They may only be “a couple of guys who love breakfast tacos,” but Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece, the sturdy taste buds behind the Austin, Texas blog Taco Journalism, have published the definitive guide to consuming the regional specialty. Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day (American Palette) is packed with taco history, taco confessions, taco recipes and taco tips from a slew of Austin taco specialists and enthusiasts, including Top Chef winner Paul Qui, singer-songwriter Sarah Hickman, LBJ’s granddaughter and Drafthouse Cinema founders Tim and Karrie League.
We spoke with Neece, who juggles his stints of salsa-splashed investigative reporting with his day job as a programmer for the South by Southwest film festival, about the triumph of the breakfast taco.
I understand the research phase for this book was quite intense. How many tacos did you eat?
Sometimes we’d eat at two or three places in a day. There were days of eating three or morebreakfast tacos for two weeks straight. On a weekend, we’d get six or seven people over at the house and be making tacos. It was very taco-centric.
Were there repercussions?
Definitely! Some gym time afterwards was needed—a lot of salads and we’re good.
What’s so great about the breakfast taco?
Being a taco instead of a burrito, the taco is more versatile. If you’re hung over you can steer yourself to a chorizo taco. If you want to be healthy you can have egg and avocado. You can get different textures. It’s the perfect amount of food, too. I love bagels and cereal and oatmeal and all that stuff but there’s something about a breakfast taco that sets a good base for your day.
Why is Austin the breakfast taco capital of the world?
It’s just the people. Everyone endorses it and embraces it. The gas stations, the fried chicken restaurants. Any place you can have a breakfast taco there will be one. Everyone who comes here loves it. They’ve adopted it like a bagel in New York. It’s obvious: that’s what you eat.
When was the first breakfast taco served in Austin?
I don’t think we found what the first one was. But before that a lot of people were selling tamales out of carts by the capital. I think somewhere around the 1930s or ’40s. People have been putting eggs in a tortilla for a long time.
It’s interesting that even fast-food burger chains in Austin sell breakfast tacos. Is there a revolution happening?
We did an article with the New York Times once, and one of the things the reporter found out is that the breakfast taco became popular in 1980s when Mexican restaurants tried to compete with the Egg McMuffin. It was hot, substantial and affordable. Everyone is eating at all these taco restaurants now and it’s kind of the reverse. Getting breakfast tacos, pop culture-wise, is a huge thing.
What’s the secret to a good breakfast taco?
Homemade tortillas are always good. What type of cheese? How much egg? Some people overfill it. It’s all about finding the good ratio and making sure the ingredients are good.
Where do I start?
Joe’s Bakery and Coffee Shop makes a great bean, egg, cheese and bacon taco. Beans are like the Mexican mayonnaise. The eggs are cooked really well, and they dredge the bacon in flour and then they fry it. The beans are like a condiment. The eggs are mushy. The bacon is crunchy. It’s a perfect little bite.
What if I want to put something crazy in my mouth?
You can have a taco with brains. You can get tongue. I guess that’s weird to some people. Papalote Taco House has something called “Weenie con Huevo Taco.” Hot dog and eggs.
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