I’m at the point in life when I become slightly ashamed to admit out loud the number of tacos I consume weekly. If I share one more picture of tacos al pastor on my Instagram, I’m afraid people won’t understand.
Having said that, I’m not about to slow down. Especially since I’ve discovered that Tyson’s Tacos, a small neighborhood joint on Airport Boulevard, offers tacos created by its customers. I even have a shot at getting my own taco creation on the menu if I visit often enough.
Eat Tacos, Get a Chance to Create Your Own
For every dollar spent at Tyson’s Tacos, you get a point. Two hundred points earns you the right to create your own taco that will be featured on the restaurant’s official menu.
This concept is unusual even for Austin, a city famous for its diverse and creative food scene. Tyson’s Tacos’ extensive menu features dozens of taco varieties, but only two of them–taco with fried egg yolks and taco with burnt ends–were designed by the chef and owner, Tyson Blankemeyer. All the others are creations by Austinites who love the place.
No wonder almost every taco served here has a unique story behind it. Some are made according to old family recipes, while others are conceptual and dreamy. But they are always an honest representation of people living in Austin.
Stories of Tacos Are Stories of People
Blankemeyer shares that his Mailman beef fajita taco was named after a mailman who came for lunch every day. Asphalt Guy was designed by the person who repaired Tyson’s Tacos’ parking lot.
One of my personal favorites–the Prince taco–was created by a regular who was saddened by the artist’s death. He asked for a purple taco with ingredients mentioned in various Prince songs. Blankemeyer came up with a taco featuring fresh water fish, giving tribute to Lake Minnetonka, famously mentioned in the 1984 Prince film, “Purple Rain.” Pickled beet slaw and shredded purple cabbage give the taco its purple color, while the song “Raspberry Beret” inspired the chef to add raspberries to the filling.
While Blankemeyer was telling me the stories behind the tacos on the menu, I was munching on Fuerte Fit, a healthy taco filled to the brim with chicken, eggs, and avocado. “Look! The guy who designed your taco is dining over there!” I turned my head to see the owner of Fuerte Fitness having lunch behind me. His gym is located only a few miles away from the taco joint. Fuerte Fit, packed with protein and healthy fats, is his present to gym-lovers.
As fascinating as it sounds, creating your own taco is not an easy feat. The number of tacos on the menu is limited. Therefore, every time a new taco is added to the menu, the one with the least sales is removed. Blankemeyer always explains to customers that they have to be careful choosing ingredients because odd foods are not popular with the majority of diners. The name of the taco also plays a crucial role in its sales. Right now, the menu features tacos named I am so Eggs-Cited, B is for bacon, and Yoda, among others.
Authentic Mexican to Authentic Austin
The most surprising discovery of all? Blankemeyer is a New York-trained chef who ran a successful molecular gastronomy restaurant in Monterrey, Mexico. Five years ago, when he first opened Tyson’s, the menu featured authentic Mexican food.
As it turned out, many locals prefer Austin-style tacos over authentic Mexican. Unlike chefs who use the kitchen as a way to satisfy their ambitions, Blankemeyer chose to give power to the people. He admits that, at the start, he spent a lot of time trying to teach people how Mexican food should be made and eaten. He considers that a mistake now. “Nobody wants somebody preaching to them, especially on something as basic as what you like and what you don’t like to put in your mouth. So I shut up and listened, and [my customers] told me what to do. So I did it.”
People who are looking for traditional Mexican tacos criticize Blankemeyer, saying the food served at his restaurant is not Mexican. “It’s not!” he agrees happily “It’s Austin!”
@thefoodiemiles wants to know:
What would you put in your custom creation at Tyson’s Tacos?