Going to SXSW? How to get good tacos and avoid ‘taco traps’

Avoid folks trying to entice you to their event with tacos and stick to the well-established places, like those included in this Austin Taco Map.

By Kristen CabreraMarch 8, 2024 3:48 pm, ,

Thousands of people are descending upon Austin for SXSW, a conference centering on music, film and technology. But with so much entertainment and panels to choose from, the biggest question remains … what to eat?

For those new to the city who want to get a proper taste of the capital city – and for locals too, there always new place and potential surprises – Mando Rayo, taco journalist and host of the Tacos of Texas podcast, spoke with the Texas Standard about some of the tacos you don’t want to miss … and some you do.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: A lot of people are going to be flying into Austin. And if you’ve never been here before, the Austin airport actually has a pretty solid sampling of some local eateries right there in the terminal. Now, what do you say: Before you go grab your luggage, is it worth a stop at any of those spots, taco-wise?

Mando Rayo: Definitely. You know, I think it’s better than most large airports across Texas because you can get like, you know, homegrown small businesses that are actually being featured at the airport, like the Peached Tortilla. I mean, when you think about that Asian fusion – a bánh mì taco, a Vietnamese braised pork belly – at an airport? I mean, why not, right?

Well, when you’re thinking about tacos as ground beef with some cheese and salsa, we’re going way beyond that.

Oh, yeah. And you know, people, when they come to Texas, they come to Austin, they think barbecue, right? They think tacos, too. And so Earl Campbell’s taco truck at the terminal, gate 19, you can actually get barbacoa tacos, probably a nice brisket taco or even like a sausage wrap in a tortilla. And so that’s a pretty good introduction to Austin, if you know what I mean.

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It sounds like you’re speaking from experience here, Mando. So anything folks should be on the lookout for when it comes to choosing what taco shop they want to hit up once they get out of the terminal? And how do you avoid what I think you have called “taco traps”?

Yes. You know what I would say? If it has a good line, definitely it’s worth a stop. There’s a lot of taco trailers, parks that you can go down whether you’re coming, you know, from the airport towards downtown.

But definitely what you need to avoid is those taco traps, right? Like during South by Southwest, everybody’s coming in. So you have tech bros trying to entice you with hardshell tacos. Avoid those lines.

And then maybe you’re stuck downtown in a hotel and they’re offering you their version of tacos. I mean, I would say, walk a few blocks down and go to some awesome places that you can find right downtown – from Veracruz All Natural to Vaquero Taquero; Asador on Rainey Street. Those would be my recommendations. I know Texas is not big on walking, but you can walk two blocks down and get yourself a pretty tasty taco outside of a hotel.

I like this tip that you look for the long line. You have to have the patience to wait for it, but it’s worth the wait, is what it sounds like you’re saying here.

Oh yeah, it’s definitely worth the wait. And you know, they go pretty fast. Some places offer coffee outside and, you know, like if you go to Cenote on East Cesar Chavez, they have a good mix of good tacos and good coffee. So you kind of have that mix. And then right down the street, you can get some great tacos over at Las Trancas. It’s a former horse trailer. And they have some great carnitas and tripas there.

If you go further east, you can get Oye Taquito 956. And they’re from the Rio Grande Valley. And you can get some great street-style taquitos with a side of beans, which is, you know, perfect.

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