The best fast food tacos in Texas – Texas monthly
When we set out to create the Ultimate Texas Tacopedia, we thought so. This includes sampling fast food tacos at regional and national chains across the state. While there are dozens of tacos that can be categorized as fast food, we focused on the drive-thru options for this story. This is to be expected, as drive-thru services have been busier than ever during the pandemic.
If you’re slowing down at the control panel and yelling your taco choices into a microphone, you might as well do it with confidence. This is where this roundup comes in. I’ve grouped and categorized the chains and their menu options into three categories, with the first one being the best: breakfast tacos, hard tacos, and soft tacos. My tasting mate and I ordered our tacos through drive-thru to limit contact and tried an average of three tacos at each joint. We ate in the trunk of the car in each company’s parking lot to give each taco its best chance at staying warm and maintaining its structural integrity. (Unless you want to risk your crispy taco becoming soggy, I suggest you do the same.) Each taco was judged on its taste, preparation, and texture.
1. Taco shack
Taco shack had a tough year. Its Dallas-based parent company had to Close nineteen Texas stores even before the 2020 pandemic hit, and has been since sold nine locations. None of this detracts from the fact that Taco Cabana makes the best breakfast tacos serving fast food in Texas. The delicious flour tortillas particularly stand out; they are made on site at each location. In the Chorizo, Egg and Cheese Taco, the chorizo is mixed with the eggs as they cook, leaving a tasty smear of orange oil inside the tortillas. Taco Cabana also passes the breakfast tacos litmus test with its potatoes. They are well seasoned, golden on the corners and have a soft interior. Served all day, breakfast tacos come in assorted boxes of a dozen, a rare option perfect for travel meals.
2. Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-BQ
Founded in 1989 in Leon Springs near San Antonio, Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-BQ operates 46 branches in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma (a forty-seventh store is planned in Panama City, Florida). You will likely see the words “Breakfast Tacos” posted somewhere outside the building. These tacos are easily ordered through the drive-thru and they’re solid. On a busy morning, sometimes you just want a quick, simple taco with a little flavor, and Rudy’s does the job. The brisket in the brisket, egg and cheese is not too smoky. Then again, none of the components are too much of anything. The chorizo, egg and cheese are a bit better as the kitchen staff at Rudy’s mixes the chorizo and egg into one topping. Chorizo and eggs should always be served mixed in a breakfast taco.
3. Carl’s Jr.
Carl’s Jr. goes all out on his breakfast burritos. Most of them are wrapped in extra fluffy flour tortillas. We ordered a Bacon and Egg Burrito, a Beyond Sausage Burrito, and the Big Country Burrito. The latter was the highlight: a super-cheesy salt bomb pleasantly bursting with crispy hash browns, bacon and ham, foamed in a country sausage sauce. It’s perfect for snacking on the go.
To transmit: The breakfast taquitos at Whataburger may be famous, but they‘re also disappointing, with bland toppings in overly fluffy tortillas. Best of all is the Bouncy Breakfast Sausage with American Cheese. The seed speckled salsa verde does a decent job of getting the taco back. I was also not a fan of the breakfast tacos I sampled at Austin-based Taco Shack’s Frisco location. The savory chorizo wasn’t enough to top the cold white flour tortillas and soggy cubed potatoes.
1. Taco Palenque
I stumbled upon the original Taco Palenque in Laredo. I knew that the regional chain, established in 1987 and with locations that arch from the lower Rio Grande upstream to San Antonio and all the way to Houston, was cherished by Southern Texans. What I didn’t know was the heartwarming power of Taco Palenque’s iconic taco, the pirata from northern Mexico. It’s a bunch of refried beans and big dashes of grated cheddar cheese topped with tender fajitas in two – two! – Fresh flour tortillas. To give the taco time to steam, command the pirate to leave. This allows the cheese to melt and bind to the other components, making you dream of a fast food taco.
2. Rosa’s Café and Tortilla Factory
For years, I’ve heard of the amazing tortilla chips from Café Rosa and tortilla factory, but I had not tried them until this assignment. They were as tasty and crunchy as promised, as were the chewy tacos. Thick, golden flour tortillas wrapped in sleek wraps make a wonderful accompaniment to the Mexican taco plate. Ordering three tacos – you decide how crispy and how chewy – is a steal for around $ 10. The hard shells have good strength, do not fall apart and are cool. The lettuce was at room temperature and not dripping, the tomatoes were solid, and the beef did not squirt fat.
3. Taco Bueno
Founded in Abilene in 1967, Taco Bueno has over 180 locations across Texas and the Southwest. My favorite of its tacos is the Muchaco, which has a heavy shell that looks more like a pita than a flour tortilla. This soft, stretchy bun is firmly stuffed with the classic elements of ground beef, lettuce, chopped tomatoes and shredded cheese. It was much better than chainsoft flour tacos.
To transmit: Rudy’s belly and pulled pork tacos were too saucy and the flavor was poor. Stick to the breakfast tacos there. Long John Silver’s fish tacos are also far below expectations.
1. Jack in the box
Of all the hard shell tacos available at fast food chains, Jack in the box tacos are most similar to the stuffed, sealed, and deep-fried dorado tacos you’ll find in Mexico. They’re nowhere near as fresh, but they still bear an eerie resemblance to their Mexican analogues. The tacos are also hot, fatty, and filled with lettuce and a slice of cheese, giving them a familiar Americanized side. Nevertheless, these are the benchmark. Even better are the tiny tacos, the cheeseless bantam versions of the signature tacos served fifteen per box. They allow easy snacking in the front seat.
2. Taco Casa
The perfect crispy taco for fast food has an eye-catching, lightly corn-flavored shell. The form must retain its integrity with every bite. Of course, try to bite off more than you can chew, and the taco might fall apart. It happens. The rest of the components should taste like they are. Taco meat should taste like ground beef, regardless of the fat content. Lettuce should be crisp. The cheese should taste like cheese, regardless of the mixture. Tomatoes should not be reddish water casings. The great thing about crispy tacos at Taco Casa, a nearly fifty-year-old chain that started in Fort Worth, is Everything Taste Exactly. Even the shells taste like corn! I can’t believe I waited until this year to try them out.
3. Taco Bueno
If we could forget about Taco Casa and Jack in the Box, Taco Bueno’s long, fin-shaped hard shell taco would be a solid choice. It has the flavor, textures, and structural integrity that make for a good crispy taco, but this iteration isn’t as finely tuned as the aforementioned options.
To transmit: Tacos Doritos Locos by Taco Bell. Yes, this famous neon orange item is an innovation in food science and branding, and it’s a fun new thing to try once. But the tacos are stale and powdery. You don’t miss much if you skip this one.