By Jim Ayres
There’s a lot to love about Austin: The smell of cedar in the Hill Country air. Relaxing Barton Springs, amped up 6th Street. An affinity for blue. And, of course, the food.
So, when an Austin-based restaurant sets up shop here, expect Houstonians—whether actual Austin expats or not—to line up around the block. Such is the case for Tacodeli. Its first Houston outpost, on Washington Avenue right outside downtown, opened earlier this year.
Long lines here are as much about the operation as its stellar food. That prices aren’t posted on the menu ensures conversation with the cashier. Everything’s relaxed and unhurried. At 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, I waited nearly half an hour before walking up and ordering. By then I didn’t care how much it cost.
I needn’t have worried. Looking at the takeout menu, the gourmet tacos are about $4 each. Breakfast tacos are maybe a dollar less. All are incredible, packed with various proteins and veggies. I couldn’t choose just one, so I went with a Sirloin, Egg and Cheese breakfast taco, a Happy Taco (chicken) and a Mojo Fish Taco (salmon).
My sirloin taco was richly seasoned, with freshly grilled beef strips topping scrambled eggs and jack cheese. I added a red sauce—one of the three salsas at the counter—and it was breakfast taco magic!
About those salsas: They’re all made in house, naturally, and include the Roja (mild-ish), Verde (medium) and Dona (burning hot). I tried the milder two and they’re perky and light. They’re great complements to the heavier taco fillings.
Heavy is one way I can describe the Happy Taco, which is loaded with shredded chicken, mushrooms, cilantro, onion and a cheese glaze. With a little green salsa, this taco reminded me of chicken right out of the pot after making broth. A little celery, a little carrot…all those delicious broth flavors came shining through.
Most impressive was the Mojo Fish taco. The menu says “grilled line caught Texas drum,” but on my visit, a marinated grilled salmon substituted, and I couldn’t have been more pleased. Its pink opulence went so well with the garlic sauce, guacamole and Pico de Gallo that if the taco were offered like that all the time, people would still love it.
I couldn’t stop at tacos, however. A Saturday pozole special called my name. This is my favorite item at Tacodeli. The hominy is perfectly cooked, ensconced in the broth that must have been made with the chicken above. Poblanos gave the stew a subtle smokiness. Radishes give it crunch. If it’s available when you go, I recommend ordering it.
Parking is plentiful and there’s plenty of seating both inside and on a large patio in front. Just remember, Tacodeli is only open until 3 p.m. each day. Breakfast starts at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends. And there will be many people there when you go, sharing your love of all things taco and Austin.
1902 Washington Avenue
Houston, Texas 77007