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My Favorite Taco

Interview with Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece, Authors of “The History of Breakfast Tacos”

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Mando & Jarod (photo by Dennis Burnett)

We first found the excellent Austin-based taco blog TacoJournalism because co-founder Jarod Neece uses our "Taco Man" mascot as his avatar on Twitter. This fortuitous discovery brought us to one of the premier taco sites in the history of the internet, a place Austinites & practitioners of the taco lifestyle alike regard as a goldmine of information, history, and opinions about the food we love. Now Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece have published a book "Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day", which is full of interesting stories, recipes, photos, and much more. We recently interviewed Mando and Jarod to find out more about tacos in Austin and beyond...

What are your favorite taco spots in Austin and beyond?

In Tacos we Trust, follow you gut to these Austin spots…

Joe's Bakery & Restaurant
Taqueria Arandas
Tacodeli
Porfirio's Tacos
Pueblo Viejo
Papalote Taco House
Veracruz All Natural

In LA we love…

The Chroizo & Cheese tacos at Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica and the Al Pastor at Tacos Leo.

How did Taco Journalism get started? When did you know you were destined to become part of the "taco lifestyle"?

JN: Taco Journalism was started in 2006 when my co-worker Justin Bankston (aka Cornbiter Deluxe) and I wanted to share our love of tacos with the world…or at least with our Austin friends. We were inspired by The Great Taco Hunt blog in Los Angeles and its amazing write-ups of LA’s taco trucks and trailers. He was exploring LA and going to places some people might have never tried. We really wanted to do the same thing here in Austin—to let people know where to find the best tacos in town. So we started eating and writing about tacos. It’s that simple.

How have your perceptions of tacos changed since you started investigating them in a more scholarly/journalistic way?

Well, after tasting your first 100 tacos, you kinda build up your taco pallet. The taco journalist in us came out as we learned more about the people behind the tacos - the taqueros. They have great stories and are doing what they love. For us, it's more than the taco, it's about learning about their recipes, histories, cultures and bringing their voices to forefront. Often times, their voices aren't include because they're not in the mainstream or chefs but through our efforts, at least we shed some light on them and show our appreciation that way.

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Veracruz Migas Taco (photo by Dennis Burnett)

What does the taco mean to the city of Austin?

Everything! It's become second nature to Austin and Austinites. No matter what time of day or where you go, you're bound to find some tacos in our little town.

Let's go through some of the top taco spots in Austin... when you come home from a long trip, what's the go-to spot? Where do you take out-of-towners? What's the most underrated taco in town? What's the weirdest taco in Austin?

MR: After a long trip, our go to spot is Joe's Bakery - where every Mexican knows your name! They treat you like family there and their breakfast tacos are food for the soul!

JN: For me, it's my local taqueria, Taqueria Arandas #2 or Habenero for some beef fajita goodness.

For out-of-towners, we go to Joe's or Veracruz All Natural - they have the freshest Migas Taco in town (Mexican style, hence Veracruz, not so much Tex-Mex, basically less cheesy, more avocado). I also go for Tacodeli. That's the new take on the breakfast taco. It's rooted in Mexican but it's totally Austin - organic, locally sourced meats and a fusion on the not so traditional (buffalo, mole, bahn mi tacos)

Most underrated taco is Pofirio's bean and cheese taco. It's so simple, yet so good. The weirdest? Tripitas? Nah, that's normal for us. We'd have to say squirrel tacos but you'd have to go out to the country and to an undisclosed farm.

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Habanero Tacos (Photo by Dennis Burnett)

How has the food truck craze impacted the taco scene in Austin?

I think it's had a positive impact. For a while there, we had some taco wars and there was community pressure to be more strict with taco trucks and trailers but once the chefs and more mainstream cooks got into the trailer scene, they eased off on that. Which is good, more taco trailers, and donut trailers, and hamburgers and pizza trailers. You get it.

Can you share a recipe from your book that readers of L.A. Taco would especially appreciate?

This is my go to recipe. Not in this book but still good.

El Mundo de Mando's World Famous Fried Egg Taco
Story behind the Recipe:
What can I say, I love huevos. Those of you who know me know that I gotta have my huevos, especially around 3am after a night of muchas cervezas. Well, y'know I don't do that anymore...why...you buying? Aneejuays, una noche after many many tequilazos I created the Fried Egg Taco, I mean The World Famous El Mundo de Mando Fried Egg Taco! Yeah, that's betta. It takes a lot of skill and coordination to make this taco...less if you're sober.
So yes, after a night of heavy drinking, the Fried Egg Taco was born.

Ingredients: 1 Huevo
2 Jalapeños
1/8 of an onion
3 slices of cheese
2 corn tortillas
2 teaspoons of olive oil

Directions: This is my personal favorite - cuz I make them myself! I do everything from chorizo con huevos to the veggie option (my wife is a recovering vegetarian, so [in robot voice] I must comply!). My personal favorite is a fried egg with cheese (now you have to fry the cheese with the egg, love the sizzling cheese factor!) add some roasted jalapenos (rajas) & onions and place it on top of a fried corn tortilla, fold it in half and go to town on that mo-fo! My favorite is letting the yolk gush out and licking it off pretty much anywhere it lands. So there you have it, El Mundo de Mando's World Famous Fried Egg Taco. A simple & pinchi good taco! Tan-tan!

How has the face of "taco journalism" changed since you first started your blog?

We've grown up a bit. We're cultural historians now. ;) When the blog started we were going out more, it was more about the fun, beer, tacos, y'know. Now we're married, have families, we're older and wiser. So now instead of writing about 2am tacos we write about our sons and daughter's favorite breakfast taco cuz they wake us up hella early...every...day.

Was it difficult to get people to "talk tacos" for the book? What was the process like?

Not really. It's what Austinites love to talk about. They love everything Austin and tacos were just part of it. The only reservations came from some of the taqueros that were kind of stand off-ish or maybe a bit shy because they weren't used to being featured as part of a book.

The whole process took us about 2 1/2 months. We were up early mornings doing taco shoot after taco shoot, 8,9,10,11am everyday. Then we invited the "people of Austin" to contribute their recipes and cook their homemade tacos. They all came to my house in two weekends and again, we shot taco after taco all weekend. It was a taco-thon! Most contributors sent in their Q&A portion on time but we did have to chase some peeps down. We also spent many days and nights at the Austin History Centers researching and digging up old newspaper clips, records, menus dating back to the 1890s. Part of the oral history part of the book was interviewing "los elders" and helping them tell their stories and translating a lot of their oral transcripts. All this, including one all-nighter!

What tacos worldwide are you interested in tasting that you haven't yet had the opportunity to sample?

We'd love to explore Mexico City more and get lost in their tacos, but we've eaten almost all types of tacos. I seriously can't think of any types we haven't tried. There are some weird ones out there like lion meat tacos but that just doesn't sounds good.

Visit Jarod and Mando at tacojournalism.com, and make sure to buy their book.

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