Texas’s long-running love affair with Mexican food has been hot, heavy, and shockingly promiscuous. For many decades, tamales were our main squeeze; now we only see them during the holidays. Then enchiladas won our heart (despite that embarrassing fling with fajitas). But since we’re in a tell-all mood, there’s something we have to get off our chest: all this time, we’ve been secretly sneaking around with tacos.
Really, how could we resist? Tacos are fast, filling, and fun. They won’t cost you a bundle (well, except for the high-priced ones that hang out in chic restaurants). They are as complex or as simple as your whims demand, and if you tire of one, there are fifty others to take its place.
Tacos, of course, are having a cultural moment: they’ve inspired countless “best” lists around the country, not to mention blogs, chef quests, encyclopedic tomes, and even their own emoji. In Texas, though, this is hardly a surprise. Our neighbor to the south has been our inspiration for years, and the roots of our passion run deep.
Some thirty years ago, this magazine published its first taco roundup, in a 1986 story headlined “The Great Texas Taco Tour.” We exclaimed over the arrival of Mexico’s indigenous “soft” tacos, which were rapidly elbowing aside the “crispy” tacos of Tex-Mex fame. In “The 63 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die,” published in 2006, soft tacos had taken the lead and crispies were riding into the sunset.
Today we herald a landscape that is in savory transition, one where Mexican classics such as barbacoa with cilantro and onion coexist with Texas notions like fajitas with scrambled eggs, and global ideas such as ahi tuna with pickled ginger might just be the wave of the future.
Has there ever been a better time to declare our devotion, loudly and with gusto, to these tortilla-wrapped muses? To explore our feelings and assess tacos’ present state, we rallied thirteen reporters and equipped them with exhaustive score sheets and elastic waistbands. When the salsa finally settled, four months later, the team had sampled more than a thousand tacos in two dozen cities and compiled the most comprehensive guide to the masa marvels ever published in Texas. On the following pages, we give you the ultimate list, one that stretches from Amarillo to the Rio Grande Valley and from modest taquerias to ritzy dining rooms.
Tacos, we celebrate our love for you.
By Patricia Sharpe, José R. Ralat, Courtney Bond, Robert Draper, Jessica Elizarraras, June Naylor, J.C. Reid, Tom Thornton, Daniel Vaughn, and Texas Monthly restaurant reviewers
With additional research by Marysabel Cardozo, Kate Groetzinger, Chance Hoener, Katie Kramon, Joe Levin, Cameron Osborn, Jack Queen, and Sarah Strohl
Classic Mexican: Close to what you’d find in Mexico. Sometimes called “street tacos.” Corn tortillas (occasionally flour).
Modern American: Mexican ideas adapted to American tastes. Think tons of toppings and then some. Corn or flour.
Tex-Mex: Old-school, often with a crispy, U-shaped commercial corn tortilla. Related to Mexico’s tacos dorados.
Puffy: Uncooked corn tortilla that has been deep-fried, expanding with hot air like an inflatable pillow. Basic fillings like picadillo or chicken.
Breakfast: Can include scrambled eggs, pan-fried potatoes, chorizo, cheese, bacon, and more. Usually flour.
Specialty: Inventive combinations and unconventional ingredients, especially from other countries.
The Meat of It: Let the vast universe of succulent cuts, chewy entrails, and cooking techniques be a mystery to you no more.
Buen Provecho: A devotee’s long-awaited taco crawl through Mexico City.
The Interview: Henry the Puffy Taco