“I was born with a tortilla in my hand,” says Mando Rayo, one of the writers behind the Austin, Texas–based blog Taco Journalism. He and fellow blogger Jarod Neece drew upon years of combined experience to compile the book Austin Breakfast Tacos, a comprehensive guide to one of the Texas capital’s great culinary treasures. On the phone recently, Rayo held forth on the ever-elusive definition of the breakfast taco and why Hill Country taquerias do it best.
How do you define a breakfast taco?
I say that it’s a taco that’s the first thing you eat when you wake up and just makes you feel good inside. I have kids now, and they wake me up at seven in the morning. In my twenties, though, I’d wake up at eleven and get up at two like, alright, it’s time for a breakfast taco. Or maybe you’re out at three a.m. We have a lot of food trucks and trailers here in Austin where you can get a late-night taco that kind of soaks everything up. It just makes you feel better.
As far as ingredients, my go-to breakfast taco is beans, eggs, and bacon. Those are some of the simplest fillings that you can put in a taco, but they’re so good. I think that flexibility is the beauty of the breakfast taco. Maybe you’re a vegetarian and you want to put some broccoli in your migas taco. That’s cool! You don’t even need have to have eggs in the taco. You can make a barbacoa taco, or maybe a carne asada taco. You can put a little steak in your egg taco. Those are still breakfast tacos.
Flour or corn tortillas?
I grew up eating flour tortillas, but now I really enjoy corn tortillas because of the texture, because of the flavor, and because they’re healthier. So, you know, I personally go with corn. It’s not as heavy, either, and if you’re going to eat 2 or 3 tacos at a time… But then again, a lot of people in Texas love their flour tortillas. I’m definitely outvoted. I do go for flour tortillas sometimes, but they have to be fresh and homemade—you know, the closest thing you can get to what you’d have at your abuelita’s house.
What should a person drink with a breakfast taco?
Definitely some good, strong coffee. Most coffee places around town don’t have good tacos, and most of the really good taco places have weak coffee. Diner coffee, you know? But you’ve got to have some kind of coffee with your breakfast tacos. That way, you get your jolt and your comfort at the same time.
Alright, here’s the million-dollar question: Why is it so hard to find a good breakfast taco outside Austin?
You know, that was something we discovered while writing the book. We knew that Austinites love their breakfast tacos. You can find good ones in San Antonio, too. But outside of those two cities, it’s really hard. The breakfast taco hasn’t really caught on.
People in Austin, though, they really own their love for the breakfast taco. Visitors, when they come to Austin, they’ve got to have some barbecue and they’ve got to have a breakfast taco. It’s like the Philly cheesesteak, or New York–style pizza. But why Austin? Well, I think the breakfast taco is pretty creative. You can mix and match. You can get your traditional taco from a place that’s been around since the fifties or go to a place like Tacodeli and get a taco with buffalo and eggs. I think that creativity is why it’s grown here in Austin, which is a place that is innovative, creative, and accepting of a lot of different ideas, cultures, and people.
Bonus Recipe: My Morning Migas
By Addie Broyles, Austin food writer
“I make a living writing about food for the Austin American-Statesman, but I don’t consider myself a professional cook, and this recipe for migas is one that anyone with a frying pan, eggs, and stale tortilla chips can make. (And yes, fresh tortilla chips will work in a pinch, but I save the last crumbles in the tortilla chip bag specifically for making migas.) Whatever else you decide to put in your taco will evolve by the day and by your tastes. I used chopped Brussels sprouts for this version because that’s what I had in my vegetable crisper, but I’ve made it with leftover roasted sweet potatoes, last night’s grilled zucchini, or quickly sautéed chard or kale. Cheese isn’t absolutely necessary, but I do like to throw a little in there to finish the dish.”