Even as you read this, I am hurtling through the sky, heading to God’s Country, aka Texas. Specifically, Austin.
I got my bachelor’s degree in Austin at the fine University of Texas. Took me seven years. And, if you’ve ever been to Austin, you know why it took me seven years. Why would you hurry through school when you’re living in the greatest place in the world? Plus, the pace in Austin is a lot more laid back than say, Washington DC. To point: it only took me about 18 months to get my master’s here in DC.
Austin is known for many, many things. It’s the state capital. It’s the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital. There’s the 40 Acres of UT. But when I think of Austin (and I do think of Austin. A lot, actually.) I think of one thing: breakfast tacos.
Breakfast tacos are apparently a uniquely Texan, and specifically Austin, phenomena. It’s virtually impossible to find them here in DC. I don’t know why. It doesn’t make sense. DC is a place full of very important, very busy people who eat on the go. But for some reason, people here haven’t figured out the essential awesomeness of this super filling, grab-and-go breakfast.
I grew up on breakfast tacos in El Paso. Hell, our high school concession stand sold AWESOME breakfast tacos (I used to buy the potato, egg and green chile ones). I’ve had great breakfast tacos in Dallas (Uncle Julio’s comes to mind), and San Antonio, and even Odessa. But Austin is where breakfast tacos are elevated to a true art form.
There are a lot of places you can buy breakfast tacos in Austin, and there is a lot of debate over the best tacos. Everyone has their favorite and will drive miles out of their way to go to their spot.
I’ve eaten breakfast tacos at a lot of places in Austin. Back in my heyday, there weren’t too many places I didn’t try. I’ve gotten tacos at roach coaches, convenience stores, gas stations, co-ops, even a Laundromat (on Manor Road). I’ve tried all kinds and combinations of tacos – chorizo; potato, egg and cheese; migas; egg and refried beans; egg and sausage; bacon, egg and cheese; egg and avocado. I’ve even eaten vegan breakfast tacos (tofu).
But my hands down favorite breakfast taco any place, anywhere has got to be Juan in a Million’s The Don Juan.
You might have seen Juan in a Million on an episode of Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food, which seriously pissed me off because I didn’t want (more) people to know about Juan in a Million. But, now that a little time has passed, and I’ve begun to admit that I am also now, technically, an interloper at Juan’s, I’ve made peace with the fact that The Don Juan is popular, but it hasn’t let its popularity go to its egg-head.
Now, Juan in a Million is not in a fancy part of town. You drive east on First Street through downtown Austin, crossing I-35 and enter a whole different universe. First Street becomes East Cesar Chavez. You roll past dozens of places selling colorful piñatas, stucco office buildings offering legal and immigration services, and tire shops. Parking is gonna be sketch, and you’ll probably have to park on a residential side street full of single-story houses with front yards festooned in religious statues, drying laundry, and colorful pinwheels, and protected by baying dogs of indistinguishable breeds.
Juan in a Million is in a low-slung unassuming building (peach stucco with a greenish roof) and probably crowded, but the service is quick and the wait won’t be long. In the years I’ve been going there, the Juan Empire has expanded greatly. There are now a variety of seating options — indoor, outdoor, in a hall that looks like it might double as a reception spot for a quinceanera. The chairs and tables are all white plastic (outside) or restaurant-style imitation wood (inside) and ready for heavy breakfast taco duty.
The Don Juan is the perfect heaping blend of scrambled egg, potato, cheese, bacon and tortilla. It’s impossible to distinguish where the egg ends and the pillowy soft potato begins. This amalgamation is further enhanced by the large, salty, smoky chunks of – wait, it’s not even fair to call it bacon, they’re really more like, pork lardons. And they don’t skimp on the bacon at all.
Then, there’s the cheese. Oh holy creaminess. It might seem weird, but The Don Juan’s cheese reminds me of the government cheese we used to get for free when I was a kid. It came in these huge blocks (like 5 pounders) and was sorta like a more firm version of Velveeta.
Then there’s the salsa, which is mind-blowingly good and cuts through all the breakfast taco goodness, adding quite a bit of heat to the whole enterprise. It’s spicy, but so delicious you can’t stop shoveling chip-fulls of it into your mouth, even if you’re mouth is on fire.
I hear Juan in a Million has other things on its menu (XFE orders a side of guacamole and a side of chorizo), but I’m not interested. I’ve probably been going there for about 16 years (including every weekend for the entire duration of a two-year relationship), but I have never been tempted to stray. I always order The Don Juan with an extra tortilla. It’s huge – there’s no way to finish it. And the whole thing costs around $4.
I cannot wait to eat there this weekend.