In this day of famous cooks and celebrity chefs, few restaurants are as closely identified with the persona of a noncooking restaurateur as Austin's Taco Xpress. I mean, seriously, where else but Taco Xpress will you find a gigantic sculpture of the restaurant owner on the roof, welcoming you to eat with open arms? Argentine beauty Maria Corbalan, also affectionately known as Loca Maria, is the subject of the locally famous sculpture and the proprietor of Taco Xpress. In the past 20 years, she's gone from busy waitress to taco-truck owner to restaurateur, building a following with hospitality, personal magnetism, irreverent humor, and good Tex-Mex food. Her gleefully tacky restaurant exudes a quintessential, funky South Austin charm paired with always reliable cooking. It's an appealing combination and one well worth an annual pilgrimage.
Though the restaurant now serves dinner and drinks five nights a week, Corbalan built Taco Xpress' reputation with a busy breakfast business, and customers line up for it every day. Breakfast tacos are the house specialty, and they arrive in freshly made tortillas if you arrive early enough. The house version of tacos al pastor, with tender, marinated pork cubes cooked on the flat-top griddle and sprinkled with chopped onion and cilantro, is especially good doused with a spritz of fresh lime. One of your best choices will be the migas plate ($7.50), a huge helping of eggs scrambled with chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers, and tortilla pieces and topped with grated cheese, served with refried beans and fried potatoes. The gorditas are thick, round disks of masa split and filled with eggs or meat, and they are particularly good here. I'm partial to a couple of gorditas filled with carne guisada and a generous helping of the house red sauce, but they'll stuff them with just about anything on the menu if you ask nicely. Wash it all down with a frosty glass of horchata or a fresh-fruit agua fresca, and you'll be good to go all day.
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