by JENNIFER BIUNDO
It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. In the name of community journalism, and with the help of our readers, the Hays Free Press undertook a mission to locate the most delicious breakfast taco in Buda and Kyle.
My own personal history of breakfast tacos is long and rich. There were the booze-soaked late night taco missions of my UT college days, the press-day tacos that have fueled many of the news stories published in Hays Free Press over the last seven years, and the dozens of tacos consumed during pregnancy that formed my son’s basic cellular structure.
Throughout those years, I’ve learned a few great and universal truths about breakfast tacos. First, and most importantly: the inverse law of price and quality. You show me a $1.25 taco that you bought out the back of a trailer or a run-down wooden shack, and I’ll bet you’re holding onto true culinary bliss. Conversely, the more expensive the taco and the swankier its place of origin, the more likely it’ll taste like cardboard.
Second, in addition to price and taste, simple geographic proximity plays a huge role in breakfast taco rankings. While there is such a thing as a destination breakfast taco, normally, the convenience of a nearby taco joint is key. It’s good to be on friendly terms with your taco dealer, and ideally, you should feel comfortable making a breakfast taco run in your pajamas.
Third, a breakfast taco is fast food for people who may not typically eat fast food. Like a McDonald’s hamburger, you can grab a breakfast taco on the run with the loose change in your car console and eat it one-handed. But unlike fast food, with an endless list of ingredients that you can’t buy in the supermarket (dimethylpolysiloxane, anyone?) good breakfast tacos are made from whole foods: homemade tortillas, eggs, potatoes, bacon, cheese, and a simple fresh salsa of tomato, onion, peppers, cilantro and spices. They may not exactly be health food, but at least they’re real food.
Fourth, real breakfast tacos are found almost exclusively in Texas, with their epicenter in the Austin area. Sure, in New York or California you can buy eggs and salsa wrapped in a tortilla, but it’s not the same. On blogs and Internet forums, Lone Star expats mournfully share stories of their longing for a down-home migas taco and express frustration at the second-rate “breakfast burritos” served in their new neck of the woods.
Fifth, breakfast tacos possess near-magical powers to both prevent and cure hangovers.
Sixth, breakfast tacos are not just for breakfast.
And finally, a person’s favorite breakfast taco is a deeply personal choice, subject to individual idiosyncrasies and shifting over time. Many readers will inevitably disagree with our rankings; we welcome the debate. We also know that we may have missed out on some of the best breakfast tacos to be had in Buda and Kyle, the ones sold out of trailers of varying degrees of legality on country back roads. If we skipped over your favorite taco joint, please let us know.
How we did it:
For the sake of consistency, we ordered the same taco from each restaurant – a potato, egg and cheese taco topped with salsa – believing that the simple ingredients would best showcase the quality of the food. In Kyle, a team of tasters at the Hays Free Press office sampled each taco, and in Buda, professional chef Sue Bellows and her family assisted with the tasting. We also incorporated previous experiences we’ve had at each restaurant.
and the winners are:
Helen’s Casa Alde
108 Main St.
Buda (512) 295-2053
Full disclosure: My love affair with Casa Alde has lasted seven years so far, and shows no sign of fading. Established 30 years ago by the gracious octogenarian proprietress Helen Alcala, Buda’s oldest restaurant never disappoints. Our team of tasters agreed that every element of the tacos were packed with flavor: the wonderfully fresh, cilantro-laced salsa, the well-seasoned filling with potatoes diced small to distribute the spices, and most importantly, the thick and chewy tortillas made fresh before dawn every morning. Are these the best breakfast tacos in Central Texas – and by extension, the world? We’ll let you be the judge.
Los Vega Restaurante
721 N. Old Highway 81
Kyle (512) 268-8570
Here’s some free advice: If you’re going to have a heart attack, do it in Los Vega. Firefighters and paramedics know where to find the best food in town, and the big red trucks are perpetually parked outside this popular neighborhood eatery on Old Highway 81. Illustrating the universal truth that the best tacos are found in the humblest environs, this unpretentious little restaurant is distinguished by crooked floors, cheap prices, friendly service and fabulous food – including our favorite breakfast tacos in Kyle. Zippy fresh salsa and perfectly-seasoned fillings make their tacos a winner. For added convenience, they also have a drive-through window.
The runners up:
101 Hall Professional Ctr. Kyle (512) 268-8051
Kyle’s newest restaurant is a wonderful surprise for the breakfast taco lover. Tucked away in a strip mall just across the street from Plum Creek, Palm Café recently took over the space formerly occupied by Gill’s Fried Chicken. On my first visit, I took one look at my taco and knew I was in for a treat. Like Casa Alde, the tortilla was thick, chewy, and clearly homemade. The flavorful mix of potatoes, eggs and cheese was well-seasoned and perfectly textured. And if I had any more of their fresh salsa, I probably would have started eating it with a spoon. I’m looking forward to a return visit.
Hays City Donuts
106 N. Burleson St.
Kyle (512) 268-3920
There’s something so distinctly American that I love about Hays City Donuts, a quirky combination donut shop/Chinese food restaurant/breakfast taco joint run by southeast Asian immigrants living in small town Texas. Their breakfast tacos are really more like breakfast burritos, a huge mound of eggs, potato and cheese mixed up and tightly rolled into multiple tortillas. The salsa is sweet and has a distinct Asian flavor profile. Is it classic Tex-Mex? Not remotely. Are the tacos dirt cheap, tasty and filling? Absolutely. That, along with killer Pad Thai, keeps me coming back to Hays City Donuts.
804 W. Center St.
Kyle (512) 268-4380
I love sitting on the porch at Luvianos in downtown Kyle on a warm summer evening, sipping icy margaritas and nibbling on chips and queso. However, we agreed that their breakfast tacos could use a little extra kick in the flavor department. The potatoes are cut large and aren’t quite zippy enough to really stand out, and the salsa could handle a little less heat and a little more flavor. These are good, but not great.
311 S. Old Hwy. 81
Kyle (512) 268-4900
Located in the old Fonzie’s space, Piscis serves up tasty tacos at good prices, especially if you can get there before 9 a.m. to take advantage of their 99 cent taco happy hour. Their tacos are served with good salsa and plenty of cheese. Come back in the evening to check out the full bar.
Bill Miller Barbeque
908 N. Loop 4
Buda (512) 295-1665
For a long time I avoided the tacos from Bill Miller Barbeque, writing it off as a fast food chain. But after hearing a number of recommendations, I gave them a shot. The result was a wonderful surprise. Our tasting panel rated their tacos as the second best in Buda, behind only Casa Alde. Each bite was packed full of flavor, with zesty homemade salsa and well-seasoned potatoes and eggs, topped off with plenty of cheese.
210 S Main St.
Buda (512) 295-7528
Unlike most of the Tex-Mex joints around town, Palmar specializes in interior Mexican cuisine. Their breakfast tacos looked appetizing, with larger cuts of potatoes nicely browned and seasoned on the outside. Excellent salsa gave these tacos a nice zip, though we could have used a little more flavor in the filling.
Buda Grocery and Grill
100 N. Main St.
Buda (512) 295-2151
Once upon a time, a woman named Angie worked at Buda Grocery, pressing handmade tortillas and cooking up some of the most sublime breakfast tacos in the state. But Angie moved away, and the tacos at Buda Grocery went from great to ordinary-good (even though the Free Press production manager is a strong proponent of the specialty tacos, like the Rebel – chorizo, potato, egg, bean and cheese). Buda Grocery is a charming, historic old building in downtown Buda, and the lunch counter still has plenty to recommend it.
610 Old San Antonio Rd.
Buda (512) 312-5361
Given how many of our readers raved about Dan’s breakfast tacos in our online poll, we were disappointed. In a nutshell, they tasted like fast food, with an overarching flavor of old grease from a French fry machine. The commercial salsa was too sweet, more yankee than Tex-Mex. We’re not categorically opposed to using hash brown potatoes in breakfast tacos, but in this case, the resulting texture was too mushy and greasy. Go to Dan’s for the hamburgers, but leave the breakfast tacos to the smaller restaurants.
104 S. Main St.
Buda (512) 295-7921
We love Garcia’s shady front porch and friendly service, and many locals rave about the food there. However, our trip to Garcia’s left our team of tasters confused. Instead of salsa, our taco came with a container of something that looked and tasted suspiciously like unflavored canned tomato sauce, devoid of any seasoning like peppers or cilantro. We speculated that it must be a mistake, but other online reviewers also complained about the bland salsa. It might be a good choice for people who don’t like any heat in their food, but we’ll stick with places that serve a more full-flavored hot sauce.
108 N. Austin St.
Buda (512) 295-6043
Chavelo’s serves up a nice tangy hot sauce, but the breakfast tacos could have used more kick and better texture. The flavor didn’t come through the large hunks of potatoes. Chavelo’s is a good little lunch spot, but we’ll skip on the breakfast tacos.