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Five Tex-Mex Food Specialties That Should Go Nationwide--Or At Least to California

Torchy's Tacos, Austin's most-famous breakfast taco stand--and it's spreading...
Torchy's Tacos, Austin's most-famous breakfast taco stand--and it's spreading...

From chili to the combo plate, fajitas to tacos al carbón, the frozen margarita machine to nachos, Texas has long dominated the national conversation on Mexican food in this country. But that's now irretrievably changed, as California and our onslaught of regional Mexican, Korean tacos, Mission burritos (via Chipotle) and other troops have overtaken Tex-Mex and left it eating Pecos dust (read the full argument--of course--in my Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America).

That's not to say Tex-Mex is completely dead. The state can still be strip-mined for its many regional specialties that have yet to penetrate the American market. Having just returned from the heart of Texas, Austin and San Antonio, I was reminded of their jewels but also of how few people outside the state have tasted them, let alone know about them. Behold five of them. And Texans: I know there are many more I didn't mention, from barbacoa to carne deshebrada (or guisada), but we can't all be like ustedes, you know?

5. Migas

Five Tex-Mex Food Specialties That Should Go Nationwide--Or At Least to California

The rest of the country might think migas are chilaquiles, as both are based on tortillas, eggs, and salsa--but migas are to chilaquiles as the Washington Wizards are to professional basketball. Chilaquiles are spartan--fried tortilla strips, salsa, and a side of beans and rice, with eggs usually thrown in. Migas are Baroque--that same structure, but the tortilla strips sometimes sauteed, sometimes grilled, sometimes pulverized, and always mixed and a harvest of peppers, onions, and tomatoes mixed into the egg. And the cheese--oh, lordy, the cheese. AND the queso.

4. El Paso-Style Burritos

A weenie burrito--yes, stewed hot dogs in a jalapeño salsa
A weenie burrito--yes, stewed hot dogs in a jalapeño salsa

I just discovered these last month, at a stand in El Paso strangely called The Real Burrit-O. While Chico's Tacos are necessary food for anyone who passes through El Paso, these are more exportable, as you don't have to explain to the country what a burrito is, as opposed to rolled tacos covered in cheese, drowned in tomato salsa. El Paso burritos are really Juarez burritos, which are beautiful, spartan things: not too big, stuffed not with beans and rice and a grilled meat but usually any number of guisados (or, turkey tail tinted crimson--fatty and brilliant). Another big reason why they're so delicious is because Texas features...
 
3. Edible Flour Tortillas

A Real Burrit-O in all its glory--look at that flour tortilla
A Real Burrit-O in all its glory--look at that flour tortilla

There's some guy who always asks why we don't review flour tortillas in our Tortilla Tuesday column, and the answer is simple: California's flour tortillas are uniformly vile, cardboard imposters that are victims to the GRUMA cartel. That's not the case in Texas, where flour and corn are equals on the Mexican breakfast table, with the flour versions upstaging their corn cousins in artistry: as small as the palm of your hand, or as long as a forearm; buttery, crispy, thin, thick, all of it. Unfortunately, the United States has sided with California for its flour tortillas (with the exceptions of Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado) instead of Texas on this one.

2. Puffy Tacos

Five Tex-Mex Food Specialties That Should Go Nationwide--Or At Least to California

This is Tex-Mex personified, at its most excessive and wonderful: crunchy and greasy and cheesy and gargantuan. They're like eating into a fried cloud, with a torrent of juices coming from the oil and carne guisada that traditionally comes with it. We Californians are lucky--the first family of the puffy taco, the Lopezes (the people behind the legendary rivals Henry's Puffy Taco and Ray's Drive-In--don't ask why they're at war), have a branch at Arturo Puffy Taco in Whittier. But the rest of the country must suffer, with only the occasional expat or usurper placing them on their menus, to the roar of the Texans and the bewilderment of everyone else.

1. Breakfast Tacos

Torchy's Libertarian taco: chicken-fried sausage, grilled peppers-onions-jalapeños, green chile queso, pico de gallo, jack & cheddar & AWESOME
Torchy's Libertarian taco: chicken-fried sausage, grilled peppers-onions-jalapeños, green chile queso, pico de gallo, jack & cheddar & AWESOME

Nothing exemplifies better the unreachable divide between Texas and California more than what we eat for breakfast: tacos, or burritos. Californians: those crazy Texans enjoy their Mexican breakfast best with tacos. Made from flour tortillas. And they're small. And they're wonderful. Texans: us crazy Californians enjoy our Mexican breakfast best with burritos. Made from flour tortillas that are huge. And they're wonderful. But whenever I tell my Tejano friends about breakfast burritos, they laugh. Loudly. And when I tell my Cali friends about breakfast tacos, they laugh. Loudly. We can learn from each other, folks--hell, the both of us shared college-baseball coaching legend Augie Garrido.


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