When you hear the word breakfast, the first thing that comes to mind might be pancakes, cereal, or eggs and toast. Or it might be that energy bar you scarfed down on the way to work yesterday. But if you live in the southern half of Texas, chances are the word that popped into your head was “tacos!”
Breakfast tacos are a staple dish in Tex-Mex country, with their popularity spreading nationwide thanks to tourism. Festivals such as South by Southwest have exposed food lovers from around the country to the iconic dish, and restaurants in cities outside Texas now offer breakfast tacos on their morning menu.
The Origins of Breakfast Tacos
Tacos have long been eaten for breakfast in Mexico, but there’s nothing especially breakfast-y about them outside of the time of day. You can enjoy the same tacos at lunch or dinner, frequently consisting of fresh tortillas topped with a filling of meaty stew. It wasn’t until the rise of Tex-Mex that breakfast tacos became a thing—and now they are the thing.
While most out-of-towners assume the dish originates from the dynamic Austin food scene, it likely started further south and spread north. The exact origins are unknown, but the phrase “breakfast tacos” began to appear in San Antonio and Rio Grande Valley newspapers in the 1950s and 60s. They can now be found throughout southern Texas in restaurants and cafes, and at roadside stands and food trucks.
In essence, the breakfast taco is a more manageable breakfast burrito. Filled with any combination of eggs, beans, cheese, potatoes, and meat, the morning dish varies depending on the vendor. But no matter the filling, all breakfast tacos have two things in common: They’re wrapped in soft, warm flour tortillas and they’re a great way to start the day.
Anatomy of a Breakfast Taco
All breakfast tacos start with high-quality, fresh tortillas. If possible, they should be handmade on the spot—all of the best Texas spots make them minutes before they end up on your plate. The pliable, chewy tortillas are an ideal vessel for your choice of fillings.
Most breakfast tacos contain scrambled eggs, but fried eggs and migas (a scramble with corn tortilla strips, bell pepper, and onion) also make their way into many tortillas. Shredded, melty cheese such as Monterey Jack or cheddar is a popular addition, as are black or pinto beans, and fried or mashed potatoes. It also wouldn't be a breakfast taco without meat like crispy bacon, chopped up hot dogs, or even brisket. Guacamole or avocado sometimes makes an appearance, too.
Especially in South Texas, you’ll find endless variations of fillings, with vegetarian and vegan options available (a tofu scramble makes a good substitution for eggs). You really can’t go wrong, since you can pick and choose to suit your tastes. Many breakfast tacos lovers keep coming back to the classic combination of eggs, cheese, beans, and/or potatoes, and it’s hard to beat. It's a whole breakfast plate wrapped up into a handheld meal.
Some restaurants sell giant tacos, which are more like an unmanageable open burrito. Most are a reasonable size, allowing you to order two or three so you can try different flavor combinations. Salsas and hot sauces are typically served on the side, and available in varying levels of heat.
Breakfast Tacos at Home
If you don’t have any immediate plans to visit Texas, you can recreate the flavors of the Rio Grande at home. Make a special weekend breakfast of homemade tacos and you’ll see what all of the fuss is about. They’re a perfect relaxed breakfast or brunch to share with a loved one or two, and families will love picking their own fillings and adding their choice of toppings. They’re also a hearty cure for a late night out.
For an extra special treat, make your own flour tortillas. They’re easier to make than you might think—it just takes a bit of patience to roll each one out. If you don't have the time or the energy, seek out homemade tortillas at your local Mexican restaurant or market. Heat them in the microwave or oven just before using and keep them warm until its time to eat. Fill each one with a little cheese first so that it melts and helps hold the other fillings inside the tortilla, then top with your choice of freshly made fillings.