Like everybody else who has spent 15 minutes in Austin, Texas, I came away from the city this March with a strange, new longing for breakfast tacos, a food group of which I had barely been aware before the visit.
At their best, breakfast tacos are constructed on freshly made flour tortillas, although corn tortillas are also acceptable. There will be chilled squirt bottles of red and green chile salsa available. Many of the trailers — breakfast tacos are often served from trailers, at least in Austin — will be plunked down in close proximity to third-wave coffeehouses, because the affinity between breakfast tacos and strong, velvety shots of café cortado is hard to deny.
Breakfast tacos may contain practically anything, including picadillo, grilled meat, brisket, spicy chorizo sausage or vegetables, but the greatest are generally considered to be the most minimal: those made with migas, the classic Tex-Mex configuration of tortilla chips refried with cheese, sauteed onions and eggs.
The chips, at least at the good places, are half-fried, so that their texture is a little bendy, a little leathery, and the flavor is of toasted corn and clean oil. The eggs and cheese coat the chips, giving them substance, but do not quite overwhelm them -- you could think of the effect as more or less a carbonara sauce for chips. The salsas tend to be cold in temperature but spicy hot, with an understated acidity that cuts through the rich blandness of the migas.
Chilaquiles, similar in form if not in function, are delicious but not the same thing.
Migas tacos may be the Texas equivalent of a cheese Danish, ubiquitous and unremarked, but in a week of panels, presentations and question-and-answer sessions at this year's SXSW conference, the only thing resembling applause came when I confessed my devotion to the migas tacos at the Veracruz All Natural trailer parked outside Radio Coffee & Beer. I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I managed to make it over to Veracruz over the course of a week.
Anyway, my newfound longing added a special poignancy to a question often posed by Texas expatriates. Because when somebody asks me where they can find the best migas tacos, my answer has generally been a shrug — or a shrug followed by vague mentions of specials at Bar Ama or the late Taste of Texas in Covina.
But I suddenly felt compelled to revisit the Central Texas-style HomeState, a semi-artisanal storefront up in Los Feliz that practically specializes in breakfast tacos along with ephemera like queso and Frito pie.
The muscular macchiatos are made with Austin-roasted Cuvee espresso. It makes its own flour tortillas: thick and bulletproof. The quirt-bottle salsas are good. You can order online. Bottles of the fizzy mineral water Topo Chico, ubiquitous as Coca-Cola in Austin, are cheap and cold. The long, slow line on a hot Sunday afternoon couldn't be more Austin if it tried.
And the migas were — well, not tacos, but served on a big plate, with a remarkably high egg-to-chip ratio if that's your thing, cooked hard enough that you definitely feel it under your teeth but not quite to rubberiness, with the onion and cheese melted quite thoroughly into the mass.
You can buy the handmade tortillas as add-ons for 75 cents apiece and make your own migas tacos — acceptable by Austin standards, practically brilliant by L.A.'s. It is almost enough to hold you until your next trip to Texas — and really, what more can you ask?