feature image by Keegan Jones via Flickr
A breakfast taco is exactly what you think it is: a taco that you eat for breakfast! Most breakfast tacos have a combination of standard morning fare like eggs, bacon, cheese and potatoes all wrapped in a flour tortilla. But of course, there are many other great variations. In central and south Texas, the breakfast taco is worshipped, and for good reason.
Breakfast tacos are integral to my Tejana identity. Some of my fondest taco memories mostly involve breakfast tacos, which I wrote about in the first Taco Tuesday. Commenter Sally pointed out I gave flour tortillas a lot of love and barely gave a shout out to corn tortillas, which I do like too — it’s just that I grew up in South Texas, where Tex-Mex food reigns and flour tortillas are used more frequently. The breakfast taco is the creation of Mexican/Americans living in Texas and embodies all the best qualities of the food this region has to offer. “Part Mexican, part American and 100 percent Tejano, breakfast tacos are a unique food that can only be found in Texas, and we love to tell the world about them,” writes authors Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece in Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day. That’s true for damn sure because here I am, evangelizing the breakfast taco today.
A Morsel of History
We always have to start with the tortilla; they’re the foundation. I touched on the origins of both the corn tortilla and the flour tortilla in the second Taco Tuesday. Since flour tortillas are mostly used in breakfast tacos, let me refresh you on their history. The origins of the flour tortilla are unknown but it may have been due to influence from Spanish colonizers forcing indigenous people to use wheat instead of corn. Food historian Jeffrey M. Pilcher, author of Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, believes people living in Northern Mexico often made flour tortillas because of regional agricultural patterns. He also notes it was easier and faster for hardworking rural women in Northern Mexico to make flour tortillas instead of making corn tortillas which was a long, involved process. It makes sense that today breakfast tacos, which were created by Mexican/Americans in Texas, mostly start with a flour tortilla.
I also touched a little on tacos mineros, which were tacos that miners would take to work in the morning and were likely the first tacos called tacos in Mexico in the 18th century. They evolved and are now called tacos de canasta; people in Mexico City regularly chow on them in the morning. Alejandro Escalante, author of La Tacopedia, tells taco journalist José R. Ralat about the various “breakfast” tacos you can find in D.F.: chicharrón in salsa, beef picadillo, mole with shredded chicken, bistek in salsa, tinga, cauliflower fritters, chile rellenos, potato pancakes and a range of other variations. So Mexicans have always eaten tacos in the morning, it’s mostly the style and ingredients that have evolved in Texas.
Austin is obsessed with breakfast tacos. Breakfast tacos are to Austin what bagels are to NYC. It’s one of those things they boast about and is so ingrained in Austin culture that it can get annoying sometimes. But I’ll overlook it any day for the all-star breakfast tacos the city offers. How did they become so prevalent in the city? It started with Mexican immigrants settling in Austin in the 1870s to work as soda jerks, ranch hands and workers in factories. In the 1890s and early 1900s, Austin saw the development of Mexican-owned businesses ranging from a meat market to tortilla factories and of course tamale and chili stands around town, which were the predecessors of the now-popular taco trucks. Austin’s 1928 City Plan segregated Latinos and Blacks to the east side of town, which has contributed to the racial divide found in Austin today. In the 30s and 40s, the Carlin family opened several Mexican restaurants and other Mexican families followed suit, opening Mexican restaurants in the east side. Many of them are still open today, like Joe’s Bakery (1962), El Azteca (1963) and Cisco’s Restaurant Bakery (1959). In the 70s through the 90s, there was a surge of immigration. Authors Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece of Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day write about how the many Latino immigrants influenced Austin and their food scene.
“With increased community members from Mexico and Central and South America, and mixed with multigenerational Tejanos, Austin’s food scene started to boom. It was in the early eighties when the commercialization of breakfast tacos began with the Tamale House on Airport Road, Las Manitas on Congress and other established restaurants. In the late eighties and early nineties, Austin experienced a growth of small Latino-owned businesses in the form of taco trucks and trailers. Soon thereafter, chefs and other entrepreneurs followed suit, and today Austin is a mecca for food trailers.”
Austin is definitely not the only city in Texas that is all about breakfast tacos. For people in the Rio Grande Valley, breakfast tacos are part of their daily life. Once you get out of Central and South Texas, you can still find breakfast tacos but not as concentrated and popular as they are in those regions. Despite this, they’re truly a unique experience to the land I call my home.
Top Breakfast Taco Ingredients
There’s a myriad of combinations you can put in your breakfast tacos. Here are the most common ones / my favorites found in folded-up flour or corn tortillas across Texas.
Eggs: There’s no other breakfast food that says “rise and shine” like eggs! (Wait, coffee probably yells it louder.) Scrambled or sunny side up, eggs are the most common base in a breakfast taco and can help you build the best taco yet.
Potatoes: Crisp and season them just right and they’ll fill you right up! Best when eaten hungover.
Bacon: My girlfriend and I gave up eating pork for a year, so I haven’t had bacon in my tacos in a long time. But I can assure you it’s 100 percent the right decision to fry it up and put it in your tacos. Try any of these combinations: bacon and egg, bacon and potato, bacon and refried beans. Bacon + potato + egg + cheese = magnificent.
Frijoles: Since forever, my mom and grandma have made a pot of pinto beans for the week. When my family couldn’t afford to splurge on meat, beans were an excellent source of protein and a basis for a lot of dinners growing up. Since there was such a surplus, my mom would make refried bean tacos in the morning. They’re simple yet so divine.
Chorizo: Chorizo is a greasy, crumbly sausage and is fucking delicious. Growing up, my mom would make my brother and I chorizo and egg tacos. It was my brother’s favorite and my least favorite. But I love chorizo and potatoes! I know it’s weird. Most chorizo is made with pork so I haven’t had chorizo in my tacos in a long time. That’s where soy chorizo comes in! I can attest to the deliciousness of soy chorizo and potatoes in a flour tortilla — it’s still as delicious as regular chorizo.
Barbacoa: I will dedicate a whole other post to barbacoa (meat from a cow’s head) tacos. But for now, just know Sunday mornings weren’t perfect Sunday mornings until we ate barbacoa tacos in South Texas.
Migas: Migas are basically fried corn tortilla strips with scrambled eggs and a combination of tomatoes, onions, chile peppers and cheese. It’s pretty good. I grew up eating migas but did not experience eating it in a taco until I went to school in Austin. They’re batshit crazy for miga tacos in Austin, which I don’t really understand. Migas were something my family ate when we were trying to clear the fridge before we went grocery shopping.
Puerco en chile: This is something my grandpa use to make a lot and that I dream about eating sometimes but I don’t know how to make. It’s basically slow-cooked, tender cuts of pork in a chile sauce. I need to ask my grandpa how he makes his so I can report back here. I just had to add it to the list because it accounts for many breakfast tacos I ate as a kid. This goes well with corn or flour tortillas.
Hot Dog Weenies: My dad didn’t do a lot of the cooking when my siblings and I were growing up but he would occasionally sub in for my mom when she was busy or out of town. His go-to anytime meal was hot dog weenies and egg tacos, which was a hit with the kids. He would cook sliced hot dogs in a pan of hot oil with scrambled eggs. This goes well in a corn or flour tortilla.
Spam: Yup, spam is perfect for breakfast tacos. This is another staple my family would go to when we didn’t have money for meat. My mom would fry it and then smothered it in a chile sauce for dinner. In the mornings, she would cut it up in small cubes and cook them with scrambled eggs and put them in corn tortillas. Delicious!
Nopales: My girlfriend loves nopales, or cactus. This is a great vegetarian option. Sauté trimmed and thinly sliced nopales with other veggies and I guarantee it’ll be a hit. I also like nopales with potatoes.
Cheese: I rarely put cheese in my breakfast tacos but lots of Texans love cheddar cheese on most of their breakfast tacos. You’ve got monterey, cotija, queso fresco and so many others to choose from to top off your taco just right.
Salsa: I think a salsa can make or break your taco. It’s that fucking important. If it has the right spice and flavor, it will take your taco over the morning sun. Common ones are salsa roja, made with tomatoes and chile de arbol or salsa verde, made with tomatillos and Serrano peppers. If you want to be super Tex-Mex like my mom, you can boil some tomatoes, onion and Serrano peppers until they’re soft and then blend them up to make a salsa.
Potato and Egg Breakfast Tacos (makes 4 servings)
1 medium/large Russet potato
4 large eggs
1/4 white onion
salsa roja (recipe below)
Optional ingredients to take it to the next level:
shredded cheddar cheese
1. Dice the onion and set aside.
2. Cut the potato into small cubes. You don’t want them too big because they’ll cook unevenly.
3. Season the potato cubes with salt, pepper and paprika to your tastes. I would put more salt than pepper and paprika.
4. Heat up a medium pan with some olive oil on medium-high heat. Once hot, throw in the onions and stir for a minute.
5. Add the seasoned potato cubes and stir. I really don’t know how long I cook the potatoes for because I’ve never timed it. I’m guessing they take at least 15-20 minutes. I just stir them around every few minutes to ensure they’re cooking all the way through. You know they’re done when they’re crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
6. What I like to do while the potatoes are almost done cooking is crack all the eggs in a bowl and scramble them with a fork and then put them in the pan. Or you can just crack them right into the pan and scramble them there.
7. Heat up a comal or, if you don’t have one, a heavy griddle and warm up your flour tortillas. It makes your tortillas warm and slightly crisp.
8. Put your potato and egg mixture in a flour tortilla and bam! There it is — a beautiful breakfast taco. You can top off with cheddar cheese if you like. You should definitely top it off with some salsa. Lucky for you, I’ve got just the recipe.
My girlfriend taught me this recipe!
2 roma tomatoes
2 dried chiles de arbol
a garlic clove
1. Heat the comal or heavy griddle to medium-high heat. Once hot, char the tomatoes, chiles and garlic clove.
2. Put all of the ingredients in a molcajete, if you have one, and crush them all together until you get the consistency you want. If you don’t have one, you can use a blender to purée the ingredients for less than 30 seconds, depending on how chunky/smooth you want your salsa.
3. Add salt to suit your taste.
4. Put it in your taco and savor the delicious bounty.