Get ready to taste a lot of access roads.
Get ready to taste a lot of access roads.
Matt Wood

A Field Guide to the Taquerias of I-35

Part of the responsibility that comes with being a Texan is that you're expected to know where the good tacos are at all times. This is easy and hard in equal measure, since there are approximately 500,000 taquerias in the state and little to no way of knowing which ones are worth your time outside of some gringo's Yelp review that ham-fistedly describes an establishment as "kinda ghetto but surprisingly delicious."

So, as you embark upon the wretched, hungover trip to Austin for a festival, packed in your ramshackle '95 Geo Metro with your three best friends who you hate, stave off the instant regret of an ill-advised Taco Bell binge by hitting up one of these street-style taco merchants instead.

Just so we don't end up beaten and zip-tied in a trunk somewhere by an enraged taco blogger for failing to mention their favorite spot, it might be helpful to lay some ground rules first: We're looking at places using onion, cilantro and lime wedges for garnish, on corn tortillas exclusively -- unless the place makes their own flour tortillas, which might be worth a delicious exception. Oh, and no cheese allowed, lest you risk taco heresy. We're also focusing on taquerias directly along I-35 between Dallas and Austin, so if your favorite place is more than a mile off the highway, you're out of luck. We've got a schedule to keep, after all.

At least now you've got something to do while getting your car inspected.
At least now you've got something to do while getting your car inspected.
Matt Wood

Mis Tacos Location: Far South Dallas Time from Dallas: 12 Minutes Specialty: Huevos Con Chorizo Field Notes: If the infernal hunger strikes before you even make it out of the city, head to Mis Tacos in South Dallas to feed the beast. Don't let the fact that it shares a building with an auto repair shop throw you; just look for the colorful wall-sized mural hinting at delicious secrets within and pull up a chair at the communal outdoor-only tables while you wait for magic to emerge from the joint's single window. The barbacoa is chewier than we've had at other spots, but its flavor will win you over by the third bite. If Mis happens to be your first stop on a morning trip, opt for one of the Huevos dishes and thank us later.

Two Amigos Taqueria Location: Waxahachie Time from Dallas: 36 Minutes Specialty: Carne Asada Tacos Field Notes: Two Amigos' carne asada taco is the stuff of dreams -- rich and juicy with just enough fresh onion to liven up your mouth without crossing the line. The house-made tortillas play double duty as deliciously thick and crunchy chips, served alongside red and green sauce you'll probably want to drink straight from the bowl. Although the place gets nearly everything right, the tacos didn't come with lime wedges on the side. But by employing some complex problem solving you can take the lime from your drink and judiciously wring it over each taco. Which, according to Taco Law, is mandatory.

El Taco Jalisco Location: Hillsboro Time from Dallas: 1 Hour, 1 Minute Specialty: Barbacoa by the Pound Field Notes: If you're looking to satisfy a crowd, El Taco Jalisco has you and your entourage of dirty-broke friends covered. For a meager $10, you'll get a pound of barbacoa and a dozen tortillas with which to guide the magic meat into your ravenous maw. The lengua tacos also impress, but if you really want to get nasty, put that tongue in a torta instead -- the bolillo is flaky and chewy, the meat is tender and you are obscenely happy with your life choices.

Just eat the cactus. It'll be fine.
Just eat the cactus. It'll be fine.
Matt Wood

Taqueria El Mexicano Grille #8 Location: Bellmead Time from Dallas: 1 Hour, 26 Minutes Specialty: Carne Guisada Tacos Field Notes: For whatever reason, there are lots of good tacos near Waco, so you probably ought to start pacing yourself now if you haven't already. Taqueria El Mexicano is a local chain with locations in small towns all around Texas, but that shouldn't scare you off -- their homemade corn and flour tortillas are great, particularly when they're wrapped around rich, velvety carne guisada. Try a taco de nopales; everyone deserves a little tangy cactus in his life.

Twirling pork awaits within.
Twirling pork awaits within.
Matt Wood

Taqueria Mexican Taco Location: Waco Time from Dallas: 1 Hour, 35 Minutes Specialty: Tacos Al Pastor Field Notes: This redundantly-titled, cash-only taco sanctuary may be the best-kept pork secret in Central Texas. The first thing you'll see is the twirling meat tornado behind the counter, and that's because it's probably three feet wide and you'll want to bite it like a brontosaurus drumstick from The Flintstones. Try to resist the temptation and order the tacos al pastor, which arrive with overflowing bowls of fresh pineapple, spicy slaw and lime wedges for garnish. While you're there, take on the "666 Diablo Taco Challenge," which involves eating six habanero tacos within six minutes, and then waiting six more minutes after that before taking a drink. If you make it out alive, the tacos are free and you get your photo on the wall.

Taqueria Zacatecas Location: Waco Time from Dallas: 1 Hour, 40 Minutes Specialty: Carnitas Tacos Field Notes: You can't miss the sign for Taqueria Zacatecas, with its amazing combination of the Jokerman typeface and a questionably licensed cartoon of Speedy Gonzales. All graphic design pedantry aside, this place puts the tiniest spin on the traditional street taco by adding cabbage to its cilantro and onion topping, which provides a welcome crunch without camouflaging the main attraction. In addition to its immaculate carnitas, Zacatecas is also the only spot we found serving tacos de tripa dorada -- so if you feel like eating a tortilla filled with warm, crispy pork rinds, this place is your golden ticket to lard land. They also offer hilariously large burritos that dunk hard on anything those clowns at Chipotle could throw at you. If you can handle crowds of Baylor students gawking at organ meats and treating Mexican Coke like an obscure foreign delicacy, this is a required stop. If not, use the drive-thru. Either way, you're going.

The best way to satisfy your stomach is by eating more stomach. It's science.
The best way to satisfy your stomach is by eating more stomach. It's science.
Matt Wood

Altos De Jalisco Location: Lorena Time from Dallas: 2 Hours Specialty: Beef fajita tacos Field Notes: Lorena is best known as the town where country singer Billy Joe Shaver shot a guy in the face and got away with it, but it also boasts a single taqueria that is almost as noteworthy. The fajita tacos are the star of the show, with notably fresh onions and cilantro alongside crispy beef -- but if you visit during the weekend, it's basically your duty to try the menudo. If tripe's your thing, you'll find plenty here, with large, tender chunks of the honeycomb and book varieties throughout. The soup isn't served very spicy, but if you can't fix that yourself with the heaping plate of fresh peppers, onions and other garnishes that arrives along with it, you probably belong in another state. Just watch out for bones, compadre.

Look closely. They're trying to tell you something.
Look closely. They're trying to tell you something.
Matt Wood

Los Dos Hermanos Taqueria Location: Georgetown Time from Dallas: 3 Hours Specialty: Picadillo Tacos Field Notes: Georgetown is definitely more of a Tex-Mex town, but Los Dos Hermanos brings authenticity by the pound. It's as straightforward as taquerias get, with a simple menu of classics and some delicious flan or fresh pan dulce for dessert. Order the fragrant, tangy picadillo tacos on homemade tortillas, or celebrate your rapidly approaching arrival in Austin by going all in on an enormous torta cubana. Nothing stands out too much as particularly unique, but it's all good -- and sometimes, that's exactly what you want.

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