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Can Any Texas City Claim The Breakfast Taco As Its Own?

As SXSW approaches, Austin once more claims to be the home of the breakfast taco—and San Antonians aren’t having any of it.

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Flickr | Keegan Jones

As everyone who loves themselves and wants to start their day on a good note knows, the breakfast taco is the most important taco of the day. And while countless non-Texans get introduced to the concept in Austin every March during SXSW, the claim that the breakfast taco “belongs” to Austin is a controversial one.

Still, that didn’t stop our friends at Eater Austin from publishing a feature by New York-based writer Matthew Sedacca under the headline, “How Austin Became the Home of the Crucial Breakfast Taco,” which describes the breakfast taco as “the city’s beloved morning dish.” The breakfast taco is beloved in Austin, certainly, but so are all sorts of morning dishes—pancakes! donuts! fresh fruit and granola!—that it would be downright weird to claim as “the city’s.” People eat breakfast tacos in Austin, but that doesn’t mean that Austin owns it.

The pushback against Sedacca’s story has been swift. Within hours of publishing it, hundreds of cranky San Antonians took to Change.org to demand justice in the form of “the City of Austin throw[ing] Matthew Sedacca out of an unmarked van well outside the boundaries of the state.” The petition also lays out “equally suitable amends” such as “mandatory re-education” in San Antonio; banning Sedacca from publishing on the “topics of Texas heritage and social realities” until he’s spent ten years living in the state; or the establishment of a citywide “San Antonio Day” that celebrates the culture of Austin’s neighbor to the south.

All of these demands, obviously, are tongue-in-cheek, but there’s some real fire behind the petition, which finds it offensive (and reasonably so) that Austinites so proudly attempt to take ownership of concepts as elemental as wrapping eggs and potatoes in a tortilla and eating it. This isn’t ultimately about Sedacca, who is just the latest to wade into long-contested territory involving tacos, Texas, and cultural imperialism, but it’s a convenient time to explore the issues at hand. We’ll excerpt at some length from the petition, written by a San Antonio resident named Robbie Rogers, simply because it’s a rhetorical marvel:

More absurd is the notion that “breakfast taco culture” was either codified or normalized by a generation of birkenstock-clad tech-jockeys and university incubatees majoring in Phish and Social Safety Net Surfing, and not by the laborers who spent the last century waking up at 5 am, breaking their fast on huevos con papas outside a truck, to build the aforementioned demographic’s luxury condos.

Sedacca’s worst sin by far, however, is presuming to blunder into a long-running, deep-seated, and hot blooded Texas turf-war armed with the equivalent knowledge of a 30-minute Andrew Zimmern special. The documented (if half-hearted) research on the most basic of taco knowledge hints he’s about as out of his depth as someone needing to conduct field research on the colors of bluebonnets, and only insures his grasp of the subject as far as the authority of a third-grade book report.

Among sources cited with the rigor of freshman composition, we are told to accept that our standard of culture has been superseded by establishments with such tradition-steeped names as Tacodeli, and that the most trusted expert on Mexican Cuisine is a man named Robert Walsh, who sounds like someone who would just as assuredly inform us that barbeque was invented in Austin as well, and that Santa Anna was defeated off Congress and 17th.

Austin certainly is well-equipped to claim ownership of things that didn’t originate in the city. It’s full of transplants whose first experiences with things like breakfast tacos and barbecue were in the city’s limits, and it does do those things very well. San Antonio, Corpus Christi, McAllen, and any number of points in between also do those things exceptionally well, of course, but people who’ve visited or moved to Austin from New York, California, or elsewhere don’t always find time to head south on I-35 to experience breakfast tacos in cities that have been serving them for generations.

Furthermore, as a media hub, Austin helps create the narrative about Texas that is disseminated throughout the rest of the state (and the rest of the country), and those voices often don’t look south of Slaughter Lane for trends. It’s basically the same thing that New York media does to Texas all the time on a smaller scale. That’s how you end up with people claiming, even as they admit that the actual concept of the breakfast taco originated in South Texas, the name “breakfast taco” is pure Austin inspiration. (“It’s a taco, and it’s for breakfast. Get our best minds working on a name stat!”)

These are useful conversations to have, even (or maybe especially) if they’re rooted in something as ultimately low-stakes as “who invented the breakfast taco.” And though folks who live in points south of Austin might seethe at the hubris of writers based out of the state’s capital who spout off authoritatively on things they possess no authority over, they can also take some comfort in knowing that while those people are waiting in lines running out the door at TacoDeli, the true believers can drive through an El Pato or a Taco Palenque to get a taco that’s cheaper, faster, and better tasting. In some ways, that has to feel like justice.

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  • No, breakfast tacos did not originate in Austin, nor can Austin claim primacy. I had my first breakfast tacos in Corpus Christi around 1973, helping out with inventory in my dad’s Zales store downtown. One of the employees brought in a big box of them and I was instantly in love. They likely originated in the Valley, and San Antonio probably has a better chance of claiming the title. But Austin? Oh, hell no.

  • Nailed the conclusion. LONG LIVE TORCHY’S so long as y’all keep going to Torchy’s and I don’t have to wait for the legit tacos.

    • Byron

      The idea the Torchy’s is a “Legit Taco” is a dismal joke in the rest of Texas. Are you going to tell me that Chipotle invented the burrito now?

      • space2k

        Did you read Phillip Martin’s post, or just the bit in all caps?

      • Castillo

        Nobody in Austin who isn’t a child thinks that Torchy’s serves legit tacos.

        • Art

          In San Antonio, not even a child thinks they’re legit. My 7 yr daughter went once and said they were awful.

  • Conrado González

    I am from the rgv and we didn’t even call them breakfast tacos even though they are a staple in our breakfast options. To this day we call them… Tortilla de harina con… A flour tortilla with (whatever ingredient).

    • José

      We didn’t know at the time that we were such trendsetters!

      • Conrado González

        Clueless. You’re right. Lol.

  • JM

    I was sort of sympathetic to your attempt at an even handed piece until your very stupid claim that the name “breakfast taco” is an Austin invention. YOU ARE GUILTY OF THE SAME OFFENSE AS THE AUSTIN EATER! Austin did not invent the name! We’ve been calling them breakfast tacos all my life. As you suggest to others, perhaps you too should wander south of Slaughter Lane and witness life outside of Travis County. Please, my dear Anglo friends, stop pontificating on the taco. You have no idea what you are talking about.

    • Alan Forrester

      Get over yourself.

    • Elizabeth S

      Did you read the original article? This author is not claiming the term “breakfast taco” originated in Austin – the original author, Matthew Sedacca in Eater, did so.

  • adam Campos

    Take it from a born and raised Austinite( A 53 y.o.Mexicano at that)These so called tacos here in Austin are not what I call homemade tacos,I go to San Antonio to get real tacos and real Mexican food at least once a month, paying three or four dollars a taco is a huge sin.San Antonio has nothing to worry about,food critics from New york?Aye ya Aye!!! Get a rope !you guys have it way better.And your Westside of San Antonio will always be Barrio food heaven.Austin’s Eastside at least has Joe’s bakery…Eastside was once an affordable area to live and eat ! Thank God your only a little over an hour away.Critics my Ass!!!

  • Alan Forrester

    This article is an excellent summation on this latest eruption of the long-simmering controversy. However it seems to me that all Texans should appreciate the gospel of the breakfast taco being spread far and wide. Take it from someone who’s been stranded in Florida for years – the absence of breakfast tacos is a terrible thing.

    • Laura Stewart Gabel

      Still haven’t found a place in Florida to enjoy breakfast tacos or decent Kolaches for that matter…16 years and waiting…

      • dawn

        I moved to philadelphia in June and cannot find a breakfast taco except at McDonald’s and we all know that is not a breakfast taco… They do not know what good breakfast food here is.

        • BldyHell

          Check out the old warehouse district in South Philly–tons of Mexican restaurants. I’d be surprised if the Poblanos there didn’t sell breakfast tacos.

  • Chuy Benitez

    Anyone who is claiming that any kind of Taco originated in Texas is wrong. ¡MEXICO! ¡MEXICO! ¡MEXICO!

    • dmat

      You got that right. They were invented in Mexico hundreds of years ago. Gringos always try to claim they invented all Mexican food.

  • oblate spheroid

    No city can claim to be the home of the breakfast taco, especially Austin, but Austin can claim to be the one to popularize it nationally.

    • Suzy Sims

      You are an idiot.

      • oblate spheroid

        Thank you for your thoughtful insight to the matter.

  • Lindsay

    Is Robert Walsh claiming Whataburger is the origin of tacos for breakfast? 1950s, Corpus Christi, Taquitos??? More like Abuelitas in the south for generations.

  • Janis Schorlemer Ploetz

    This wall in SA near Pearl says it all!

  • Hillcountry

    I’m in Austin, and I’d put this claim right up there with being the “Live Music Capitol of the World”….

  • Alan D Granger

    I’ve always thought Laredo or around Laredo. Mostly because in Laredo they’re called mariachis. Not Tex-Mexed or Anglicized at all.

  • raqmoni

    Austinites’ claims that they are the “innovators” of the breakfast taco might be able to hold water if there were actually any Mexicans living in the city. Sadly, they’ve all been priced out of their homes and property in the “new” Austin.

  • TallTexan2

    How about people learning how to read?? Writer Sedacca DID NOT say that Austin was the birthplace of the breakfast taco. Period. What he DID say was that Texas food writer, Robert Walsh, had told him that Austin was the birthplace of the phrase breakfast taco. Surely not all Texans have been impacted by our state’s poor public education system ….

  • RafterH

    Breakfast tacos are ok, but, I travel a lot and it’s pretty much impossible to eat a taco while driving without making a mess or having a wreck. Give me a burrito any day over a taco. It’s a much better delivery method for all sorts of food……huevos and chorizo, bean and cheese. Even BBQ (I can’t believe none of the BBQ joints around central and south don’t jump on offering BBQ burritos -??) Much easier to eat while driving. I was just back in my former home town El Paso ( SATX is now my barrio, Hell Paso is a good place to be from!) and except for crunchy beef tacos with my Mexican plate you can’t hardly find a “breakfast taco” except at Taco Cabana. Long live the burrito!!

    • dmat

      If you can’t eat a taco while driving, you aren’t doing it right.

  • Suzy Sims

    Let’s see – San Antonio was established in 1718, Austin was established in 1839. San Antonio was a much larger city well before Austin had a trading post. The rich heritage of San Antonio’s food culture goes well beyond when froufrou yuppie chefs rolled their food trucks into Austin and set up shop. Please. TinkaTaco anyone???

  • RAYMOND GONZALEZ

    Yawl are making me hungry, keep the following list a secret, please. Taco Haven on South Presa St, La Barca de Jalisco on Steves St. and Mendez Cafe on Bartholomew and Quintana Rd. Mom’s the word. Un dicho…. ?

  • Dan on the River

    My first breakfast taco was from El Pato in Mission. Oilfield hands told me about it.

  • Dan on the River

    The year was 1980 in Mission. There were several El Patos up and down the Valley.