Austin and San Antonio to Compete for Best Taco Town

When the idea of ​​culinary innovation arises, the ubiquitous taco isn’t necessarily the first food that comes to mind.

But innovative taco recipes will be on the menu Thursday for the first edition of the San Antonio Food and Wine Alliance. Taco rumble, with a slew of chefs from San Antonio and Austin sparking the long-standing feud between the two cities over who offers the best tacos.

Will it be a taco innovation, or will a proven classic win the trophy?

Proceeds from the paid event at l’Espee will support the non-profit organization Texas Food and Wine Alliancethe double mission of train students in the kitchen, and providing grants to chefs, farmers and beverage producers throughout central Texas to support culinary innovation.

So far, the state organization, which includes chapters in Austin, Dallas, Houston and now San Antonio, has donated more than $ 360,000 in grants.

For the Rumble, a $ 65 ticket will provide access to samples of taco creations from eight Austin chefs and eight San Antonio food spots, including ¡Bucho! Tejano Street Fare, Jason Dady Catering, Lala’s Gorditas, Naco Mexican Eatery and Carnitas Lonja. Drinks are included and sweets will be provided by local establishments Bakery Lorraine, Lick Honest Ice Creams and Paletería San Antonio.

For $ 150, the ticket includes a VIP event starting at 6:30 p.m. with access to an exclusive agave spirits lounge. New San Antonio Restaurant Cook will offer small bites to accompany tastings of fine tequilas and mezcal.

The winners of the competition will be chosen by a panel of five expert judges, who will receive guest comments for a component of the public’s choice.

Brandon Watson, communications director for the Texas Food & Wine Alliance, acknowledges that the question of which city makes the best tacos may never be settled.

“There are passionate and wonderful taco makers in both cities who are creative and continue to push the boundaries,” he said. “I think the winner of this game will definitely have bragging rights.”

Innovation is the key

The Austin Food and Wine Alliance began work in 2011 to bring a tech startup philosophy to the culinary world. In 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic plunged the restaurant industry into chaos, the organization expanded statewide.

Events such as the Taco Rumble help the state nonprofit and its local affiliates raise funds for businesses such as Fondant bone broth in San Antonio, which received a grant to become the primary Whole Foods Market supplier.

“It’s a big thing about why we do what we do, incubating these companies and taking them to the next level,” Watson said.

Chef Edgar Rico from Nixta Taqueria in Austin, said innovation can include changing perspectives on country foods and traditional roles in the food industry.

“As a collective we’re really trying to change that perspective on what a taquero is,” Rico said.

Rico is a member of the Austin Taco Mafia, an informal group of five Austin restaurateurs who combined their efforts at special events, including handing out thousands of meals during the February snow pocalypse. many residents of central Texas without access to water or electricity. to cook.

As the child of Mexican immigrants, Rico said his parents might have preferred him to become a doctor or engineer rather than a taquero, the name given to taco makers found on Mexico City street corners.

Although the profession may be looked down upon by some, Rico said, “We want to change the light on this and make kids proud of their heritage and embrace it, and make it cool again.”

For the Taco Rumble, the collective will present the Campechana Taco, with snatch and confit of longaniza, salsa verde, habanero pickled onions and coriander on a tortilla marbled with epitrack.

The name campechana refers to a two-meat taco, in this case a skirt steak and a pork sausage. While the recipe may seem specially crafted for a sophisticated competition between top chefs, Rico said this type of tacos is commonly found in Mexico City.

Canvas against carnitas

In setting the competitive tone at Rumble, Rico’s personal taco philosophy is at odds with at least one chef in San Antonio. In its simplest form, Rico said, people think of taco as a quick bite to eat.

“Most people think of taco as just meat, tortillas, cilantro, onions and salsa,” he said. “But in my eyes, I don’t see it that way. I see a taco as a canvas. The tortilla is the canvas for literally anything you can think of, ”as long as it tastes good.

Chef Alex Paredes of Carnitas Lonja in San Antonio will approach the competition doing the same thing he does every day: making his signature traditional carnitas.

Carnitas can be translated as pork confit, as the meat is slowly simmered in its own fat, but he said he would stick to the Mexican name. Its competitors might “want to name it a little more chic, but it’s the same thing,” Paredes said.

“You can’t imagine [up] a taco. It’s meat, or garnish, a little cilantro and onion, a little salsa.

On Wednesday, Carnitas Lonja chef Alex Paredes adds salsa to a taco carnitas. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

Rico points out that San Antonio specializes in regional taco styles, particularly those from Mexico City and Monterrey.

“San Antonio does incredibly well with classic street tacos,” he said, but “at least to me I feel like there isn’t the variety you can find. here [in Austin], where you can find some regional specialties and different varieties’, such as Baja style tacos and styles from Yucatan, Guadalajara and Sinaloa.

Rico is aware of the continued competition between cities for the best taco town and that the San Antonio chefs will have a field advantage for the Rumble.

“We see it as a rivalry, but we don’t denigrate anyone,” he said. “We don’t talk shit to anyone in San Antonio, because, you know, we respect what they do. But, you know, we really take great pride in what we serve.

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