A Brief Guide to Some of Austin's Many Tiny Taco Shops
ATX's formidable population of taco purveyors offers meaty, regional delights
The late Jonathan Gold, chief food critic of the Los Angeles Times, wrote, "Taco should be a verb. The tortilla's hot. The meat's hot. They combine. The sauce is sloshed on it. And then you're almost eating it in one continuous motion, from the way it comes from the grill, to the guy, to the counter. I know it's overly romantic." Here in Texas, Jose R. Ralat is carrying on the tradition of taco rhapsody as the official taco editor of Texas Monthly; taco journalists Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece bring us statewide exploration in Tacos of Texas episodes. And of course, your local alt-weekly's taco news coverage spans nearly four decades, so naturally, we're here in the new year with more under-the-radar spots.
Versatile, portable, and delicious, the taco originates from Mexico, and modern-day iterations boast infinite ingredient possibilities. Some taco purists claim corn tortillas are the only true vessel, and kitchens across Austin have honed their nixtamalization process (one nearly a dozen millenia strong) and revved up the filling options. Bigger local names like Suerte, helmed by Fermín Núñez, and the more casual but tantamount Nixta Taqueria with Edgar Rico, helped explode the recent local obsession with tortillas, but lesser known shops located on nearly every corner have been slinging their version of the world-famous fare to loyal fans for years.
No matter the tortilla or filling – meat, vegetables, legumes, fruit, really anything under the sun – or accoutrements (salsa!), tacos are finger food at its finest. So the quest then, really, is just determining which of the many variants you enjoy the best and learning their unique backgrounds. Take the alambre taco, for example. Alambre translates to wire, and taqueros from Guanajuato prepare the meat-onion-pepper with skewers and serve it inside a soft, hot handmade yellow corn tortilla with a mild and creamy avocado salsa.
We've broken down a few styles available in Austin, with up-to-date individual options. And with the ebb and flow of restaurant life, especially in COVID-era Austin, this list serves as a living document with plenty of room to grow. If we missed your favorite tiny taco truck, drop us a line and rest assured we've got more on the way.
Taqueria La Luna10104 N. Lamar
cards accepted, cash preferred
It may be housed in a very tiny white truck, but the flavors are huge. Yes, you could get distracted with breakfast tacos, but skip the order envy and opt for an alambre taco stuffed full of grilled steak, sausage, bacon, bell peppers, onions, and mozzarella cheese. Filling indeed, and a steal at $2.70, on a medium sized handmade yellow corn tortilla, soft and structurally sound. The salsa is a mild and creamy avocado variety. Luis, owner and taquero, also recommends the birria and al pastor. After all that meat, you too will be howling at la luna. Hours: Mon., 7am-5:30pm; Tue.-Thu., 7am-10pm; Fri., 7am-12mid; Sat., 8am-1am; closed Sunday.
El Norteño Pollos Asados #15327 Cameron, at the intersection of Broadmoor
accepts cash and card
Obviously the specialty here is the pollo asado (charbroiled chicken) in whole ($15) or half sizes ($10). Served with rice, beans, handmade tortillas, limes, and salsa verde con aguacate (green sauce with avocado) it's a crazy good deal. The tripa (intestines) taco (not as crispy as we'd prefer, but still a good earthy offal bite) is offered on their wonderfully soft and sturdy handmade corn tortillas, and this spot is known to load you up with meat. Breast meat, which can veer toward dry, is best with a squirt of fresh lime and some of their extra creamy salsa verde that boasts a nice lingering kick. All tacos are under $3. Hours: Mon.-Sun., 6am-10pm.
Machetes Doña Leova10600 N. Lamar
We're all big fans of the more well-known ode to Veracruz, Veracruz All Natural, but this truck has its own cult following. The move here is the machetes: long taco-quesadilla hybrids made of corn masa – shaped like the blade of a machete – and griddled on a flat top, served with a variety of fillings in the house-made shell. While the tacos are good also, they do not make their own tortillas. The taquero recommended the carne asada, piled high with the fillings (all of their tacos, $2-3 each, are generously stuffed) and fresh cilantro and onion, served with pickled onions, a slice each of radish and cucumber, a lime wedge, and their signature fiery orange chile de arbol salsa. It's pretty easy to find; just look for the brightly colored papel picado. Hours: Mon.-Thu., 10am-10pm; Fri.-Sun., 10am-12mid.
Tacos Las Amazonas Estilo Jalisco4811 S. Congress
cash and card
Las Amazonas has another truck located just a few blocks north of this one, in the Kremko Automotive parking lot (also on South Congress, at the corner of Sheraton). At this Jalisco-style spot, suadero is a specialty, but the lengua is tender and flavorful, and the tripas are always treated correctly. They offer a rather hot and nuanced habanero salsa doled out in refrigerated little baggies, as all their salsa is served, highly recommended. These tacos, again all under $3, are served nearly round the clock, varying and often switching off service between the two, with the Sheraton truck operating the later shift, but at least one truck is open. Hours: Mon.-Thu., 6am-1am; Fri.-Sat., 6am-3am; Sun., 10am-12mid.
El Chilango701 Provines Dr.
No matter how many visits we've made, all of their Mexico City-style tacos – never more than $3 each – are delicious. In fact, we'll say it's one of Austin's finest. The taquero recommends a different filling each time, but some go-to favorites are the al pastor (pork prepared shepherd-style, typically on a trompo, or vertical spit), campechano (typically a combination of at least beef and pork), and suadero (a cut of meat from a cow or pig located between the belly and the leg). They make their own corn tortillas, small and sturdy without being too filling. During COVID-19, the salsa and fixings bar are not set up, but they typically have numerous salsas, stewed nopalitos, mixed bell peppers with pickled onions, and radishes. Try a vibrant, slightly hot tomatillo-based salsa with the carne asada tacos. Hours vary, call ahead to verify.
La Gordita Loca8545 N. Lamar
30 N. I-35 Frontage Rd. (in Chevron)
Known for the both enormous (we're talking foot-and-a-half) burritos and gorditas (similar to an arepa if you've not had the pleasure of experiencing the stuffed masa delights), this truck works Guanajuato-flavored magic featuring thicker handmade corn tortillas. We prefer the roasted fiery red salsa (nice acidity, considerable heat) but the flip side, a zesty tomatillo salsa, is good too. The bistec con papas is excellent, with its tender beef stewed to perfection amidst potatoes that have soaked up the juice. Hours: Mon.-Sat., 9am-10pm; closed Sunday.
Taqueria La CanariaAirport & 51st
The bright yellow truck, which specializes in Pacific coast, Guerrero-style fare, is a staple. They've been slinging tacos at the corner of Airport and 51st for as long as most Austin natives can remember. And on any given day you can catch three generations helming the truck, the youngest now taking orders. They make their own corn tortillas, which are more delicate than most, but still hold up in a breakfast taco or holding just about any meat taco you can dream up. Only one salsa on offer here, but it's a very versatile tangy tomatillo-based salsa with a medium kick. Hours: Mon.-Fri., 7am-4pm; Sat. 7am-3pm; closed Sunday.
Taqueria Torres1112 W. Koenig
Specializing in San Luis Potosí-style fare, the ladies at Taqueria Torres are outstandingly friendly and provide quality tacos at a very reasonable price: Every taco is either $2 to $3, (maybe depending on whether or not you're a regular), and they are consistently generous with fillings. Their specialties are flautas and beef fajitas, on great handmade corn tortillas, and their trademark salsa is a very creamy and mild avocado version. Breakfast tacos are a solid bet, but we highly recommend venturing far past bacon, egg, and cheese into the land of tripa. Here it's always crispy, and the avocado is consistently fresh. Call in your lunch order as they are fairly busy around noon; double-check operating hours, but during the pandemic they've generally scaled back, operating Mon.-Sat., 7am-1:30pm; closed Sunday.
El Primo2011 S. First
cash and card
In Mexico, Michoacán is known for their vast avocado production, but this neighborhood favorite is known for, well, everything on the menu. It's a family affair operated by three siblings whose father worked at a meat market in Michoacán (they also run Burrito Factory on the UT campus) and the experience shows. The lengua is very tender and plentiful, and chopped finely up on the grill. Visitors are in love with the Primo breakfast taco, with more standard-issue fillings like eggs, beans, bacon, and cheese cooked together in omelette fashion. They offer a mild tomatillo sauce and our favorite, the chile de arbol red sauce, velvety and hot. On the upper end of affordable taco stands, theirs are $7 for two, but based on the long lines, no one minds. Hours: Mon.-Thu., 8am-5pm; Fri. 8am-5pm; Sat. 8am-4pm; closed Sunday.
Tacos Aviles11218 N. Lamar
call ahead for payment options
The expert ordering decision here is the chivo (goat meat) stewed to tender in savory spices, and shredded. Cabecita de res (beef cheeks) is another fun menu option, albeit a little greasy and likely ideal for a hangover. They do not make their own in-house, but the tortillas here are made with high quality real corn. Three types of salsa are on deck: a creamy avocado green sauce (emphasis on the green), a deep red salsa with a straight-up chile de arbol base, and an orange salsa, thinner than the others and very hot. It's delicious, but use sparingly. It is definitely habanero heavy. Call for hours of operation.