As an ontological concept, “best” starts to get a little staticky when applied to categories of things that are almost entirely very good. Such is the case with breakfast tacos, a humble foodstuff comprised of a small number of delicious ingredients that is easy to prepare. Call me an undiscerning rube, but if I’m eating eggs, cheese, potatoes, refried beans, and/or bacon, and it’s all in a flour tortilla, I can guarantee a high baseline of personal satisfaction. Thus, determining the very best breakfast taco in Austin (NOT the home of the breakfast taco, but an exceptional outpost nonetheless) is a task less of discovery than of almost-arbitrary elimination.
I tried to take a broad view on my personal taco quest, because one beautiful aspect of a breakfast taco is that its simplicity and portability allow for infinite recontextualization. Breakfast tacos have been incidentally present in so many situations in my life. I’ve hashed out breakups, conducted interviews, and carved out quality me-time on many mornings at some of Austin’s finest Tex-Mex establishments. As I slouch into my 30s, I’m increasingly nostalgic for one specific breakfast taco-related experience: sitting with friends at a perforated outdoor table on a woozy Sunday afternoon, grouped around sweating glasses, steaming mugs, and several bowls of salsa, soaking up hangovers and dissecting now-forgotten problems that loomed come Monday.
From 2010 to 2012, I lived within stumble distance of Mi Madre’s, an old-school taco joint on Austin’s east side. When Aurelio and Rosa Torres opened Mi Madre’s, in 1990, it was basically a kitchen with an order counter. Since then, the original building has been renovated twice; it now includes two dining rooms and an expansive patio space, an architectural evolution that mirrors the rapid redevelopment of Austin’s Manor Road corridor. Brown booths with laminated tabletops now fill the interiors, while thermoplastic picnic tables with shade umbrellas now populate the patio. The lack of contrivance is palpable. Traffic flow is, generally, terrible. The very ad hoc-ness of it all is charming.
I’ve probably been to Mi Madre’s fifty times and can enthusiastically recommend any of their breakfast offerings, but the most representative breakfast taco on the menu is the #0: bacon, egg, potato, and cheese. Individually, each ingredient is noteworthy: the eggs are fluffy and fresh, the Idaho potatoes are soft and smashed, the grated cheddar-jack cheese is melty and piquant, the spirals of bacon generous and crispy, the flour tortilla powdery and thick. In concert, they unify into a flavor experience that is jarringly pleasurable. Together, the bacon is a sustained undertone anchoring the airy eggs, a crisp note in a chewy symphony. Mi Madre’s bubbly, salty tortilla chips deserve special mention—another best-of winner, in my opinion—as does its red salsa, a smoky puree with a vinegary tang.
I was recently in Austin for a weekend, and went to Mi Madre’s twice. The second time, I went alone, to take notes on the experience—I try to be a good food journalist, after all. The first time I went with two good friends. This was right before the election, November’s halcyon days, and we got to talking almost immediately about the race, about what it had revealed, about our own specific, uncertain futures. I placed my order almost without thinking; my thoughts, for a moment anyway, were far away. And then our food arrived.