And the Winner Is ...
Juan in a Million remains an Austin classic
Everyone thinks this probably, but that doesn't make it any less true to me: Hands down, the best breakfast taco I have ever had the pleasure of eating in my life was made by my great-grandma. Memories of sitting cross-legged at her rickety kitchen table as she, then in her mid-80s, labored over frying bacon, scrambling eggs, and heating tortillas will stay with me for the rest of my life. No one, before or since, has made tocino so crisp.
In New Austin, that simplicity and care is getting harder and harder to come by. Substitutes are plenty, and while they may get all the ingredients right, there's something the supplanters have just never been able to figure out. Maybe it's the fact many of them cannot figure out how to cook a tortilla properly? (Over an open flame or on the comal, for Grandma's sake!) More than that, what's missing is the warmth and personal touch of our first-ever Thrilla in the Tortilla champion, Juan in a Million.
Has the clientele changed in the last 35 years? There's no place on the Eastside that hasn't adapted in some way to the stream of newcomers pouring into the area. But owner Juan Meza's slick handshake? Firm as ever. Quick-trigger smile? Hasn't lost a watt.
Like my great-grandmother (who was born just outside of town in Creedmoor), my mom has spent her entire life in Austin. She also makes a mean breakfast taco, but with much less deliberation. In 1991, when she was pregnant with me, she went to the Cesar Chavez haunt almost daily for huevos rancheros before work. Years later – you know, once I could eat solid food – she'd bring me back.
The history of that restaurant lives in the decor – in the newspaper clippings, autographs, and worn booths. In the age of open-face, ahi tuna monstrosities, they offer the meals of my mom and grandmother and her mom before that. That feeling of being home isn't yet extinct. It lives at Juan's, in the chalupas at El Patio, in the pan de huevo at Joe's Bakery.
It's not a feeling felt only by a fourth-generation, Mexican-American Austinite. That's why when you walk into Juan in a Million you'll always see a diverse crowd – Latinos young and old, frat contingents, and everyone in between. And why, when our readers had the chance to pit taco against taco, they went with the Don Juan. When you've been doing this well for this long – well, it's really less about the competition and more about you.