Throughout our days and years as writing types, we’ve received a fair amount of unique press releases; innovations such as Nadkins and vaginal suppositories laced with THC come to mind.
But the mother-of-all-outrage landed in our inbox the other day in the form of an email release touting a story from Clever Real Estate that calls Austin, Texas, America's “best taco city,” with our beloved Los Angeles coming in at #5 on the list, sending the mercury on our no-fucking-mames meter blasting through the glass.
Say what?! The clickbait has been laid, and against our better judgement about this kind of bullshit, here we are taking it.
Proving figures can be manipulated for whatever effect you desire, like pushing more L.A. transplants into Texas. The rankings were determined by a hearty stew of determining factors, including points for “taco restaurants” and taco trucks per 100,000 residents, the average Yelp star ratings of said places, Google trend scores searches for tacos, and a couple of other things that really don’t matter because it’s all wrong.
One would be hard-pressed to find the scope and diversity of Southern California’s Mexican restaurant scene in the high majority of U.S. cities. We have the good fortune to live in a place where the cuisine of nearly every state in Mexico can be found, in addition to regional recipes that can be traced back to small towns and even home kitchens, not to mention a gracious bounty of Southwestern “Tex-Mex,” North American lunchroom tacos, and the surfeit of international cultures sliding their culinary treasures into corn tortillas, a long list that includes tacos highlighting the cuisine of Italy, Korea, Vietnam, Armenia, Iran, and so many more.
Of course, being L.A. TACO, we’re biased as can be. But there’s no doubt in our mind that a city of Austin’s size is not holding a candle to one that counts vastly more Mexican and Mexican-American people than they have people in total.
But don’t take our word for it. We reached out to food writer, friend, and television host Ali Khan, a former L.A. TACO columnist and former Angeleno who has called Austin home now for seven years, during which he tells us he’s been trying to chase down the kinds of tacos he coveted in L.A.
The man doesn’t mince words when we ask for his opinion on the claims that Austin is the #1 best city for tacos in the county.
“I was working with the James Beard Foundation in Texas this last year, and homie, I’ll tell you right now, Austin doesn’t even have the best tacos in the fucking state,” he explains to L.A. TACO, mentioning that a more interesting challenge would be a fight between L.A. and Houston or San Antonio, given their respective sizes and diversity, or even California versus Texas. “But yeah, that’s preposterous. There’s no way, dude. If you’re talking about breadth and depth, there’s no way a city of this size can compare.”
I can’t even get a good tamal in this town, and I wrote an article on tamales during the holiday times,” Khan continues. “The best tamal I’ve had here were actually brought from El Paso.”
Of course, we love Austin, as does Ali. So, we wanted to know which Austin taquerías he’d point Angelenos to without hesitation. He enthusiastically endorses a few new players in the game: Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ, which he says does Tex-Mex the way it’s done in Texas households with an off-pit smoker and skirt steak fajita over mesquite and pillowy flour tortillas, and Los Cuantos, which comes from an East Austin local from humble beginnings who went to Mexico City and nixtamalizes his own masa and makes great salsa.
The latter scratches the itch when the former Downtowners “misses L.A.” and his all-time favorite late-night L.A. taquería, the Arts District’s long-gone La Reyna in the Arts District, as he often does. He also grieves over leaving our city before the rise of such places as Sonoratown and Tire Shop Taquería.
“What I miss is the salsa bars of Southern California,” he says, also noting a lack of al pastor in Austin amid a profusion of asada, brisket, and barbacoa. “Last time I was in Santa Barbara to shoot ‘Cheap Eats,’ I was like, ‘oh right, you can get twelve salsas!’ I forgot what that even looks like.”
Having cast his Angeleno-Austin-ite judgement upon the land and clickbait listicles everywhere, Khan leaves us with one last word of advice on pinpointing enthralling Mexican food.
“For me, the best Mexican food is always on the street, with some great exceptions,” he says. “For me, the better the margarita, the worse the food.”
Of course, for anyone seeking a taste of a Texan-specific take on Mexican food, there are always breakfast tacos at Austin-affiliated Homestate to start. Which we understand has a good margarita. And then there is the pop-up A's BBQ, which sometimes serves its meat on tacos (and does not serve margaritas).
That’s located right here, in the #1 U.S. city for tacos and greater Mexican cuisine, as it goes in our book.