When one thinks of San Antonio, There are certain symbols that come to mind: the historic Alamo, the famed downtown River Walk, the world’s largest cowboy boots and—whether you hate ’em or love ’em—a pretty decent basketball team. But there is another iconic figure in this flavorful city ... the breakfast taco. This morning meal, though a smaller order than an NBA player or a 40-foot pair of boots, is actually a cultural symbol in itself. It is more than a tradition. It’s part of a lifestyle that locals would undoubtedly forget to mention because for them, it’s not a tourist attraction; it’s simply breakfast.
It is obvious that Mexican food and Tex-Mex reign supreme as San Antonio’s most prevalent cuisine. However, many visitors are still baffled by the idea of this spicy cuisine as a substitution for the quintessential waffle, sausage and eggs meal. Nevertheless, just as Southerners like their biscuits and gravy, and New Yorkers are devoted to their lox and bagels, San Antonians’ morning meal of choice is the breakfast taco.
Though breakfast tacos are equally as popular in Austin and have gradually spread outward to other regions of Texas, there seem to be more taquerias in San Antonio than there are Starbucks in New York City. Mexican restaurants open as early as 5 am to serve thousands of hungry locals made-to-order tacos just the way they like them, from an unfussy bean-and-cheese to a heartier potato-and-egg with slow-cooked barbacoa. “It’s not really a traditional breakfast,” owner of Taco Taco Café, Helen Velesiotis, says of the morning tacos that blend conventional American ingredients with Mexican flavors. But once you adopt this morning ritual, it is difficult to imagine your sausage and eggs sans a hot, homemade tortilla and a dollop of salsa.
At least that’s the case with Velesiotis, who has been serving cheap, tasty tacos for breakfast and lunch for almost 13 years and has yet to grow tired of eating them. Since Taco Taco Café opened its doors a few miles north of downtown, visitors hailing from London to Albuquerque have sat at one of the Greek family-owned eatery’s 14 tables to sample the authentic, nationally acclaimed breakfast offerings. Every morning, an outdoor sign designates a waiting line that wraps around the back of the building, where businessmen, high school students and workers eagerly anticipate their morning meals.
With the breakfast taco, “[It’s] the simplicity that makes it good,” surmises Velesiotis, flipping a fresh corn tortilla on the griddle. “The tortilla makes the breakfast taco,” Velesiotis says, whose favorite taco on her menu is the chilaquiles with cheese and tortilla chips. “It brings out the flavor of the ingredients,” she says, citing carne guisada as an example of taco fillings that come to life only when surrounded by a corn or flour tortilla, made fresh daily at Taco Taco. What is the best way to tell if a tortilla is good or not? “Take it home and stick it in the fridge. Reheat it, and if it’s still good, then you have a good quality tortilla,” Velesiotis says.
She has never tried other restaurants’ breakfast tacos, but Velesiotis says that, in addition to all the attractions that San Antonio has to offer, the locally owned restaurants and their family recipes contribute to the city’s magic. It resonates beyond the Texas Hill Country, bringing legions of visitors to soak up the enchantment while experiencing the city’s culinary and cultural simplicity. The city’s enriching heritage—its past and its present—can be observed in the most miniscule detail of the everyday routine, like in the making of the breakfast taco.
“It gives you a flavor of both worlds, I think,” Velesiotis says. In fact, these tacos don’t just represent a culture; they are edible pieces of it. And almost nothing tastes better than rich American tradition wrapped in the fluffy, warm heritage of Mexico.