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Culinary Fun: The Texas Taco Trail

June 20, 2022 Texas, Texas History

Sure, you can get a taco in any of the 50 U.S. states, but Texas has elevated the once-humble Mexican street food to a culinary level that approaches only the state’s obsession with barbecue.

“Texas is taco country. The Lone Star state is the birthplace of taco styles and fosters a distinct taco culture. Texans crave a freshly fried crispy taco and can’t fathom a day without a breakfast taco,” wrote José R. Ralat,in Thrillist.

Texas Tacos are Moving Beyond Tex-Mex

Ralat profiled 50 tacos to put on your culinary bucket list when travelling the Lone Star State.

“Thanks to an influx of forward-thinking immigrants from across Mexico and classically trained chefs, the state’s tacos are moving beyond Tex-Mex -- although that home-grown cuisine remains vibrant -- creating new styles while honoring tradition and history,” wrote Ralat.

America’s Coolest Job: Taco Editor

Ralat, by the way, also has one of the coolest jobs in America as he was named Texas Monthly’s first ever “Taco Editor” in 2019.

“It’s a dream job,” Ralat told The New York Times. “I had wanted to do something like this for a long time.”

Ralat previously had a popular blog (The Taco Trail) and in 2020 released “American Tacos: A History and a Guide.”

Ralat says that Texas and tacos have a long history as Texan soldiers carried them in their pockets during the 1835 Texas Revolution.

Understanding Your Taco Terms

To enjoy Texas tacos, you will need to study some taco terms.

Ralat has created the Ultimate Texas Tacopedia for Texas Monthly which breaks out some terms for taco neophytes:

  • Al Vapor: Steamed taco, which is also called tacos de canasta or tacos sudados.
  • Asian-Mex: Tacos category that includes Indian, Japanese, and Korean-inspired tacos.
  • Barbacoa: Steamed meat, usually beef cheeks or cow’s head.
  • Birria: Variety of meats make up this Mexican stew filling.
  • Carnitas: Pork slowly braised in its own fat.
  • Costra: Taco enclosed in a casing of fried cheese.
  • Guisados: Tacos that have a slow-cooked casserole or stew filling.
  • Puffy: Deep fried taco!
  • Tacos Dorados: Fried tacos that include taquitos and flautas.
  • Tacos Estilo Matamoros: Beef and cheese taco born along the Mexican border.
  • Trompo: Taco meat prepared via vertical rotisseries. 

Hitting the Road on Your Own Texas Taco Trail

Ralat and two friends once tried 390 different tacos on a 10-day tour across Texas.

As the Texas Monthly Taco Editor, he is helping the magazine curate a Texas Taco Trail. Here is just an appetizing sample of taco stops they found along the trail:

The Austin Taco Trail

  • Cuantos Tacos: Food truck that serves street-style tacos including cachete (barbacoa, onion and cilantro on Nixtamal tortilla) and buche (pork stomach, onion, and cilantro on Nixtamal tortilla).
  • Discarda: Utilizes cowboy-wok cooking, a northern Mexico technique, to produce a secret family recipe taco.
  • Granny’s Tacos: Named after the food truck owner’s great-grandmother and grandmother, serves some of the best breakfast tacos in the state.
  • Suerte: Executive chef Fermin Nunez serves up a special brisket suadero.
  • Trill Foods: Located at Vacancy Brewing, this taco operation bills itself as “Classy, Bougie, Ratchet”.   

  The Dallas / Fort Worth Taco Trail

  • Bad Spanish Tacos: Family-owned pop-up kitchen that offers unique, upscale tacos served on warm homemade corn tortillas.
  • Del Sur Tacos: Fresh and authentic Mexican street food tacos served in a fun Lucha Libre concept.
  • Edoko Omakase: Japanese-trained Korean chef Keunsik Lee uses ingredients such as sea urchin uni and eel.
  • Guapo Taco: From the former co-owner of popular Mariachi’s Dine-In comes this taco joint with house-made chorizo seasoning.
  • Mariachi’s Dine-In: Try the al pastor or carne asada or order from the mirror taco menu that has fillings with meat substitutes.   

The El Paso Taco Trail

  • Avila’s Mexican Food: Opened in 1952 and still serving crowd pleasers such as rolled tacos and picadillo tacos.
  • Chico’s Tacos: Serving tacos in El Paso for nearly 70 years.
  • Elemi: Modernist Mexican food with duck al pastor and campesino (vegetarian mix of mushrooms, avocado, eggplant, black beans, and Oaxaca cheese).
  • Lucy’s Restaurant: Three generations have tended this family restaurant serving items such as tacos Antonia with “Toni’s special recipe” that includes northern Mexican-style salted dried beef.
  • Taco Shop: Specialty tacos include fish & chips, Korean pork belly, tacos de tuetano (bone marrow), and birria de chivo (goat).   

The Houston Taco Trail

  • Cochinita & Co./Cochi’s Taqueria: The mini tacos are the star of the show here.
  • Gerardo’s Drive-In Grocery: Famous for its barbacoa served only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
  • Henderson & Kane General Store: Try the breakfast LRW Taco Tejano with housemade chorizo Rojo in a 100-year-old building setting.
  • Hugo’s: Chef Hugo Ortego offers up the likes of tacos dorados de papa, a fried taco with a “tortilla” made with fried potatoes.
  • Maize: As the name indicates, the standout here is the nixtamalized-corn masa though you might want to try the tacos de insectos plate that offers a combination of tacos with roasted grasshoppers, ant larvae, flying ants, and maguey worms as fillings.   

The Rio Grande Valley Taco Trail

  • Bigo’s Bar & Grill: U.S. location for a chain headquartered on the Mexican-side of the border. Try the taco estilo Matamoros.
  • El Fogon Tacos & Beer: Serves some seafood specialties such as blackened octopus and tacos gobernador (Sinaloa-style cheesy shrimp tacos).
  • El Sancho BBQ: The barbacoa taco is great but you have to arrive early before it sells out.
  • Las 7 Salsas Restaurante: Small Mexican diner serves the best Brownsville breakfast tacos.    

The San Antonio Taco Trail

  • Carnitas Don Raul: Featured on Netflix’s “Taco Chronicles”, this food truck serves up mouth-watering traditional carnitas.
  • El Pastor Es Mi Senior: They do one thing and do it well: tacos al pastor.
  • Garcia’s Mexican Food: Breakfast taco served with a bone-in pork chop and steak knife.
  • Maria’s Café: Mom and pop joint has been serving tasty food for almost 40 years. Look for the extra-menu tacos with clever names.
  • Ray’s Drive Inn: Home of the original puffy taco!   

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