On the Taco Trail

 

Two self-proclaimed taco journalists made it their mission to document the best of the best in Texas.

Seven thousand miles, 10 Texas cities, 500 tacos, and two friends—that’s what it took to create Jarod Neece and Armando Rayo’s book, The Tacos of Texas. The authors of the 450-page tribute to the savory dish that powers the citizens of this great state offer authentic recipes, recommend the best taco joints in Texas, and share stories from the locals who guided the duo along the way. As the authors of the blog Taco Journalism and the locally bestselling book Austin Breakfast Tacos, Neece and Rayo spoke with the Alcalde about their lives as the state’s foremost taco connoisseurs.

How did you become “taco journalists?”

Jarod Neece: It was about 10 years ago, before things like Yelp [were popular]. There was a guy in L.A. that had started to do the great taco hunt and he would go around to trailers, trucks, and restaurants and rate the tacos like it was a fine dining experience. We thought, Oh man, we love eating tacos, and just started writing. Over time, people took notice. We won the Austin Chronicle’s Best of Austin Awards and eventually a small publisher got in touch with us. [Austin Breakfast Tacos] was really well received.

Tell me about your search for the tacos in The Tacos of Texas.

JN: We’ve been writing this book since we were born, because we’ve been eating tacos in Texas for that long. We started pre-production on the book—online research—in 2014 and created the Texas Taco Council, which is made up of people from every city we visited. We didn’t want to be these two guys from Austin coming in to your town telling you what the best tacos are. No one knows your city better than you do. We’d also hear tips from cooks, dishwashers, and grandmothers. The cities aren’t alphabetical in the book; it’s written like a journey you can follow along.

What do tacos mean to you?

Armando Rayo: It comes down to family for me. It’s what I grew up with—waking up to fresh tortillas and putting some beans in them. It was always what was my mom or tias were cooking.

JN: It’s the ultimate comfort food. It’s simple ingredients, but that’s why there are different variations—the way the meat is cooked or the tortillas or what kind of salsas go on top or a combination of these people’s histories. It’s like culture in a taco shell. People would just open up their doors and invite us into their homes and businesses and backyards. It was a once- in-a-lifetime kind of trip.

Do you have a favorite story in the book?

AR: Trying to find the holy grail of tacos. People were telling me, “You have to go where there’s taco stand after taco stand after taco stand. It’s called the taco mile.” But we couldn’t find it. Then, by chance, one of the restaurant owners in Brownsville told us to go try a place and when we got there it was one taco stand after another. Turns out it’s actually known as “taco street.”

JN: I always talk about Lola. We were in Abilene and [her place] was this kind of little nondescript building and her name was above the door. It looks very much like someone’s living room and she’s there in the back cooking with men in suits chopping onions. Before you know it, Mando’s cooking and I’m cleaning dishes. It’s Lola’s kitchen, she makes the rules.

What’s your taco of choice?

JN: If it’s a drunk hangover taco, it’s a bacon, egg, bean, and cheese at Joe’s Bakery in Austin. If I’m feeling a little lighter, it’s migas from Veracruz All Natural. My daughter and I both like to eat al pastor for breakfast so we go to Mi Tradición and get baby taquitos.

AR: I love Valentina’s Tex-Mex barbeque in Austin. And around here there are breakfast tacos everywhere. For me it’s a bean, egg, and bacon on a flour tortilla, or a taco al pastor.

Would you say Texas is the taco capital of the U.S.?

JN: I think it’s the most diverse. I’ve eaten tacos in California, New York, and Japan. There’s not much debate over Texas being the top.

Photo courtesy of Marco Torres

 

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