A friend of mine hails from Austin, which is to say she has opinions about breakfast tacos. She still grumbles about the time Citizen wouldn’t sell her a lone taco; the cafe in Lower Queen Anne serves them in pairs, anchored on a plate, even though Texans view a tortilla harboring scrambled egg as something singular and exceedingly portable.
Breakfast tacos are an Austin signature and, like Chicagoans with hot dogs, those from Central Texas desire a certain treatment of their native delicacy.
By most definitions, a proper Austin-style breakfast taco is more about comfort than challenge. A good one requires no exotic ingredients; there’s nothing culinarily complicated about filling a flour tortilla—not corn—with scrambled eggs, then bacon or chorizo…maybe some avocado, migas, salsa…beans if you’re feeling crazy.
So why aren’t they more common outside Texas? Or, put another way, why aren’t there more breakfast tacos in Seattle?
You could long tally our town’s breakfast tacos on one hand with enough spare digits to comfortably hold and eat one. Now, in an era when transplants flow into our city, Seattle’s experiencing a breakfast taco enlightenment. These new tacos are often the work of Lone Star natives, like Jack Timmons, a Dallas guy who ended up in Seattle the old-fashioned way—a job, at Boeing, then Microsoft. In 2014 he opened Jack’s BBQ, recreating his native barbecue ethos in a roadhouse on Airport Way.
Love for its brisket keeps Jack’s plenty busy, but Timmons missed breakfast tacos, and his staff arrives at 4:30am to light the pilots on the two custom smokers anyway. At first, Jack’s sold its version only on weekday mornings—an Austinite’s platonic ideal of thick flour tortillas (from White Center’s La Mexicana Tortilla Factory) gently griddled, then filled with diner-hefty potato cubes, a restrained amount of cheddar, and your choice of meat, the fillings all commingling like a hash rather than staying in formation. “One is fine; two, you’re full,” is how he describes the size, though it’s easy to justify a third.
Putting brisket or pulled pork in these tacos was a given, but Timmons’s tinkering yielded a sausage of ground beef belly and brisket cooked with Georgetown Brewing’s 9lb Porter, a nod to brewery owner Manny Chao (yes, beer lovers, that Manny), who stops in regularly. It’s an assertively spiced showstopper, and the mainstay of Texans who gather to commune with their home state via tacos in red plastic baskets. That communion now happens on weekends, since Jack’s added brunch.
The symbiosis between barbecue and breakfast tacos (and brunch) makes sense. At Wood Shop BBQ in the Central District, owner Matt Davis knew his regular slate of rib racks and pulled pork sandwiches might seem a bit heavy before noon. Davis styles his brunch tacos after the ones he and his business partner ate during their meat bonanza, er, research trip through Texan barbecue territory; the closer the duo got to the border, Davis noticed more Tex-Mex influence on breakfast tacos. He makes his the same way, with a subtle smear of housemade refried beans and cotija cheese instead of cheddar.
There’s pulled pork and brisket, but if you’re only going to eat one taco here (not unlikely given the size), make it bacon. Wood Shop smokes its own—domino-thick slabs of seared pork belly placed inside a tortilla, unchopped. Trim and portable? Nope. “It’s like an open-face burger,” says Davis. In the world of burgers, he points out, there’s room for both the slender Dick’s-style version and the fully loaded behemoth.
It’s fitting that our breakfast taco boomlet should begin with coffee. In her various trips to Texas’s capital city, Natalie Lamberjack realized Austin’s coffee shops offered the most wonderful thing: foil-wrapped tacos in comfortingly savory combinations that might drive a good breakfast sandwich. This setup was utterly absent from, yet perfectly suited to, Seattle’s coffee shop culture. Her company, Sunrise Tacos, now stocks a dozen local cafes with four variations of filling, including properly fluffy eggs and well-seasoned potatoes. Newcomer Bread and Bone makes a breakfast taco for coffee shops like Fika House Kafe in Bellevue as well as QED and Victrola locations—a fat Northwest adaptation with organic purple potato and chorizo from responsibly raised pigs. For my Austinite friend, this oversize iteration, served with hot sauce in lieu of salsa and a rectangular cut of egg scramble, is akin to going abroad and seeing off-key interpretations of familiar dishes, like ketchup on spaghetti. Still, she acknowledges, it’s a tortilla filled with eggs and cheese and sausage: “You’re not going to not like it.”
It’s a domestic twist on a 150-year tradition: Much of our food landscape was plotted by groups who brought familiar foods from somewhere else. Japanese immigrants made us early adopters of sushi; refugees from Vietnam installed pho as a civic staple. Norwegians fished, Italians farmed, and now, with so many natives from elsewhere in the United States building lives in Seattle, legit versions of their signature foods (lobster rolls, poke, Chicago-style pizza) eventually make their way here too.
Just don’t confuse the breakfast taco with its California cousin, the breakfast burrito. “Everybody asks for them,” says Timmons, of these gargantuanly nap-inducing creations: “Those are a West Coast thing.”