“Where’s the beef?” It’s not just a 1980s slogan for the fast food chain Wendy’s. In Texas, it’s basically a rallying cry. Of course, beef is synonymous with barbecue in the state, from brisket to dinosaur ribs, but what about when it comes to the state’s other culinary pride and joy: tacos?
Taco journalist Mando Rayo says the history of beef tacos runs deep, and the meat is a staple in tacos across the state, whether it’s fajitas, barbecue brisket, bistec, barbacoa – and yes, even ground beef.
“I love my picadillo, I love a crispy ground beef taco,” Rayo says. “That’s kind of like your foundation. If you want to start somewhere, you have nowhere else to go but up after that.”
And while you can get a pretty good spread of beef options throughout the state, certain areas specialize in different types of fillings. For example, fajitas originated in South Texas, Rayo says.
“Fajitas were part of the South Texas culture,” Rayo says. “It grew from there because it was actually the throw-away meat. The vaqueros back in the day, they were paid in the fajita meat so what they did was grilled it, they perfected it, and then obviously later in the 1960s and 70s they actually commercialized it and now everyone is eating fajitas.”
And in Central Texas, where barbecue is king, brisket tacos combine the best of both of the state’s two main food groups.
“If you’re gonna start with barbecue tacos, you have to start at Valentina’s Tex-Mex barbecue,” Rayo says. “They mix the barbecue and the Tex-Mex culture together. It’s great to have some sliced brisket with salsa, avocado, on a fresh-made tortilla.”
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.