Texas is big when it comes to crowd-pleasing and family-friendly food, and while steaks, Tex-Mex dishes, chili and barbecue reign supreme in much of the state, in trendy Austin, tacos are front and center. As tacos offer something for every taste and are budget-friendly, what better way to explore Austin than with a “taco trek”? Such a trek provides a wonderful opportunity to explore different neighborhoods and see plenty of vibrant street art in the process.
Austin’s Cesar Chavez Boulevard has long been the epicenter for the city’s oldest and best-known taquerias. While there is some concern this neighborhood may eventually go the way of the trendy SoCo (“South Congress) area with its art galleries, boutiques and an outdoor food truck “food court” cropping up, the thoroughfare still maintains its integrity through its thriving, old-school Mexican eateries.
The diner-style Juan in a Million is a wonderful place to start the day, as it lists many bountiful dishes and a hot and smoky signature salsa that keeps customers coming through breakfast and lunch. Its Don Juan El Taco Grande is the king of breakfast plates with heaps of eggs, cheese, bacon, sausage and other fixings that make it a meal for two. Las Trancas, meanwhile, wins raves for its spiced, thin-shared meats.
On the lighter side of the spectrum, Veracruz All Natural draws you in with its hippie-cool Airstream trailers, colorful picnic tables and a menu that’s a touch healthier, from its organic aguas frescas and fresh fruit drinks to its popular fish and vegetarian tacos. Heartier appetites will enjoy its Oaxaca-influenced Chicken Mole taco with its decadent-but-earthy poblano negro sauce.
If you’re seeking more of Austin’s interesting indie taco spots, don’t limit yourself to East Cesar Chavez, especially if you have a rental car, local friend or a savvy Uber driver at your disposal. The locals’ favorites, according to some of the arty alternative newspapers, include Granny’s Tacos, an ambulance resurrected as a food truck and Juana Taco, offering “South Texas”-style tacos with meat sourced from the Rio Grande Valley and meat-topped potatoes.
Austin’s legendary Salt Lick BBQ offers its version of the local favorite at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport as well as in suburbs Driftwood and Round Rock. And even with a SoCo boutique-y reputation, don’t write it off, as this neighborhood includes Taqueria Chapala, Guero’s, El Borrego De Oro and Habanero’s, which all earn high marks on Yelp and other citizen review pages.
As the ever-versatile taco is great any time of day, local institutions TacoDeli makes its noshes available through its many locations as well as a few unexpected places. The menu at TacoDeli’s restaurants is big, ambitious and diverse (vegetarian and vegan included), embodying Austin’s melting pot vibe. Collegiate hangout Houndstooth Coffee, meanwhile, offers a tidy selection of TacoDeli eats as an alternative for those favoring spice over sugar. Its rich brews make an excellent companion for the savory sauces and spices.