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SXSW: When in Austin, eating like a local means breakfast tacos

'Austin (Texas) is the breakfast-taco capital of the world' says self-proclaimed 'taco journalist' Mando Rayo

Texans make a big deal about their size. "Everything is bigger in Texas," they say with pride. Well, I beg to differ. Deep in the heart of Texas, they're really small. At least their breakfast of choice is.

In sunny Southern California, we love our breakfast burritos. A half-pound of eggs, hash browns, ham and cheese topped off with beans, salsa and anything else you can cram into a hubcap-size flour tortilla. A 1,000-calorie wake-up call to help us start our day.

That's not the case in parts of the Lone Star State, especially Austin, where the favorite eye-opening morning meal is a breakfast taco, a petite corn tortilla or two containing a few tablespoons of filling. What kind of breakfast is this?

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FOR THE RECORD:

Breakfast tacos: In the March 8 Travel section, an article about breakfast tacos in Austin, Texas, said that prices at Tacodeli start at $2.50. The price is $1.95.
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Actually, it's a really great one that Texans eat all day. Breakfast tacos have more style than our colossal burritos. Besides scrambled eggs, they're filled with things such as avocado, steak fajitas, seafood, sautéed vegetables, cotija cheese, queso fresco and crispy battered bacon.

With Austin's big South by Southwest festival coming up Friday through March 22, I went on a breakfast-taco crawl. It was a tough assignment, but I was in town for a family reunion and was able to press my relatives into service to help me develop a list of top taco joints (see list at right).

I also recruited breakfast-taco expert Mando Rayo to lead our little army of taco tasters as we painted the town red with pico de gallo and various other salsas. Rayo, co-author of the book "Austin Breakfast Tacos" (History Press), told us that his city is a hotbed of breakfast-taco delights, in essence ground zero for the movement.

"Austin is the breakfast-taco capital of the world," said Rayo, who calls himself a taco journalist. "They're rooted in Mexico, but they're evolving here."

The first breakfast taco appeared in Austin in the early '80s, according to Rayo's book; they've become an important part of the culture. "The people of Austin love their breakfast tacos in the morning, for lunch, when they're hung over, at midnight."

They're not the only ones. Breakfast-taco consumption swells in the city during SXSW, the massive annual music, film and digital conference and festival. And celebrities such as Jimmy Fallon and "Portlandia" stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are said to have sworn allegiance to the dish.

Breakfast tacos aren't hard to find here. Hundreds of restaurants and taco trucks sell them, with fillings ranging from traditional ingredients to unusual combinations such as duck eggs and nopalitos.

"When you're in Austin," Rayo concluded, "you should do as Austinites do: Eat lots of breakfast tacos."

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Five favorites in Austin:

Veracruz All Natural: Customers start lining up at this vintage taco truck at 8 a.m. each day for the migas breakfast taco — one of the city's most popular dishes. A combination of eggs, broken tortilla chips, avocado, cheese and pico de gallo, a migas plate with two tacos sells for $3. Veracruz All Natural never hits the road; it's permanently planted in a tiny fenced-in yard in a mixed commercial-residential area of east Austin. Breakfast tacos from $2.25.

1704 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin (and two other locations); (512) 981-1760, www.veracruztacos.com

Tacodeli: When I hear the word "deli," I don't think of tacos, but this five-store fast-food chain makes it work, serving up a variety of specialty tacos. Tacodeli is also known for its build-your-own breakfast tacos, with 15 items from which to choose. Everything is sourced locally, including that great Texas beef you'll find in the Cowboy Breakfast Taco. My fave here: the Ceviche Breakfast Taco. Breakfast tacos from $2.50.

4200 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin (and four other locations); (512) 419-1900, www.tacodeli.com

Joe's Bakery: Capital City residents have been enjoying the dishes prepared by this family-run business for a half-century and have made it a local favorite. Try Joe's for the breakfast tacos or any of its Mexican food. You'll find traditional dishes, prepared in traditional ways. Customers rave about the bacon on Joe's breakfast tacos; it's breaded and then grilled before being added. Breakfast tacos from $1.79.

2305 E. 7th St., Austin; (512) 472-0017, www.joesbakery.com

Rosita's al Pastor: This small restaurant and taco truck won't win awards for its style or location — an aging strip mall in a sketchy part of town — but the breakfast tacos al pastor (pork) will have you lining up to buy more. The al pastor meat is marinated for 24 hours and is delicious. Breakfast tacos from $1.99.

1911 E. Riverside Drive, Austin; (512) 442-8402, no website

Mellizoz Tacos: The theme here is, "Where good friends make tacos and tacos make good friends." If you're looking for a classy food truck, Mellizoz definitely fills the bill. Not only does it look good, it produces trendy breakfast tacos, using ingredients such as fried avocado, tempura-coated shrimp, arugula, caramelized onions and cotija cheese. It's parked in a trailer village of upscale food trucks. Breakfast tacos from $1.99.

1503 S. 1st St., Austin; (512) 916-4996, www.mellizoztacos.com

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