In the taco rivalries of Austin, I'm a devout Tacodeli loyalist. The local chain first opened in 1999 and has since expanded to two more locations in the city. They offer quality tacos for everyone: staunch carnivores, vegetarians, locavores, vegans, gluten-free people, the food-adventurous, and even just picky eaters. This isn't the type of the Tex-Mex that will make you feel sick after eating it—the food is usually fresh, bright, and well-prepared. My only complaint is that they aren't open for dinner.
Tacodeli has a massive menu to accommodate all of these dietary preferences. There are at least 6 breakfast tacos served from 7am until 11am and 22 lunch taco options and different specials every day. I've often thought, "Wouldn't it be awesome to try all of the tacos at Tacodeli?" But I always play it safe and stick to the three or so tacos in my rotation.
I finally mustered the strength to get out of my Tacodeli rut. I recruited three others to assist in an epic tasting of all the tacos on the regular menu. Ordering was easy—I called in the order to the Central Austin location (4200 N. Lamar Blvd.), and it was ready for pick-up just 15 minutes later. The staff kindly labeled all of the tacos. Since this is Texas (and for ease), we ordered everything on flour tortillas, although corn and whole wheat tortillas are also available.
We tasted every taco without salsa, and then noted if it was particularly complemented by a certain salsa. Tacodeli is known for their doña salsa, a creamy green emulsion of roasted jalapeños. This spicy sauce doesn't go with everything, so the roasted tomato roja or the mild tomatillo based verde salsa also played important roles. The bright orange habanero pico salsa (not pictured below) adds overwhelming heat, but not much in terms of flavor.
The results? Tacodeli's menu had previously loomed large in my imagination, but now I've cracked their code. Most of their tacos are simply combinations of different "proteins" (usually portobello mushrooms, sirloin, chicken breast, pork, or refried black beans), smothered in a sauce (often their signature Frontera Fundido cheese glaze, adobo, or mole) and garnished with cilantro or sautéed poblano peppers. Tacodeli really shines when it veers away from this formula, and their beef and vegetarian tacos are particularly good. In the end, I didn't discover many new and exciting tacos to add to my rotation. But I was shocked to learn here are a few tacos to avoid, and they usually involve chicken.
So click here to view all the tacos in the slideshow, or check out the individual picks below.
Of course, I'd love to know your favorite taco from Tacodeli. Please let me know!