There’s nothing like the fresh-made tortillas at Rosita’s Al Pastor in Austin, Texas. I love watching the women in the empty bingo-hall parking lot, rounding masa in their palms into perfect spheres before plunging down the tortilla lever and throwing the flattened discs into shimmering oil. It’s magic.
At Veracruz All Natural, the migas poblanos are a heavenly kick to the face, thanks to the spice. Tacodeli specializes in gourmet, organic tacos. Upon pulling into the driveway at Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ, cedar smoke magnetically permeates the car before you’ve even stepped outside and onto the gravel. Here there’s a wonderful barbecue–breakfast taco mash-up involving smoked brisket that will change your life.
But I must say: The best breakfast taco in Austin doesn’t make their tortillas in house. It doesn’t use organic-only ingredients. It doesn’t push any particular boundaries. It just, is.
When I walked into Maria’s Taco Xpress for the very first time, I noticed on a table close to the line a giant game of Jenga. I hastily pulled one block out, and the whole room turned silent as the tower collapsed to the floor. The same silence would fill the room for me as I took my first bite of the egg and chorizo breakfast taco.
There was something in the simplicity of it: the soft chew on the egg; the freshness of the pico tossed atop, providing crunch and necessary acidity; and the simmered sausage that kicked up the spice and gave the taco legs. All of it, combined together within a perfectly warm flour tortilla, caught me off guard. I didn’t expect it to taste as good as it did. A breakfast taco.
And that’s the charm of Austin, too.
Most people who lived in Austin before the boom of tech will tell you the same thing: It used to be weirder. Their wistful descriptions of a neon-lit South Congress, flooded with a vibrant nightlife, have dissociated with the sweeping tide of gentrification. The Madewells and Warby Parkers of the world have replaced the vintage stores that used to provide landmarks of character and charm to a city overflowing with it.
But the story of Austin is one of perseverance. It’s of waiting out the desert heat wave in an air-conditioned dive bar with a pool table and live music, helping yourself to pitchers of Shiner Bock as your buddy racks up another game. It’s of finding a niche under the Texas sun until the drought ends, and crisp liquid gold rushes through the creek once more.
No other place in Austin epitomizes the enduring drive of its locals better than Maria’s Taco Xpress. In 2017, it was up for sale because of sky-high property taxes. The community rallied around, and it survived. But as of this writing, it's up for sale again.
Outside of Maria’s, there's a gargantuan statue of the owner, Maria Corbalan, with outstretched arms. She surveys South Lamar Boulevard, watches as it changes, day in, day out. She welcomes in all of the tired, huddled masses, yearning to breathe in the bountiful aroma wafting through the kitchen and spilling onto the wood-decked patio. She promises a serve-yourself salsa bar, and a Topo Chico or Jarritos to wash down breakfast.
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