one last stop. The smoked brisket taco was a given, as were the smoked carnitas, obviously. But I did something unusual, even for me: I decided to get the pulled pollo taco. I don’t usually do chicken because I find it’s almost always overcooked and dry. But this chicken was not only perfectly cooked, tender, and juicy, but actually stole the whole taco show, as well. With that tomatillo-habanero salsa, I devoured it and wanted more. And because I’m a good son, I bought a few extra for my dad.

I feel as though I should tell you what the best taco stand in the state is, or what city in Texas does tacos better. But the truth is: I would 100% eat at any of these joints again. They’re each a reflection of the cooks in those kitchens, what that person grew up with and the culture and people of the city in which they now live. And that’s exactly why I can eat tacos for a week and never get bored. But for now: I need to hit the gym.

Do you have a favorite taco joint? Let us know in the comments below.

6 Comments

Angela F. August 5, 2018
Sad you didn’t have time to swing down to Houston! Villa Arcos has amazing barbacoa.
 
lpenney14 August 3, 2018
Anyone visiting San Antonio (which some would argue is the True home of the breakfast taco) should consult this definitive taco guide (365 Days of Tacos): https://www.expressnews.com/tacos/ I've lived here 3 years and still don't understand how the city can support so many taco shops, but we do! And I totally agree, almost each one is unique and delicious.
 
HalfPint August 2, 2018
I lived in Austin for a year and never had a bad taco. Of course, I was a transplanted New Englander with little if any exposure to tacos (pretty sure Old El Paso doesn't count), so it all tasted great to me ;)
 
Susan M. August 1, 2018
I've cried over those Tacos at El Alma's.... you are right on that tip for sure.
 
aargersi August 1, 2018
There is a stand called Taco Bella (really) in the Exxon parking lot at Slaughter and West Gate. Their pastor rocks, and you really need to get a gordita with everything while you’re at it. Lamb tacos at El Alma will bring a tear to your eye too.
 
Susan M. August 1, 2018
Best Tacos are Torcheys<br />My favorite one is "Trailer Park Taco be sure to order it trashed<br /> Yummy<br /> Susan M. Cain<br /><br />