Here in Austin, the battle for taco supremacy is a bloody one. Families divided, friendships dashed, and Twitter feeds triggered over the age-old argument of who does it better. With the multitude of options available, it’s easy to get lost in the debate.
For those weary of the war, there’s a familiar shelter in the storm. A mainstay of excellence in the local Tex-Mex scene for almost 20 years, Tacodeli has endured using fresh ingredients, attention to quality, and a heart for all things local.
With a new downtown Austin location ready to open its doors, a whole new audience is poised to try this old favorite for the first time.
Inspired by Experience
When Tacodeli founder and UT graduate Roberto Espinosa got the bug to start a restaurant, his life experiences served as his initial inspiration. By combining his training as an apprentice chef in the Yucatan with his Mexico City upbringing and a dash of Austin weird, Espinosa opened the first Tacodeli location on Barton Skyway in 1999.
Soon thereafter, Espinosa realized he needed a partner and brought on IT consultant turned restaurateur, Eric Wilkerson, to help him manage the shop. From there, the eatery grew into a franchise with 11 locations across Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Plano.
All of it was fueled by a singular vision for great flavors, responsibly sourced and prepared with care. While Espinosa remains the creative drive, collaboration is highly encouraged. For example, the Pollo en Pipian Rojo taco came from a team potluck, and the delicious Salsa Doña was the brainchild of longtime Tacodeli chef Doña Bertha. A taco veteran from the Barton Skyway days, Bertha brought her signature salsa in for an internal contest. When Wilkerson and the team found themselves hoarding it weeks later, it was clear they had to share it with customers. And, spoiler alert, it’s my favorite salsa on the menu.
Speaking of menu, with almost 30 items on offer, chomping my way through it would be nearly impossible. While visiting the new downtown location for the soft opening, I was able to get my mouth around three delicious tacos that are sure to impress.
I started with the surprisingly hearty vegetarian Papadulce. Bursting with rich roasted sweet potato at its core, this taco satisfies without going overboard. The addition of grilled corn adds a hint of smokiness and texture, while roasted pepper undercuts the base flavors.
I went bold and paired the Papadulce with Tacodeli’s signature habañero salsa. The up front sweet of the taco and the salsa’s spicy smack were the one-two punch I was looking for.
Next on my flavor journey was the famous Cowboy taco. Tender, beautifully marinated beef tenderloin was the star of the show, with the supporting cast of caramelized onion, roasted pepper, guac, and queso fresco adding texture, sweetness, and depth. Pairing it with the roja salsa gave the taco an extra kick of richness and heat.
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And finally, the delectable Tikin Xic closed my afternoon. To put in plainly, this is exactly what I look for in a fish taco. Exquisitely grilled salmon provides a meaty base, while a spicy salsa provides brightness and balanced heat.
And since I’m Team Cilantro, a hearty helping of the green stuff did not disappoint. While I paired the taco with dabs of the Doña salsa, the balance was perfect without dressing it. But to be fair, the Doña is so good, I’d put it on pancakes. My favorite Tacodeli salsa by a fair margin.
But don’t forget about breakfast! Most of my regular Tacodeli visits occur in the morning, so I’m already well-versed in the a.m. menu. My breakfast taco favorites include the migas heavy Jess Special, the smokey grilled goodness of the Vaquero, and the humble bean and cheese.
And major props to Tacodeli for providing egg white options. For people like my wife who have issues with yolks, this is amazing. And yes, it’s harder than you think to get an egg white breakfast taco in this town.
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Hip New Tacodeli Location Ushering in a New Era
Tacodeli’s brand new downtown location (301 Congress Ave.) is a mix of urban slick and Austin warmth. Sleek metallic furniture frames tables adorned with Mexican artwork, while ample seating invites customers to relax and enjoy. And with a location smack-dab in the middle of bustling workday lunch-goers and tourists galore, the space promises to be a busy one.
The decor’s centerpiece is a beautiful mural crafted by local award-winning artist Mila Sketch. Dedicated to the memory of longtime Tacodeli artist Cindy “Crash” Raschke, the painting is rich with authentic Mexican imagery peppered with modern ATX flair.
From location to food to the smiles you see at the door, Tacodeli is all about combining the best of several worlds into a flavor that’s uniquely Austin. Whether you’re grabbing a bean and cheese on the go, or stopping in for a leisurely lunch, Tacodeli’s hallmark is in how consistently tasty everything is. Like a great local brewer once told me, anybody can make a delicious thing once. The true genius is making it great over and over again.
That’s where Tacodeli shines in the Austin foodie scene. While they may not have the flashiest specials or head scratching concoctions that look better on a menu than in your mouth, Tacodeli’s reliability has stood the test of time. An Austin classic that deserves to be enjoyed again and again, especially in the new, hypercool setting downtown.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
What’s your favorite Tacodeli taco?