This story was originally published in November 2020 and has been updated.
The Capital City gets a lot of taco attention. It comes with the media exposure surrounding large events such as South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. But the focus has long been on Tex-Mex staples like breakfast tacos, the city’s myriad taco trucks, and restaurant institutions like Matt’s El Rancho. While those continue to thrive, a new wave of modern establishments has diversified the landscape and made for a richer Mexican dining experience. Here’s where to find the best along Austin’s Taco Trail.
Since September 2019, Cuantos Tacos has set the mark for Mexico City street-stall-style tacos sold from Austin trucks (watch our “On the Taco Trail” video with Cuantos here). First, it did so from a converted 1963 Ford Step Van, painted yellow, next to an auto shop. Then it moved to Arbor Food Park, where it continued serving traditional tacos of suadero, luscious and subtle lengua (see “Mini” in the Tacopedia), longaniza (an aged chorizo), and more from a chorizera (think a large smooth-edged Bundt pan with a shallow trough and a wide convex center tower; the fillings get cooked in lard in the concave channel). Each night of service has a special taco. Thursday is for tacos estilo Matamoros (see “Tacos Estilo Matamoros” in the Tacopedia). 1108 E. Twelfth, 512-903-3918.
The name says it all for the Discada trailer. The white, sparsely adorned rig sells one taco and one taco only: discada. The northern Mexican dish that’s popular in El Paso developed from vaqueros and ranch hands cooking mixed meats with vegetables and aromatics on broken plow discs. The rigged cooking implement evolved into what’s known today as the disco, or cowboy wok. The discada recipe differs from cook to cook, and Discada owners Anthony Pratto and Xose Velasco won’t share theirs. They promised the source of the recipe, Velasco’s father, that they’d keep it a secret. What we can tell you is that the mixture of bacon and beef (see “Pork-Beef-Chicken” in the Tacopedia), chives, bell peppers, onions, and more is cooked down for several hours until it’s transformed into a juicy filing that’s the consistency of relish and carries pleasant peaks of saltiness and caramelization. The brightness of an optional yellow slice of pineapple brings a balancing sweet and acidic component. They are served as mini tacos. Make sure to order at least four. discadatx.com, 1319 Rosewood Avenue, 512-945-7577.
This homage to Oaxaca from executive chef Iliana de la Vega has an all-star list of regional dishes on the menu. Particularly delectable are the empanadas de huitlacoche. But this is about tacos. Go for El Naranjo’s tacos dorados (see “Tacos Dorados” in the Tacopedia), a trio of rolled fried tacos filled with mashed potatoes and goat cheese or shredded chicken. The tacos dorados are smothered in an emerald-colored salsa of avocado and cream. The presentation is finished with a sprinkling of panela cheese. elnaranjorestaurant.com, 2717 S. Lamar Boulevard, Suite 1085, 512-520-5750.
El Perrito ATX
Owner-taquero Ivan Enriquez missed the flavors and dishes of his hometown of El Paso so much that he decided to begin serving them himself. It’s the Sun City specialties that set this trailer apart from the plethora of other Austin taco trucks. Here, Enriquez serves an improvement on the famous flautas ahogadas of Chico’s Tacos. His taquitos ahogados come drowned in a thin tomato salsa with a splash of salsa verde, finished with a generous helping of cheddar cheese. Don’t skip the hot dog, which is like no other and truly sets this trailer apart. Served on a bisected hamburger bun, the ELP Doggie is a garnet-hued pork-and-chicken hot dog, sliced lengthwise. It includes beans, red enchilada sauce, and pickles, all smeared with spicy mayo and ketchup. elperritoatx.com, 1620 E. Riverside Drive, 915-777-0361.
In 2016, Maria Rios, a native of Guanajuato, opened a food truck in a repurposed ambulance. That truck, Granny’s Tacos, named after Rios’s great-grandmother and grandmother, is now the city’s best breakfast taco truck. The kitchen has also been replaced by a shiny new trailer. The tacos with chilaquiles (see “Breakfast Tacos” in the Tacopedia) can be topped with a guajillo-based salsa roja; a soaking, tart salsa verde; or a house-made mole. The mole offers sweet, spicy, earthy, and bitter notes that work in concert to offer a punchy finish over scrambled eggs and corn chips. Rios retired late last year and sold ownership to her son, Rey Hernandez. He has expanded Granny’s to include two permanent locations and refurbished the original ambulance into a roving taco unit. grannystacosatx.square.site, 1401 E. Seventh, 512-701-4000.
La Tunita 512
Gerardo “Jerry” Guerrero had grand plans for La Tunita 512. When he opened the trailer in November 2019, the menu he offered was sprawling, including sopes, gorditas, tortas, enchiladas, and weekends-only traditional goat birria. Unfortunately, the San Luis Potosí–born chef saw only a few customers on a given day. It was then that he decided to streamline his menu, focusing on trendy beef birria. It’s in everything, including specials such as pozole ramen and fat burritos stuffed with yellow rice and molten cheese. Guerrero’s decision to change his menu saved the business and gave Austin the best birria de res in town. La-tunita-512.square.site, 2400 Burleson Road, 512-679-0708.
Los Danzantes ATX
When Edgar Yepez and his friends Luis Fernando Baes and Sonia López opened Los Danzantes ATX, whose name nods to their folklórico dance company, it was the fulfillment of a dream. Since the trio began serving signature dishes from their native Oaxaca, Jalisco, and Aguascalientes, the dream has only gotten brighter. The truck’s chalkboard menu boasts juicy tacos de birria with rich consommé, as well as large toasted and folded tlayudas packed with beans, Oaxacan quesillo cheese, avocado leaves, and cabbage. You can order a blanket of cecina, a salted beef, to go atop the tlayuda. To find these exquisite foods from one of the state’s best taco trucks to open in 2021, you’ll have to schlep down to the Far Out Lounge and Stage along a developing stretch of South Congress. Los Danzantes ATX is in the backyard. losdanzantesatx.com, Far Out Lounge and Stage, 8504 S. Congress Avenue, 512-705-3621.
Mi Tradición Panaderia
This bakery-restaurant has two locations: one on the north side of town and another south of the river (we prefer the latter). The must-order at both is the taco de arroz de chile relleno, a wide, fat blue corn tortilla upon which lies a bed of yellow rice and a squat, battered and fried chile relleno de queso (see “Guisados” in the Tacopedia). Let the taco cool a bit. Doing so not only allows for easy manipulation of the taco, it gives the cheese time to firm up. One big is enough to share, if you want to sample other tacos. mitradicionbakery.com, 801 E. William Cannon Drive, Suite 125, 512-445-9120.
Sara Mardanbigi and chef Edgar Rico, co-owners of Nixta Taqueria, offer their customers a balance of the modernist and the traditional via interpretations of their cultural heritages (see “Chef-Driven” in the Tacopedia). The enchilada potosina features a guajillo-mixed corn tortilla and chile-rubbed cheese imported from Rico’s ancestral home of San Luis Potosí, Mexico. More imaginative handiwork often integrates Mardanbigi’s Iranian roots, such as a recent special using Middle East za’atar seasoning with a mole blanco. The purple tortilla base is made from corn nixtamalized in-house. nixtataqueria.com, 2512 E. Twelfth, 512-551-3855.
I’m usually a stickler when it comes to traditional preparations, but trucks are fascinating environments with restrictive spaces that require creativity. That’s how Paprika chef-owner Margarito Pérez devised a space-saving solution to make his carnitas (see “Carnitas” in the Tacopedia). Because of capacity constraints, he can’t use the traditional cazo, a wide-mouthed pot with a narrow base, in which cuts of pork are braised in lard. Instead, he cooks the meat sous vide for at least twelve hours. The result is an impossibly soft filling of chopped pork best topped with the chunky, oily salsa macha with medium heat. Tacos al pastor made from pork roasted on a trompo are an occasional special. Look for the sign that says “No Mask. No Tacos. No Chingues.” We’re not spoiling the translation for you. paprikaatx.com, 6519 N. Lamar Boulevard, 512-716-5873.
“Tapatio” is the Spanish word for someone or something from Guadalajara, the capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco. And that’s the city that you get a taste of at this South Congress trailer. First and foremost is the cheesy, chile-stewed barbacoa estilo Guadalajara (see “Barbacoa/Barbecue” in the Tacopedia). They look like the uber-popular birria de res tacos because what most taquerias pass off as birria de res is actually barbacoa. The preparations are cousins, and both are exquisite when done well, just like the tacos at Sabor Tapatio. Also great are the chorizo and carne asada campechano mini tacos on corn tortillas. They come five to an order. sabortapatio-restaurant.business.site, 5604 S. Congress Avenue, 512-483-4241.
Before Comedor and Nixta Taqueria, there was Suerte, which actually opened not that long ago (March 2018). Like the other modern Mexican restaurants, Suerte, whose kitchen is overseen by executive chef Fermín Nuñez, nixtamalizes its corn for tortillas. The taco to order here is the brisket suadero, Nuñez’s specialty. The chunks of beef are made luscious with the prickly house salsa macha, called black magic oil. Make room for dessert (see “Dessert Tacos” in the Encyclopedia), especially the choco taco. suerteatx.com, 1800 E. Sixth, 512-953-0092.
The grace with which Texsueño owner Brandon Martin rolls out his raw, nixtamalized tortillas from the press to the flattop griddle is mesmerizing. The same skill is also evident in his tacos—especially the slightly spicy crispy taco, which is freshly fried and filled with ground beef (or potato, if you so choose), then topped with ribbons of chopped lettuce, cheese, and onions. The dish is a lovely ode to Martin’s West Texas upbringing. Don’t miss the flautas, two halved, rolled, and fried tacos filled with juicy roasted chicken and cheese. They’re served vertically and partially submerged in a double whammy of woodsy roasted-tomatillo ranch and punchy salsa macha. Chopped cilantro sprinkled atop adds color and brightness. It’s damn near perfection. texsueno.com, 2000 E. Cesar Chavez, no phone.
After a pandemic break, Nick Belloni reimagined his business, formerly known as Trill Taqueria, as the Cajun and Creole trailer Trill Foods. His love of Mexican cooking methods led him back to a tacos-focused operation, and it’s just as incredible as the original concept. The menu includes roughly four rotating tacos and one non-taco item (on our visits, it was peppery, masa-fried chicken). Tacos, whether sweet potato wedges on zippy chipotle aioli or lamb carnitas, are served on small, nixtamalized corn tortillas ground in a retrofitted 3.5-horsepower table-saw motor. trillfoodsatx.com, Vacancy Brewing, 415 E. St. Elmo Road, 337-501-6336.
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
Miguel Vidal set out to build a barbecue joint like no other in town by cooking food that he grew up eating in San Antonio: smoked meats with tortillas, rice, beans, and more Mexican American backyard favorites. The menu at Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, which opened in 2013, is separated into Tex and Mex categories. The former lists all the barbecue favorites (see “Barbacoa/Barbecue” in the Tacopedia) smoked with mesquite. The Mex includes a bevy of tacos. Spectacular regulars include the smoked chicken topped with a dollop of lime-forward guacamole and a peppy tomatillo-habanero salsa. valentinastexmexbbq.com, 11500 Manchaca Road, 512-221-4248.
In 2016, Rio Grande Valley natives and brothers Miguel and Daniel Cobos started Vaquero Taquero as a pushcart hawking breakfast tacos. They upgraded to a customized trailer next to a Hyde Park convenience store and sold tacos on handmade tortillas, including zippy chipotle-stewed chicken tinga; griddled nopales; and pork sliced from a petite trompo (see “Trompo” in the Tacopedia). Now, they work out of a storefront next to another convenience store near Speedway. vaquerotaquero.com, 104 E. Thirty-first, 512-366-5578.