For the past three months, Texas Monthly‘s Team Taco (can I trademark that?) has been canvassing the state in search of the best tacos, a list we’ll publish in our December issue. We’ve chronicled our culinary quest, bringing you a highly subjective yet substantive selection of some of the greatest tacos in Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, the Rio Grande Valley, and—to be published this week—San Antonio. (Don’t worry Houston and El Paso, you’ll be spotlighted soon.)
As we approach the final stretch of our research for the Big List and our city-centric taco tours, I’m beginning to suffer from a massive case of taco guilt (and probably a case of taco tasting overload too). Despite eating tacos almost every single day for ages, and personally having tried more than 150 different tacos in Austin, I feel like a slacker and a terrible person. It’s a state of mind ruled by paranoid perfectionism: I haven’t done enough! I’ve missed the best ones!
Thankfully, I haven’t been alone on this journey. Besides me, there are thirteen other taconistas (definitely trademarking that) working on the story in other major Texas cities, and I can say without fear of contradiction that all of them are feeling the same way. Well, except for the tiny handful who finished early and have already gone through the subsequent withdrawal and detox processes.
One of our major collaborators is José R. Ralat, the food editor of the Dallas-based Western lifestyle magazine Cowboys & Indians and founder of the Taco Trail blog. First We Feast, a food culture website, recently asked Ralat to break down Texas’s different taco styles in “A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Regional Tacos in Texas.” If you travel the state, you may know this already, but seeing the four regions (West, Central, North and East, and South) defined by their preferred tacos reveals some illuminating details. According to Ralat, West Texas likes its tacos fried or crisped up, with seasoned ground beef as a filling; El Paso opts for Muenster over yellow cheese; Austin is obsessed with breakfast tacos; and Dallas and Houston, two cities with substantial Monterryan communities, are specialists in trompo tacos, using meat cooked on a vertical spit.
I wish he’d been given more room to elaborate on something he alludes to, which is the rapidly changing face of tacos in Texas. Until the last five or so years, our state’s tacos were basically Mexican or Tex-Mex. But now, in the hands of pioneering places like Dallas’s Velvet Taco, they’re going international with a vengeance (paneer and bánh mì tacos, anyone?). Where in the world will we be in ten years?
His recommendations for tacos—which range from the well known to a couple of off-the-beaten-path places—include many visited by Team Taco. If you have more suggestions for us, please leave them in the comments. The paranoid perfectionist in me insists.