More than wearing burnt orange on game day or taking a splash in Barton Springs Pool on New Year’s Day, arguing about the best taco in town might be Austin’s most time honored tradition. Locals take tacos seriously because it’s part of their lives, an essential thread between the tech newbies and the Capital City’s hippie past.
In nominating 10 spots for the CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Favorite Taco, our judges are likely to spark even more debates. But the truth is, no one can can do wrong dining at any of these places. We know we’ll be hitting them up morning, noon, and night before we reveal the final winner at our annual party at the Bullock Texas State History Museum on April 10.
Asador — Smoked Brisket
Arguably no other taco joint does more with limited space that this downtown spot. Tucked in a corner of the patio between agave bar Las Perlas and whiskey emporium Seven Grand, Asador specializes in flavors bold enough to punch through the headiness of booze. The smoked brisket is a standout with its mole tamarindo zing. Add a copita of añejo mezcal for a particularly inspired pairing.
Dai Due Taqueria — Wild Boar Pibil
This taco stall at the Fareground food hall takes the same care with ingredients as its cousin brick-and-mortar on Manor Road. That starts with locally grown heritage corn and continues through Gulf seafood, Hill Country game, and produce sourced from area farms. Each are given the respect they deserve with unfussy preparations that allow each morsel to speak for itself. Try the pequin spiked wild boar pibil for a particularly Texas treat.
Discada — Discada Taco
Xose Velasco, the chef behind this nighttime food truck, cooks his tacos like some compose songs. Beef and pork provide the bass notes and a layer of onions adds some rat-a-tat-tat. Each new layer absorbs the juices from the previous addition, adding to the stunning melody until its all scooped into a warm corn tortilla. True, there’s only the one offering coming out of the kitchen, but we don’t mind putting jams like this on repeat.
Rosita’s al Pastor — Taco al Pastor
Since it’s right in the name, there’s no doubt what this Riverside Drive taqueria considers the specialty of the house. But that’s just the start of the adventurous menu. Equally alluring are the potato-specked picadillo or the tacos made with offal like tripas or lengua. The breakfast options mix almost everything imaginable with eggs, from salty machacado to spicy chorizo.
Suerte — Suadero Taco
This red-hot East Austin newcomer is more upscale than the other eateries on this list, but it still knows how to throw down. The tortillas, made with just nixtamalized corn, are the fragrant foundations for fillings like a luscious duck in mole negro or a carne asada with a biting grilled allium and radish salsa. Still, none of the other dishes quite match the sorcery that is the Suadero tacos —confit brisket served with a radiant chunky avocado salsa and a drizzle of the mysterious house black magic oil.
Tacodeli — The Otto
Some gatekeepers might poo-poo the idea of chain being on a best taco list, but Tacodeli founder Roberto Espinosa deserves credit where due. More of the nation’s quick service eateries need to follow the stellar example of serving sustainably meat, fish, and veggies and establishing community partnerships. And, let’s face it, the Doña sauce makes everything it touches better — especially the perennially popular Otto taco with refried black beans and double bacon.
Tamale House East — Migas
With its bubbling fountain and plant-lined patio, this East Sixth Street eatery feels like a bulwark against encroaching east side development. The recipes are layered, with each new generation of one of the enduring Vasquez-Valera restaurant dynasty adding their own touches. It all culminates in the rightly famous Mom’s Migas, one of the best in a city overflowing fine examples.
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ — Smoked Brisket
The pulled pork and brisket pitmaster Miguel Vidal stands out on its own, but there’s an alchemy that happens when the mesquite smoked meats hit a lardy flour tortilla with onions, cilantro, and guacamole. The tangy barbecue sauce tastes exactly how it ought to, but it’s impossible not to be seduced by the duo of salsas — either the gentle sting of the tomato serrano or the full wallop of its tomatillo habanero counterpoint.
Vaquero Taquero — Taco al Pastor
The words “tacos al pastor” may be common on Austin menus, but few eateries do the dish justice. Although something similar to the culinary icon can be whipped up on a grill, technically it requires roasting on a spit so the marinade can slowly baste the pork and caramelize the sugars — a process both time and labor intensive. Brothers Miguel and Daniel Cobos use a trompo not just because of tradition, but also because deliciousness comes with doing what’s right.
Veracruz All Natural — La Reyna
From humble food truck origins, sisters Maritza and Reyna Vazquez have made Veracruz synonymous with Austin’s dining scene. It’s even more impressive that they built a now five-location strong empire largely off of word-of-mouth. But who can resist talking about a place that offers the morning brilliance of gooey migas or the fresh veggie medley of La Reyna? No one it seems, not even us.