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.
This downtown establishment rates high in the ranks of Texas’s modernist Mexican restaurants (see “Modernist Mexican” in the Tacopedia). So high that the magazine’s restaurant critic named it the best new restaurant of 2020, saying “be advised that the Texas Mexican Food Timeline does have a significant new date: 2019. In other words, there’s Before Comedor (BC) and After Comedor (AC). It’s just that simple.” In the wake of the pandemic restrictions, Comedor successfully adapted by leaning on delivery and on tacos such as cochinita pibil, carnitas, a variety of Texas-sourced mushrooms, huitlacoche, and lengua. It’s hard to go wrong with the talent in the Comedor kitchen, led by executive chef Gabe Erales. But, really, it’s all about the bone marrow tacos. The roasted, herb-crusted exposed femurs served on a bed of mixed greens known as quelites with a healthy amount of lime on the side are a build-your-own-taco joyride on in-house nixtamalized tortillas made of non-GMO Mexican corn. comedortx.com, 501 Colorado, 512-499-0977.
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.
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.
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.
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.