“You must be from Texas,” said the guy behind the counter at Tougo Coffee.
That’s not a statement an Oregon native hears very often. But it was entirely understandable, considering I was hopping from one foot to another, so great was my excitement about the little warming case on the coffee shop counter, filled with foil-wrapped breakfast tacos.
These tortilla-wrapped packets of bacon, eggs, cheese, and beans are synonymous with Austin, and a rightful source of civic pride in Texas's capital city. But breakfast tacos are weirdly scarce in Seattle. Sure, a few spots serve them around town—Red Star Taco Bar in Fremont, Citizen in Queen Anne—but they're usually on a brunch menu, with the implicit understanding that you will remain seated at a table while you eat them.
One of the glories of Austin's breakfast taco culture is that even coffee shops serve great versions, giving people easily transportable forms of both caffeine and warm, savory, protein-filled breakfast. And that breakfast can accommodate a range of dietary restrictions. Seriously, how is this not a thing in Seattle?
An operation called Sunrise Tacos has spent the past six months making it a thing—at least, a quiet thing. A tip from a friend about a good breakfast taco led me to a place called Feed, a sort of miniature neighborhood grocer in Mt. Baker. The day’s taco supply was long gone, but the very nice woman behind the counter told me they came from a company called Sunrise Tacos. A quick perusal of Sunrise’s website brought me to Tougo, and that fully stocked taco case.
Most of Sunrise’s tacos start with a backbone of fluffy eggs and finely diced potatoes with just enough seasoning, plus jack and cotija cheese. And most are wrapped in a fresh and properly chewy flour tortilla. Sure, a corn tortilla might add more intrigue, but these particular breakfast tacos are uncomplicated and comforting by design, like New York's classic bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, but for people who still need a bit of spice with their eggs and cheese and carbs. One taco could fuel you until lunchtime, two won't leave you so full you need a nap.
The best of the lineup, if you’re a meat eater, is the Mt. Bakon, made smoky with Hempler’s bacon. Some guac, or at least some avocado, would make this thing unstoppable. Sunrise does a vegan taco with soyrizo, and a gluten-free taco, called the Jack, that’s made with black beans in a corn tortilla; it's also the only one filled with the combo of scrambled eggs, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and fried tortilla strips known in Austin taco speak as migas.
Most of Sunrise’s five-item taco menu can stand alone, but all of them are even better with some of the salsa—verde mild or medium red—that comes by request. Sunrise Tacos owner Natalie Lamberjack makes all this from scratch, except for the tortillas, which come from White Center.
Lamberjack isn't from Texas, but a series of trips to Austin, visiting friends or attending festivals, made her a breakfast taco convert. Rather than open her own restaurant, or even a food truck, Lamberjack focused on Seattle’s wealth of coffee shops, most of which are too busy pulling espresso shots to serve food that requires warming. Right now her tacos are at Tougo, Cone and Steiner, the Vivace at Alley 24, and Tin Umbrella Coffee, plus Feed in Mt. Baker on weekends. More outposts, she says, are on the way. (Sunrise's Facebook page seems like a logical way to keep tabs on this.)
Lamberjack starts her days around 4:30 to make and deliver the day's batch of tacos. "I’ve had baristas tell me, ‘now I know which of my customers are from Texas,’” she says of customers' reaction to seeing breakfast tacos on a coffee shop menu. She also tries to go organic, non-GMO, and nitrate-free whenever possible—seems Seattle and Austin food cultures aren't so different after all.