The Great Taco Debate: The I-20 Theory Between Tacos and Burritos

Be sure to read The Great Taco Debate on SA Flavor for my own breakfast taco story.

One of the staples in San Antonio is the taco. We eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tacos can be found in mobile food trucks, hole-in-the-walls, lobbies of where we work and high class restaurants.

But to paraphrase the Bard, would a taco by any other name taste as sweet?

Recently there was a discussion at my workplace about the difference between a taco and a burrito. This launched a huge discussion between the nuances of each item.

I have experienced this conundrum firsthand. Growing up on the South Plains, I always referred to the breakfast meal of eggs, bacon and cheese in a tortilla as a “breakfast burrito.” Coming to San Antonio, many of my coworkers kept asking me if I would like a bean and egg “breakfast taco.” I kept declining because I could not understand why anyone would want a crispy taco shell with beans and eggs first thing in the morning.

It was several months before I realized that breakfast tacos in San Antonio did not come in a crispy shell but rather a soft tortilla. Once I became enlightened to this fact, I have happily ordered breakfast tacos ever since.

Be sure to read The Great Taco Debate on SA Flavor for my own breakfast taco story.

Be sure to read The Great Taco Debate on SA Flavor for my own breakfast taco story.

This led me to develop what I refer to as the I-20 Taco Theory. Interstate 20 more or less cuts Texas right in the middle as the road travels East to West passing through DFW and Midland before swooping down South to El Paso. People who live either side of this line have drastically different views on tacos.

San Antonians and people who live South of I-20 cannot imagine calling the tortilla wrapped treat anything other than a taco.  To them, a burrito is anything that comes in a larger tortilla, a la Freebirds. By default, anything  purchased in the morning is in a normal sized tortilla so they logically refer to it as a taco. If they want a hard shelled taco, they will always specifically ask for a “crispy taco.”

The contingent who lives North of I-20 referred to the morning item as a breakfast burrito.  This group feels that by default the word taco implies a crispy shell. Folks North of the line refer to anything in a tortilla as a burrito although there are some factions who deviate and call the smaller tortilla item a soft taco.

Tacos or Burritos? Weigh in with you thoughts on the comments below!

Tacos or Burritos? Weigh in with you thoughts on the comments below!

You then have the people who live right on the line who are confused on whether to call an item a burrito or taco. There are tons of places in the DFW Metroplex that serve tacos and an equal amount that serve burritos. These Texans have adapted and just call it by the name that is at the restaurant. The only exception might be in El Paso where it seems that it more often than not referred to as a taco.

While I am not advocating for either the use of the word “taco” or “burrito,” it is my hope that this article can at least provide some insight to those traveling to Texas or within Texas to understand what the heck they should ask for depending on what city they are visiting.

Being in San Antonio for the past six years, I have adopted “breakfast taco” into my vernacular.  However, when I use this term while visiting my parents I often get funny looks and quickly say, “I mean, I’d love a bacon and egg breakfast burrito.”

UPDATE: I was actually interviewed by my friend over at Hilah Cooking for her newest edition of the Breakfast Taco Book (the I-20 Theory even made it into her book)! If you like cooking—or are interested in learning—be sure to check her website and videos out!

Breakfast Taco Book

What are your thoughts on the differences between tacos and burritos? Do you agree with the I-20 Taco Theory?  Let me know in the comments! Be sure to Like SA Flavor on Facebook for more places to get tacos.

Be sure to vote in the 2014 #SABreakfastBracket to crown the champion of all San Antonio Breakfast!

SA Flavor San Antonio Breakfast Bracket 2014 March Madness Taco

Living in San Antonio since 2005, Garrett enjoys going around town looking for the perfect enchiladas.

  • Jim Salinas

    Whuuuut? People are insane, burrito is a rolled up tortilla and a taco is not crispy, soft taco, flour/corn. It’s like calling a flauta a burrito!! excerpt from wikipedia…. The word “burrito” appears in the 1895 Diccionario de Mejicanismos, where it is identified as a regional term from Guanajuato and defined as “Tortilla arrollada, con carne ú otra cosa dentro, que en Yucatán llaman coçito, i en Cuernavaca i en Mejico, taco” (A rolled tortilla with meat or other ingredients inside, called ‘coçito’ in Yucatan and ‘taco’ in the city of Cuernavaca and in Mexico CIty).[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burrito

  • http://jen.rames.org Jen Rames

    Haha. I grew up in Dallas and Mexican breakfast did not really exist…sure there might have been a “burrito” of eggs, bacon, and cheese served with Pace at the rare restaurant, but no chorizo, beans, or other breakfast taco must-haves were anywhere in sight.

    It was not until I came to SATX for college that I truly discovered the joys of the breakfast taco. I agree that it comes down to tortilla size and also whether or not it is completely wrapped up (burrito) or open (taco).
    Burritos tend to be way bigger. Your photo is definitely displaying tacos (where from by the way…they look tasty!). Happy taco eating!

  • San Antonio Joe

    There was a late addition to this theory by @Racker121 who is from way far South Texas. He says that in Laredo and the Valley a lot of folks will refer to them as “mariachis” and thinks this is because it kind of looks like you are playing the trumpet when you eat them.

  • Jim Salinas

    Whuuut? mariachis???? never heard of that, I’ll have to ask my wife who is Mexican and also from way down south Matamoros across from Brownsville area…..

  • Jim Salinas

    Wife never heard of that, maybe they meant huarache aka a giant sope???

  • http://facetiousfoodie.blogspot.com/ katsukhan

    I think of burritos as being more self contained like a papoose. Tacos are looser and easily opened.Both are delicious but for me, burrito is much heavier and siesta inducing. Tacos to me are lighter and less lethargic.

  • AmandaG

    I’m from the Valley and we call them tacos. At least the part I’m from.

  • NickM

    Burritos all the way! I had to convert my wife to the way of the burrito. There is only 1 taco that trumps the West Texas Burrito, and that is the #14 Beef from Rosas Cafe! Beats anything in SA!

  • San Antonio Joe

    @NickM – Ha! Interesting insight; I think the point of this blog is really to make sure that folks know what to call them in case they are traveling. Being from West Texas and now living in SA, I have to say that I like them both. However, if I am going to eat at Rosa’s I am for sure getting the #5 Cheese Enchilada Plate with Chile con Carne and a side of green chile sauce. That’s my old standard :)

  • http://reallight.posterous.com Chris

    Just want to chime in on this question here. I’m a transplant to South(East) Texas from the Northwest, and it was also surprising to me to learn that what I had always held in my mind as a breakfast burrito would be refered to as a taco. The association I’ve always made is this:

    Corn tortilla (lightly fried, heavily fried or not fried at all)= taco
    Flour tortilla (of any variety)= burrito

    Exceptions to the rules:

    Flat, fried corn tortilla= tostada
    Cut, fried corn tortillas= chips
    Flour tortilla fried= chimichonga
    Flour tortilla that is not properly folded= Tacobell soft taco
    Four tortilla filled with lunchmeats/unorthodox fillings= wrap

  • San Antonio Joe

    @Chris – Thanks for your insight; always interesting to get people’s perspective from a place outside of Texas! I hope you are enjoying your time in the Lone Star State and are eating plenty of tacos and burritos, regardless of the name you call them!

  • elodis

    Ha!  One of my first ‘Texan’ arguments as a Californian transplant was on this exact issue.  Although I’ve become brainwashed into the South Texas way (mainly to avoid the stares), I still feel burrito is closer to technically correct, especially when they are delivered tubular wrapped in a burrito fashion.  But hey, they also pronounce Guadalupe, Guadaloop around here as well!

  • curious kong

    I currently live in Denton Tejas just up a bit north from Dallas but I was raised and born in South Tejas. Denton Tejas is above the I20 line. I have had no trouble with people around here understanding the difference between tacos and burritos. No trouble so far and I have been here 6 years. Breakfast tacos and burritos up here mean the same thing in McAllen or Corpus Christi for the most part. Hard taco shells are called “chingaderas”. In fact I didnt know there was such an issue until I read this article.

  • curious kong

    I currently live in Denton Tejas just up a bit north from Dallas but I was raised and born in South Tejas. Denton Tejas is above Interstate 20 line. I have had no trouble with people around here understanding the difference between tacos and burritos. No trouble so far and I have been here 6 years. Breakfast tacos and burritos up here mean the same thing as they do in McAllen or Corpus Christi for the most part. Hard taco shells tacos formats are called “chingaderas” I don’t consider them real tacos. I didnt know there was much of  an issue  between understanding the difference between tacos and burritos until I read this article certainly not from living above I-20 .