The city's most beloved staple had a banner year.
Austin is a town built on Tex Mex, and it's a safe bet many Austinites eat tacos more often than any other meal out. The breakfast taco inspires a cultish devotion, and everywhere from high-end restaurants to late night trailers ply this taco-crazed city with an endless supply of meat and vegetables wrapped in tortillas.
2014 was a year of major changes: the big loss of Tamale House, a sorta-resurrection of Taco Flats, and significant expansions by both Torchy's and Tacodeli. Fusion was huge: East Side King, The Peached Tortilla, and Fork and Taco all rolled out Asian-inspired tacos. When Obama came to town, Fresa's created a taco especially for El Presidente. Here's the biggest stories in the 2014 taco world.
The Burnet Road Taco Boom
The abundance of restaurant and commercial space on Burnet, not to mention all the surrounding residential neighborhoods, has made the long, busy road into a booming dining strip. Many of the openings are designed to be affordable and family-friendly: in Austin, that means a whole lot of tacos.
The most hotly anticipated newcomer was Fork & Taco, a high-end fast casual concept from longtime Uchi chef Casey Fannin. Every taco is served on handmade tortillas, and the menu runs the gamut from green chili pork to crispy cauliflower. They also soft serve in funky flavors like soy maple.
Up the street, bar and restaurant Taco Flats opened, with an al pastor trompo as its centerpiece. Taking the name of a legendary hippie dive, the new Taco Flats instead offered craft beer, quality spirits, and traditional tacos on, yes, handmade tortillas. Owner Simon Madera hails from the Valley, and serves a menu of classics like carnitas, carne asada, and of course, al pastor. Right next door, longtime food truck empire The Peached Tortilla opened a full service restaurant featuring their Asian fusion tacos.
Local chain Tacodeli opened their fifth Austin location on Burnet this year as well, and Torchy's maintains a long-established beachhead. The restaurant fairy will bring many, many more restaurants to Burnet, though no new taco projects are on the horizon, yet.
Tamale House Mourned
Few families have done more to shape Austin's taco culture than the extended Vasquez-Valera clan. Austinites across the city mourned Robert "Bobby" Vasquez's death earlier this year, and the news that his iconic Tamale House #3 would shutter in the wake of his death was one of the year's biggest stories. The famously no frills taqueria had been a communal gathering place for Austinites for 36 years. The space is now slated to become a bakery and coffee shop, and the Tamale House legacy lives on at Tamale House East.
Home Grown Taco Chains Expand
Torchy's Tacos has grown at a rapid pace across the state. They entered new markets like Waco, San Antonio, College Station, and opened their long-anticipated Mueller location in Austin, a massive taco and margarita palace. In 2015, they will open a South Congress flagship in the former Fran's Hamburgers space.
Another local mini-chain also began testing the expansion waters. Tacodeli has grown slowly across Austin since 1999; in 2014 they opened an unprecedented two new locations. Co-owners Roberto Espinosa and Eric Wilkerson recently told Eater they plan to expand to Houston and Dallas.
Mexico City-Style Tacos
While the big news about new East 6th Licha's Cantina is their large variety of masa-based dishes (tlacoyos, huaraches, and more), their menu also features a large number of tacos. Served on handmade corn tortillas, options currently include a serious al pastor, lengua, and duck tacos. Owner Daniel Brooks is a Mexico City native, and the menu is built around classics from the metropolis.
Paul Qui and Moto Utsunomiya opened the latest East Side King outpost on South Lamar in the last days of 2013. The location's focus? Tacos, of course. Originally served on moo shu wrappers, they're now on white corn tortillas, with options like butter-poached octopus. Over at flagship restaurant Qui, the pulutan patio menu also features several Filipino-inspired tacos.
The Taco Emoji Lives
It's only fitting that an Austin-based company would develop the sorely-needed taco emoji. Taco Text, created by XOXCO, empowers Texans (and beyond) to send each other breakfast tacos, crispy tacos, and in the new expansion, bowls of queso.
Veracruz All Natural Blows Up
Momentum had been building for years behind the taco trailer co-owned by sisters Reyna and Maritza Vasquez, and this year their tacos became an undeniable Austin obsession. Waits at the original trailer have gotten so long they moved a second trailer closer on East 7th and extended hours. Their third location at newly opened Radio Coffee & Beer is a certified hit, too. The sisters announced plans to open a restaurant on E. Cesar Chavez, but after a year of battling the city over re-permitting an old house, they're now on the hunt for a new location.
Fresa's Serves The President
When Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki joined the Fresa's concept, they made two major improvements: ice cream and tacos. Ortiz's tacos at La Condesa raised the bar on higher end Mexican in Austin, and Fresa's tacos are equally accomplished.
The original menu included an El Rey taco, named in honor of new Fresa's partner, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. When Rodriguez hosted President Obama for a private fundraiser, Ortiz and Sawicki were on hand to serve, yes, tacos. The chicken fajita El Presidente is now on the official menu, with the description, "He had two!"
National Media's Austin Taco Obsession
Throw a dart at a random South By Southwest guide, and you'll hit a recommendation to check out Torchy's Tacos. Nothing against their fried avocados, but thanks in part to the hard work of Taco Journalists Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece, media outside Austin is starting to tell a more complete story. Rayo helped guide Bon Appetit's Andrew Knowlton on an epic Austin taco crawl. The magazine's top ten Austin tacos include the barbacoa de chivo from La Fruita Feliz, al pastor at La Flor, and the most Texan of all brisket tacos from Valentina's. In 2015, Texas Monthly will rank tacos across the state, and their Austin list also runs a wide gamut of the city's robust taco culture.