You can’t go to Austin without eating a taco. Taco joints are all around the city and heated discussions can arise on which one is best. Below is a rundown of the taco joints we made it to while in Austin. This is by no means comprehensive as we’d have to eat tacos every day for years to hit every taco place in town. It does include a few city favorites. We’ll have to go back soon and add more to the list.
4.5 stars: Yes, please! – Eat until the end of days
Torchy’s started out as many restaurants in Austin do, in a small trailer on 1st. New they have many locations across the city and have expanded to Dallas and Houston. Torchy’s became a go-to restaurant during our stay. It helped that it was on the path directly between our park and our friend’s house. So what about the food? One word: queso. If nothing else, get the green chile queso. This is the stuff of dreams and some of the best queso either of us has had. The cheese itself has a smooth, creamy taste and texture, but then it’s loaded up with green chiles and topped with guacamole, queso fresco, cilantro, and diablo sauce. I love the diablo sauce and sometimes we’d get an extra squirt on top to swirl into the creamy goodness. You can buy a bottle at the restaurants, too, and it has held a place in our fridge for over a year now (it helps to have a local friend who knows just what to get you). The chips that come with the queso are crisp although they can be a little greasy.
We tried many of the tacos on the menu and even the sacred/secret menu while in town. The tacos are stuffed; you could make a meal with just one although we often got one and queso or two tacos for dinner. I like to get one taco on corn and one on a flour tortilla, but I have found the flour holds together better. One downside of the veggie tacos to me is that every option has a fried element; there are no all fresh options. Somehow I got over that in the course of our stay. My favorite by far is The Independent; fried Portobello, refried black beans, roasted corn, avocado, and escabeche carrots. The carrots are a highlight for me as the spicy pickle flavor cut through the heavier flavors in the dish and lightened it a bit. The other veggie options on the regular menu are the Fried Avocado and the Dirty Sanchez which is scrambled eggs, fried poblano chile, the aforementioned carrots, and more. I like it light in the eggs (1 egg instead of 2). You can find the secret menu by searching online, a redditor made sure to compile it when they announced each taco on facebook and it was posted on many different sites. The veggie option is called the Jack of Clubs and is an overstuffed indulgence. It is composed of a fried egg topped with grilled potatoes, black beans, tortilla strips, cheese, cilantro, sour cream, and diablo sauce. Can’t finish…arteries clogging…still smiling.
Brandon’s favorite is one of their originals, the Green Chile Pork. Let’s be honest, anything with carnitas is hard to beat. He did like the standard better than the secret Missionary Style Green Chile Pork which included both kinds of tortillas, guacamole, and cheese. The trailer park is a popular option with the locals. It’s a fried chicken taco with green chilies, pico de gallo, and cheese. What combines Southwest and South better than that? Get it trashy by removing the lettuce and adding queso on top.
4 stars: Yes, please!
Tacodeli is often named as one of the top taco joints in Austin and their breakfast tacos are brought to meetings around the city. Their original Spyglass location is across from the Barton Creek Greenbelt making for a great Austin experience. We took the dogs, sat outside to eat, and then walked the trails. The queso isn’t as heavy-duty as Torchy’s, but no less tasty. The chips are extra light and crunchy. I liked my Space Cowboy taco with a yummy grilled taste to the portobellos (although they’re oven roasted), grilled corn, caramelized onions and peppers, guacamole and queso fresco. It all came together nicely. The Papadulce was a little too sweet for me with the roasted sweet potatoes. The next time I went, I tried The Heather as recommended by a friend. The grilled queso fresco, refried black beans, and guacamole hit the spot. And I love sautéed fresh spinach, so the Florentino was a no brainer for me.
Brandon thought his tacos were good, but the descriptions didn’t match the flavors. This threw him off a bit as his Puerco Verde didn’t have the tomatillo taste he was expecting.
3 stars: Nom Worthy
The huajillo sauce was the winner during our trip. I had this on my Tortas De Coliflor tacos; little cauliflower cakes covered in the sauce topped with cabbage and avocado. Brandon had eaten a bite before he realized it was my taco and wished he had my sauce. He thought his chicken tacos were bit plain and the carnitas were good, but had room for improvement. My other choice was one of their corn specialties, a tlacoyos. Described as oval-shaped black bean corn masa cakes stuffed with potato, covered in red and green sauces, and topped with cheese, cilantro, and onion, it doesn’t look like much on the plate. The green sauce is surprisingly spicy and good (spice addict here). I had actually started to tire of it and feel full before I even hit the potato in the middle. I had forgotten about the potato, in fact, but the new flavor was a nice change even though the potato itself was a little bland. We didn’t get back on this trip to try again, but I would like to go back and try something else.
Maria’s Taco Xpress
2.5 stars: Edible – Nom Worthy
This funky lady welcoming everyone with open arms has a fantastic patio with an upper deck. I just wish I loved the food as much as the atmosphere. My Nopal Taco with potato had a good zing, but the Verde filled with many vegetables was bland. The Queso Fresco Taco with black beans, guacamole, and usual toppings was just ok. Brandon felt the chicken tacos had an overwhelming amount of onions, but he did enjoy the enchiladas. Although they close early for a place with live music and other entertainment, it would be a nice place to sit outside and watch a band while noshing on some of the better options.
2 stars: Edible
Another place with a fantastic patio, it’s right on South Congress, so you can walk to Hey! Cupcake for dessert. They also have an extensive vegan menu which I was eager to try. We were excited when we saw the salsa bar and were seated next to it. The salsa was good and we looked forward to the rest of the meal. Unfortunately, nothing else lived up to the salsa. You can make better queso with velveeta and can of Ro-tel. All our tacos, veggies, al pastor, and steak were bland. How can you not have some flavor in Austin? At least add some salt. Suffice to say, we’re not going back.
2 stars: Edible
This place opened while we were there, so we thought we’d give it a try. They hadn’t even had the grand opening yet, but I hope they worked out a few kinks before they did. Since they are in Austin, I think they would benefit from more veggie taco options. There is one, the Botanical Garden Taco, and it is nice enough, but another option would be great. I accidentally ordered the Capital 10-Kay Burrito because I was just looking at ingredients and saw “choice of meat” and thought it could be veggie. They do put their “Keso’s sauce” on everything, but with the name and logo, we thought we should order a bowl of their namesake. I don’t know if I completely threw them off after I came back to correct my order (I ordered steak instead of barbacoa for Brandon), but we never got our queso. We ended up taking it to go. When you eat it there, they serve it in little crocks, but we had the to-go styrofoam. The queso itself was a little salty; the rest of the food was just alright. As I said, it had just opened, so it may have found its groove better by now, but it wasn’t the best impression.