Let’s talk breakfast tacos. Putting aside the controversy surrounding the origin of the breakfast taco, I think we can all agree on the inherent satisfaction that comes from consuming the Tex-Mex creation. While breakfast tacos generally follow the same formula (tortilla, egg, filling, salsa), the quality of the taco can greatly vary owing to the pliability and freshness of the tortilla, the fluffiness or sogginess of the egg, the spice level of the salsa, and a hundred other factors. Today we’re getting down into the nitty-gritty mechanics of Houston breakfast tacos — a task so serious that we formed teams to carry out a bracket-style tasting to find the best in Houston.
This tasting was conducted with eight teams of three to four people who collectively visited 16 breakfast taco locations inside the Loop to sample each locale’s “best” breakfast taco (both on flour and on corn). Each location's "best” breakfast taco was determined by a recommendation from the establishment. While admittedly not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, this was the fairest way to judge each locale's strongest offering. Locations were selected by word-of-mouth recommendations, online reviews and online research (many thanks to special input from Tacos of Texas contributor Marco Torres).
In the initial round of judging, each team sampled two taco locations, which were paired up based on proximity. Whichever taco received the most votes moved onto the next round until we reached a consensus on the final winner. (Click here to see the bracket.)
In order to make the tasting feasible to execute within a single morning, we limited the locations to only those inside the Loop. For purposes of a functional bracket, we limited the number of locations to 16. Notable and regrettable exclusions due to these limitations include Tacos La Bala, El Ultimo Taco Truck, Sunrise Taquitos, Velvet Taco, El Rey and many, many taco trucks. We recommend going to visit those and drawing your own conclusions.
Alamo Tamale & Taco 310 Navigation
Brothers Taco House 1604 Dowling
Chilosos Taco House 701 East 20th Street
Dona Maria 2601 Navigation Boulevard
La Calle Tacos 909 Franklin Street
La Guadalupana 2109 Dunlavy
La Reynera 4120 McKinney
Laredo Taqueria 915 Snover
Luna Y Sol 2808 Milam
Tacodeli 1902 Washington
Tacos a Go Go 3704 Main (multiple locations)
Tacos Tierra Caliente 2003 West Alabama
Texas Taco and BBQ 1000 Telephone
Torchy's 350 West 19th Street (multiple locations)
Unos Pinches Tacos 1402 Northwood
Villa Arcos 3009 Navigation
First Round Results
In the Heights (A) bracket, Torchy’s faced off against Chilosos Taco House. The recommended Wrangler taco from Torchy’s (eggs, potatoes, smoked beef brisket and jack cheese with tomatillo salsa) was undeniably tasty, but lost to Chilosos’ tasty Chapel Hill sausage and egg taco because of the use of generic tortillas and an overall lack of authenticity.
The Heights (B) bracket found a loss of taco empire Taqueria Laredo to newcomer Unos Pinches Tacos' picadillo taco on homemade flour tortillas. Although Laredo won points for taking drink orders while customers were waiting in the lengthy line and for the visual appeal of watching tortillas being freshly made in-house, the tortillas didn't quite measure up to the ones at Unos Pinches. Laredo's barbacoa taco with pico, as described by one taster, was just "fine" and the rather bland salsas weren't able to elevate the tacos. The salsa at Unos Pinches attained a good level of spice, and ultimately Unos Pinches's picadillo with eggs taco went on to score a spot in the next round.
In the Washington/Downtown bracket, the recommended migas taco from Tacodeli faced off against La Calle Tacos, where the default breakfast taco is chorizo and egg. Despite good textural contrast between a smear of refried beans, a fluffy egg and chorizo mixture, crunchy raw onions, and feathery cilantro, the chorizo flavor was mostly undetectable save for hits of salt, and the salsa verde was nearly flavorless and was underwhelming. Given the price point of $2.77 for smaller-sized tacos on non-homemade tortillas (pro tip: Get the flour tortillas for more volume), Tacodeli beat La Calle on nearly every front and La Calle was eliminated from this round.
In the Eado bracket, the generously sized egg and chorizo taco from Brothers Taco House triumphed over the bacon and egg taco from Alamo Tamale & Taco. Although the corn tortillas at Brothers were store-bought and of average quality, the homemade flour tortillas (made with vegetable shortening) were light and fluffy. Both had great value for money (less than $2 per taco) and though the salsa was pronounced superior at Alamo over Brothers, the taco wasn't anything special. "I would return if in the area, but I wouldn't make a special trip," said one taster. The high egg-to-tortilla ratio at Brothers, paired with good chorizo flavor and excellent value for money, carried the Brothers taco to the next round.
The Montrose bracket saw a very close tasting in which the Taco Especial at La Guadalupana just edged out the chorizo and egg tacos at Tacos Tierra Caliente thanks to a tasty migas-like filling. The palm-sized Especial tacos flecked with not-too-greasy chorizo were dubbed "excellent hangover tacos" and were served up with some of the friendliest service we encountered. Although Tierra Caliente scored points for definitively authentic street taco flavors as well as an excellent vegetarian potato and egg option, the tasty simplicity of its chorizo taco underwhelmed slightly in comparison to the explosive mix of egg, potato, chorizo, onion, peppers and cheese wrapped up in La Guadalupana's fluffy flour tortillas. Slightly rubbery corn tortillas were the final nail in the coffin and, ultimately, Tierra Caliente was eliminated.
Late-night Midtown powerhouse Tacos a Go Go stumbled with a chorizo and egg taco that was lacking in flavor and uninspiring tortillas compared to Luna Y Sol’s chorizo, egg and bean taco, which wowed with both texture and flavor in the filling as well as in the authentic corn and flour tortillas, which powered them through to the next round. A few vegetarians also sampled the rajas con queso y crema taco, which one taster dubbed her favorite of all the tacos sampled.
Confusion reigned in the Second Ward bracket, where both the Bacon Super and potato and egg on flour from Villa Arcos (which doesn't have corn tortillas) were pitted against the chilaquiles taco at Dona Maria. Confusingly, the chilaquiles taco at Dona Maria is served as a breakfast plate with tortillas on the side, but this was the establishment's recommendation for its best taco. Villa Arcos's Bacon Super served up an excellent flour tortilla with so much filling that it was almost reminiscent of a burrito rather than a taco. However, the overall taco was a little too salty for one taster and the potato and egg taco was slightly bland. Despite a crushingly long wait at Dona Maria and non-traditional-style tacos, the chilaquiles eventually arrived to triumph over Villa Arcos.
A slight mix-up with the Eastwood bracket brought up the question: Do breakfast tacos without eggs count as breakfast tacos? In the end, we decided to stick with judging egg-based tacos for consistency. Though the recommended beef fajita taco in fluffy, toothsome homemade flour tortillas at La Reynera was a formidable competitor, the chorizo and egg breakfast taco was less impressive and ultimately the potato and egg taco from Texas Taco & BBQ advanced to the next round.
Second Round Results
Heights A vs. Heights B: Chilosos vs. Unos Pinches Tacos
Both the corn and the flour tortillas are homemade at Chilosos, as were the tortillas at Unos Pinches, but ultimately Chilosos's thick flour tortillas were preferred. The picadillo and egg taco at Unos Pinches featured ground beef with chopped carrots, green beans and tomato sauce, which “tasted a lot like homemade stew,” according to one taster. Votes were split because of the flavorful authenticity of the picadillo taco, with its extremely fresh-tasting salsa verde and great value for money, but ultimately the Chapell Hill and egg taco from Chilosos reigned supreme thanks to the impressively fluffy tortillas, game-changing sausage and well-cooked egg.
Washington/Downtown vs. EaDo: Tacodeli vs. Brothers
When pitted against the soft, homemade tortillas at Tacodeli, Brothers’ storebought tortillas fell short and fell apart when the tasters were eating the taco. Although the authentic vibe of Brothers was a mark in its favor, the migas taco at Tacodeli was described by one taster as “exactly what I think about when I want a breakfast taco.” The Brothers chorizo taco was found by a few tasters to be a bit too greasy, with slightly watery salsa —competing against Tacodeli’s award-winning salsas, tender tortillas and satisfying filling, Tacodeli ended up advancing to the next round.
Montrose vs. Midtown: La Guadalupana vs. Luna Y Sol
According to the server, sometimes the tortillas at La Guadalupana are made fresh, sometimes they are not. On this occasion, they were not. At Luna Y Sol, tortillas are imported raw from Mexico and always cooked fresh in-house. “We would need a full-time, dedicated staff if we were to make tortillas fresh in-house,” said the owner. Although the flour tortillas were good at La Guadalupana, the corn tortillas were nothing to write home about, particularly compared to the supple, charred, just-thick-enough flour tortillas at Luna Y Sol. Tasters also found some of the filling flavors distracting in the Guadalupana taco, and the size was small for the $2.50 price tag. The pairing of its winning tortillas with the flavorful combination of creamy beans, chorizo and egg led Luna Y Sol to a win over the Tacos Especial at La Guadalupana.
Second Ward vs. Eastwood: Dona Maria vs. Texas Tacos & BBQ
We were pleasantly surprised to find potato and egg to be the best-selling breakfast taco at Texas Tacos & BBQ. For $2, the tacos were generously sized and tasters were pleased with the french fry-studded egg mixture wrapped inside the homemade flour tortillas. Some tasters found the chilaquiles plate at Dona Maria to be overly salty and not a true breakfast taco, so Texas Tacos & BBQ moved on to the next round.
Chilosos vs. Tacodeli
Although the pillowy thickness of the homemade flour tortillas at Chilosos made for strong contenders in the first few rounds, some tasters found the tortillas too spongy, while the thinner flour tortillas at Tacodeli were almost universally pleasing. The Chappell Hill sausage and egg filling might have held its own against Tacodeli's migas filling of onion, peppers and jack cheese, but the factor that tipped Tacodeli into the finals was the fresh, bright salsas.
Luna Y Sol vs. Texas Tacos
“How did these make it to the semifinals?” questioned one taster after sampling the potato and egg at Texas Tacos & BBQ. Though indeed homemade, the slightly floury, lard-based tortillas are flatter, chewier and slightly tougher than the puffy versions found at other taco joints. This round of tasters were not as pleased with the potato component of the taco — one of them noted that it tasted like "fries from yesterday" — which had a meaty, savory quality (probably thanks to having been fried in lard) that some tasters liked and others didn't. The overall taco was a bit bland with undersalted eggs, and though flavor improved with the addition of the slightly spicy house salsa verde, the end vote tended overwhelmingly toward Luna Y Sol once again for the flawless execution of its chorizo and egg taco.
Tacodeli vs. Luna Y Sol
Verging on extreme fullness, the teams converged at the two final locations. The softness of Tacodeli’s flour tortillas (which are made specially for Tacodeli, shipped in from Dallas and heated in-store), which was found to be an asset in previous rounds, was exposed as a weakness in this round, as they sogged slightly under the weight of the migas filling. Perhaps inconsistency was the issue here since none of the tasters in the final round detected any tortilla chips in the filling, which was viewed as a crucial component of migas. Overall, we were confused about why the migas had been recommended as the best breakfast taco on the menu since other items looked superior.
Thus, the winner for the best breakfast taco in Houston was decided — by a landslide vote — for Luna Y Sol.
In every round, Luna Y Sol blew other places out of the water with its high-quality flour tortillas with perfect charring and thickness, flavorful filling and excellent structural integrity. Tasters were consistently surprised and delighted by the addition of a slightly chunky smear of refried beans, and the chorizo (made in-house with a recipe passed down from the owner's great-grandfather) was highly flavorful and not overly greasy. The habanero, jalapeño and house red salsas all tasted extremely fresh and varied in spice intensity — worthy contenders against Tacodeli's award-winning salsas. Service was extremely friendly at both locations, but the overall package at Luna Y Sol consistently outperformed other locations. "In our experience, breakfast tacos with chorizo have a tendency to be greasy and difficult to eat, and this taco seemed to avoid that. The beans tied it all together and the salsas were absolutely delicious; it was hard to pick a favorite with this breakfast taco," said one taster.
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For those of you who are irritated that Tacodeli made it to second place in this tasting, recall that breakfast tacos are a Tex-Mex, not a Mex-Mex food — so it kind of makes sense that this gringo haven earned a place among the most crowd-pleasing tacos. Plus, the awards that have been bestowed upon Tacodeli's salsas are well-justified. Although some tasters were initially surprised that Luna Y Sol traveled to the top to win the bracket, it made sense considering the careful attention paid to each component, compared to some competitors.
After I tasted many (but not all) of the tacos in the bracket, the tacos I would return for include the potato and egg tacos at Tierra Caliente (the siren call of $1 tacos is strong), the migas taco at Chilosos (for the puffiest tortillas and thick tortilla chips cooked into the eggs), various tacos at Tacodeli, La Reynera for the homemade tortillas and, of course, most of the tacos at Luna Y Sol. And even though they didn't do well in this tasting, the spinach and mushroom breakfast tacos at Tacos A Go Go will always have a place in my stomach.