a report from the national taco championships

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Ever since I ate tacos for 50 meals in a row a few years ago (and lost weight!), my friends see me as a taco maniac, which, I reckon, is true: I love me some tacos! So when facebook’s algorithms fed me an ad for the National Taco Championships here in Austin, I felt obligated to go (ah, the tyranny of  expectation…).

To be honest, this event seemed a bit (ahem) cheesy, and was maybe a bit expensive ($20 a head to get in, tacos extra; parking $20). But let me tell you: It was a rip-roaring good time!

First off: TACOS! There were were about 35 taco slingers in the house. Most hailed from Austin, but there were joints from San Antonio, San Marcos, and even El Paso and Brownsville. Tacos were about $3 each and paid for via a nifty pre-credit-card-loaded wristband. The local bignames were there (Torchy’s, Z’Tejas, Taco Flats, Serranos, Eldorado) as well as a pile of places we hadn’t tried before, so we naturally focused on new place and new tacos. The bride targeted vegetarian tacos; I cynosured on fusion tacos.

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First up was the Pakal Autochthonous Mexican Cookery food truck, chosen primarily because: Autochthonous! Librarian tacos! The bride devoured the Vegetarian (roasted peppers, black beans, sourcream, and queso fresco) and I slurped the Shrimp Cerviche (shrimp cerviche, red cabbage). Both beautiful and both delicious. The bride said hers was her second fave of the day.

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Pakal’s Shrimp Cerviche

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Next up we did side-by-sides: I ordered a Korean Karnitas from Nuri Mexican-Korean Fusion (flour tortilla, pork belly, og mix, lime slaw, pickled onions, and cilantro) while the bride picked a Vegan Maria from Cosmic Taco next door (black beans, cabbage, pico, avocado, sprouts, and carrots). Nuri’s homemade tortilla (they made the only homemade I had) was AMAZING with this taco!

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Korean Karnitas from Nuri

IMG_7987The Vegan Maria from Cosmic Taco

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While the bride rested her taco chompers, I snuck an Akaushi Beef Skirt Steak Taco (on grits!) from San Antonio’s Sangria on the Burg.

IMG_7988Akaushi Beef Skirt Steak Taco from Sangria on the Burg

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We then tried the topped tortillas prepped by the unusually named House of the Rising Tanuki-san. I took in a Brisket Taco (spicy soy glazed smoked brisket, charred shishito pepper, kimchi salsa, and wasabi crema), and the bride imbibed a Vegetarian Taco (miso roasted mushrooms, wasabi, shishito pepper, radish, cilantro, and pickled onions). These tacos were phenomenal and the best we had. Shockingly, Tanuki-san doesn’t even serve tacos at their restaurant! Time for a trailer off-shoot, maybe? House of the Rising Taco-san?

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Vegetarian Taco from the House of the Rising Tanuki-san

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Brisket Taco from the House of the Rising Tanuki-san

We split our next stop between San Antonio’s Mittman Fine Foods where I piledrove a chorizo and tater taco and Nissi Vegan Mexican Cuisine where the bride slid a “pork” taco into her tummy.

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chorizo and tater taco from Mittman Fine Foods

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“pork” taco from Nissi

We ended the day at El Paso’s Gallery 3 Kitchen with a Carne Asada Street Taco (me) and a Spicy Shrimp Taco with avocado Cream Slaw (she [where she fell off the veggie wagon]). The line was half-an-hour long, but we needed time to digest. Folks would ask “Are these tacos any good?” and we would shrug: “Don’t know.” which seemed to be the position of most in line (“There’s a line! Let’s get in it!”). We just wanted to show support to someone who came from so far (and the line for the Brownsville tacos was longer). Plus, those tacos looked fantastic!

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Spicy Shrimp Taco from Gallery 3 Kitchen

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Carne Asada Street Taco from Gallery 3 Kitchen

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There were other things going on while the tacos were being taco’d. As we strolled, I suddenly heard Spike Gillespie announced as the officiate for a day-of-the-dead taco wedding. What a surprise! Spike is a local author who weds couples across the region. In this case, it was a taco-themed wed-the dead wedding.

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Let’s taco ’bout getting hitched!

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The happy couple (with tacos!)

And then the lucha libre started. We hadn’t seen live lucha libre, but it was an absolute hoot! Yes, professional wrestling. Yes, fake bruise. But the bride pointed out that one of the wrestlers had scars from bullet and knife wounds. And the acrobatics were brilliant and jaw-dropping.

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All in all, this was a taco-tearing good time. We would go again without hesitation. My only regret is not trying more tacos. Next time, I might split taco orders with someone so I could double the number of tested tacos (or perhaps purge behind the stage?). Bite and dump is another option (but the waste, THE WASTE!).

Austin was the first stop for the National Taco Championships with subsequent regional stops in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Scottsdale before the national throwdown in Las Vegas on November 9th (we may have to go…).

For the Austin stop, the taco tasters bequeathed Torchy’s as the Grand Champion with Serranos Cocina y Cantina as the Reserve Grand Champion. Serranos had the best chicken taco (followed by Torchy’s and Nuri), Eldorado Cafe had the best prok taco (followed by Torchy’s and Sangria on the Burg), T-loc’s had the best beef taco (followed by Sangria on the Burg and Nuri), Torchy’s had the best seafood taco (followed by Sangria on the Burg and Serranos), and Serranos had the best veg taco (follwoed by Torchy’s and Sangria on the Burg).

Quite frankly, I think we won. We ate tacos!

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