The Thrilla in the Tortilla

16 breakfast tacos enter, one breakfast taco leaves


We are just going to go ahead and admit it. When we first came up with the idea for a breakfast taco tournament, we were slightly dissuaded by all the research we would have to do. For months, we had to live and breathe breakfast tacos. We eschewed omelets and pancakes and poached eggs on pork belly and sometimes carnitas and barbacoa in favor of more eggs, more chorizo, and more cheese. We would sometimes wake up in a fright, mistaking our comforter for a flour tortilla and our pillow for bacon (for the record, it's not nearly as delicious). On two occasions, we wandered into strangers' homes thinking we had found a breakfast taco holy grail. It was tough, often grueling work, but we survived long enough to come up with 15 competitors (with the help of a tireless taco crew). You, the tacotariat, chose the 16th slot through vigorous debate on social media, and helped further our taco study. Now it is time for the real work to begin. Over the next two weeks, we will pit the best vs. the best. In the end, only one breakfast taco master will remain in the game. Voting for the first eight brackets is open now. Taco purveyors, may the odds be forever in your queso. – Brandon Watson

The Thrilla in the Tortilla
The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Marcelino Pan Y Vino

901 Tillery, 512/926-1709
www.fb.com/marcelinostacos

Just look at the clay brown building with white block letters painted on the side. Marcelino Pan y Vino is no-nonsense. There's no newfangled ingredients here, and you can't get a cortado, but the basics are done so well they defy trendiness. Spiced potatoes are cooked in long slivers like fries for maximum potatofication. The bacon has just the right amount of crisp. And the flour tortillas practically melt in the mouth. No wonder Marcelino made their Twitter handle @BestTacosAround.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla
Photos by John Anderson

Fresa's Chicken al Carbon

915 N. Lamar, 512/428-5077
www.fresaschicken.com

Steak and eggs with rajas and charred onions. Migas with avocado, queso fresco, and cilantro. It's hard to believe that you can order such things through a window that also sends you black and whites (half horchata, half cold brew, all awesome). But through a breakthrough in tacollurgy, we are now entering an enlightened age. And to think, some presidential candidates don't believe in science.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Juan in a Million

2300 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/472-3872
www.juaninamillion.com

It seems somewhat of a misnomer to call the Don Juan a mere breakfast taco. The huge potato, egg, bacon, and cheese namesake of owner Juan Meza is a legend, a raison d'être, maybe even a whole universe in a tortilla. Rumor has it that William Kidd buried his treasure in a Don Juan, and that Bette Midler was thinking of it when she sang "Wind Beneath My Wings." If all that sounds hyperbolic, well, maybe you just haven't ordered one.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Joe's Bakery & Mexican Food

2305 E. Seventh, 512/472-0017
www.joesbakery.com

Few restaurants can claim to be bona fide classics, but then again, few restaurants are as beloved as the bakery founded by Joe Avila. Founded more than 50 years ago, Joe's is one of the restaurants that made the breakfast taco the only way to wake up. It's true that Austin does not look anything like it did in the Sixties, but anywhere they serve Joe's migas con todo (or that addictive breaded bacon) is home.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Maria's Taco XPress

2529 S. Lamar, 512/444-0261
www.tacoxpress.com

Whoever printed those "78704 – it's not just a ZIP code; it's a way of life" bumper stickers was probably thinking of the busy jumble of murals, memorabilia, and music that makes up Maria Corbalan's South Austin eatery. But no matter how much eye candy is on the walls and ceiling, it can't distract from great build-your-own breakfast tacos and a nationally recognized migas.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Mi Madre's

2201 Manor Rd., 512/322-9721
www.mimadresrestaurant.com

The last time we ate at Mi Madre's, a seemingly random assemblage of people suddenly started playing Mexican folk songs on the patio tucked between the two dining rooms. It was a gray day, but the yellow wall cast a glow and our order of two #1 tacos (sausage, egg, potato, cheese) and two #13s (smoked bacon and eggs) had just arrived. Sometimes you forget that magic can still happen in Austin, casual get-togethers that turn into memories. And sometimes you forget that breakfast tacos can happen at brunch.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Paco's Tacos

1304 E. 51st, 512/323-6206
www.pacosaustin.com

On a pleasant Austin Saturday morning, order one of Paco's deliciously engineered corn/flour tortillas stuffed with egg, mushroom, peppers, and spinach, and sit outside with a mimosa and a Topo. Remember that great South Austin house party you got invited to when you first moved here? You'll have the munchies when you eat here too.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Papalote Taco House

13219 Research #100, 512/840-0745;
2803 S. Lamar, 512/804-2474
www.yumpapalote.com

True story: We once tried to express our feelings about Papalote in song to the tune of Los del Río's seminal classic "Macarena." As a musical expression, it was a dismal failure. As an expression of love, it could bring you to tears. While it is exceedingly difficult to rhyme avocado, poblano, calabaza, and chicharrón, put all that in a tortilla with some scrambled eggs and then tell us that you don't hear music, too.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Tacodeli

Various locations; www.tacodeli.com

If you have been to a locally owned coffee house, chances are you have picked up a Tacodeli breakfast taco. But nothing beats having them freshly made. If you are a traditionalist, feel free to build your own potato, egg, and cheese; but we suggest you branch out a little to one of their specialty tacos. The Vaquero is full of grilled corn and roasted poblano and red peppers. The Otto is a filling mix of black beans, bacon, avocado, and Jack cheese. And a migas taco is about as Austin as you're likely to get.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Taco-Mex

2944 E. 12th, 512/524-1880; 2611 Manor Rd., 512/524-0860; www.tacomexorders.com

What does it take to become a breakfast taco legend? In Taco-Mex's case, all you need is a window. Their no-frills approach to the taco experience means that they never sacrifice quality in order to achieve their famously low price. Sure, you don't get a dining room with lushly upholstered banquettes, but order online and you can take papas guisadas back to your bed. It's really the only reason that we remain single.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

El Tacorrido

Various locations; www.eltacorrido.com

We have always liked to think of El Tacorrido's trio of salsas as the Destiny's Child (later edition, sorry Farrah) of breakfast taco toppings. Verde de aguacate is the Michelle, velvety but assertive enough to stand up to jamón. Roja is the Kelly, a little classic, but perfect with other background players like huevos or papas. Fiery and roasted, molcajete is the Beyoncé, belting out even over spicy chorizo. Girl, I didn't know you could get down like that.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Taco More

9414 Parkfield, 512/821-1561; 2015 E. Riverside #3, 512/916-8888; www.tacomore.biz

The breakfast tacos here are simple: chorizo and egg, potato and egg, cactus and egg. But that's just a start. Before your order is ready, you will want to make a beeline to the salsa bar where paper-thin radishes, pickled onions, grilled jalapeños, avocado salsa, cucumbers, green and red hot sauce, and limes are ready to be filled in giant cups. They didn't have to go through all that trouble – the tacos stand up on their own – but we don't mind them going for extra credit.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Tyson's Tacos

4905 Airport, 512/451-3326
www.tysonstacos.com

It's difficult to imagine anyone in Austin has had more fun naming dishes than Tyson Blankemeyer. Breakfast taco highlights include Asphalt Guy (pork chop and egg), Jaime's Little Pony (veggie chorizo, squash, black bean, avocado), and Fat Coves (refried beans, bacon, potato, sharp cheddar). Maybe you can't take the names too seriously, but there's some serious innovation happening inside with ingredients like deep-fried egg yolk, sriracha mayo, and rib eye.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ

7612 Brodie, 512/221-4248
www.valentinastexmexbbq.com

Brisket on breakfast tacos. We repeat: Brisket. On. Breakfast. Tacos. It's not enough that the flour tortillas at Valentina's are handmade or that the humongous Real Deal Holyfield's combination of fried egg, potatoes, refried beans, and bacon will keep you full for a full day of rowing on Lady Bird Lake or sending press releases from a MacBook Air. They put brisket on breakfast tacos. It's everything Austinites hold near and dear.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Veracruz All Natural

Various locations
www.veracruztacos.com

While other places' breakfast tacos are lauded for toppings or tortillas, the Veracruz trucks have built a cult for their eggs. Creamy but not runny, firm but not rubbery, the eggs will make you momentarily forget about kitten GIFs. Even without the yolks, the eggs are somehow just as rich. We are not sure if founder Reyna Vazquez meant for the Reyna (egg whites and a garden of vegetables) to be a play on words, but we'll gladly bow down to it any day.

The Thrilla in the Tortilla

Write-in: Torchy's Tacos

Various locations
www.torchystacos.com

This one came down to the wire, edging out Taco Joint in the wild card social media vote. But in the end, Torchy's mix of everyday quality and not-so-everyday fillings (brisket, green chiles, jalapeño sausage) won our voters over – or maybe it was the devilishly addictive Diablo sauce. As Cuvée Coffee founder and CEO Mike McKim tweeted, "Can it be a contest without @torchystacos?"

The Breakfast Taco Crew

Mayor Steve Adler

David Toby, beverage director, Jack Allen's Kitchen

Jack Gilmore, chef/owner, Jack Allen's Kitchen

Susana Querejazu, pastry chef, Odd Duck

Josh Hare, founder, Hops & Grain Brewery

Westen Borghesi, White Ghost Shivers and Cold Lampin' Crew DJ

Nakia, singer-songwriter

Rene Ortiz, executive chef, Launderette

Mariam Parker, executive director, Austin Food & Wine Alliance

Armando Rayo, Taco Journalism

Jarod Neece, Taco Journalism

Adrian Giovanelli, executive chef, Roaring Fork

Larry Perdido, chef/founder, Hopdoddy Burger Bar

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