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Breakfast Tacos Gallop Into Town at Brooklyn Heights’ Jalapa Jar

Eater's senior critic samples the goods at a new subway station taqueria

For a cuisine seemingly so simple, with a roster of easy-to-acquire ingredients, why do New Yorkers get Tex-Mex so wrong? The breakfast taco — native to Austin, though precursors abound in San Antonio — is the most obvious case in point. A glove-soft flour tortilla; a scrambled egg or two; some sage sausage, bacon, or chorizo; maybe fried potatoes; perhaps a grating of yellow cheese or slice of avocado or scatter of beans; topped with homemade pico or bottled salsa. So fundamental and so delectable. Yet nearly all the versions available here screw it up by fooling with the formula, often by trying to spin it in a gourmet direction so more money can be charged, or with a complicated list of badly chosen options.

Our latest attempt recently occurred in the Clark Street IRT subway station on the ground floor of the St. George Hotel. This is a splendid location, looking like New York in the 1920s with its creaking subway elevator and worn hallways that wander off several directions in search of the street. Right across from a shoe repair parlor and shoe shine stand thrusts Jalapa Jar, a counter dedicated to Austin breakfast tacos. This is a brilliant place to offer them, reminiscent of the platform gyro stand in Queensboro Plaza in a Seinfeld episode. You can almost dash off the 2 or 3 train, grab a taco (between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., weekdays only), and jump back on.

Four tacos are offered with a choice of corn or flour tortillas. Pick flour: they are compact and creamy, perfect in every way. The tacos are a little steep at $4 (two for $7). "Have you ever been to Austin?" I asked the proprietor, who was wearing one of the wonderful Jalapa Jar t-shirts, which have the names of Brooklyn neighborhoods emblazoned on a map of Texas. "No, but my brother has," was his reply.

Here is a description of each of the breakfast tacos. Salsa can be requested mild, medium, or hot. Go ahead and order the hot, because it isn’t very hot.

Jalapa Jar Robert Sietsema

Photo: The Heights

The Heights (crumbled bacon, jalapeño garlic mashed potatoes, shredded cheese): Mashed potatoes in a taco? Not a good idea. The bacon flavor was welcome, but the bacon should have been left in strips or large pieces.

Dirty 6th (ground chorizo, refried pinto beans, queso fresco): This was the tastiest of the breakfast tacos, and the one that I’d definitely order again. Still, its combination of ingredients made it seem like a mainstream Mexican taco and not a Tex-Mex one.

Greenpoint Veggie (sliced avocado, refried black beans, queso fresco): Though this, too, didn’t seem very breakfast-y, it was good nonetheless.

Butler Park (sauteed spinach, feta cheese): Named after a park in Austin that everyone knows as Town Lake, this is clearly a Greek breakfast taco and not a Tex-Mex one. On top of that, the spinach was so soupy it made a puddle in the bottom of the container that gummed up the flour tortilla.

Hopefully, Jalapa Jar is on an upward trajectory, and in the future will make their breakfast tacos seem more like…breakfast tacos. Already, they’ve thrown out some early missteps, including a complicated list of add-ons that included mashed plantains, mushroom hash, crushed corn chips, and chili con queso. Now just return to the fundamentals, and you’ll have a great little Austin taco stand.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post noted that some of the tacos did not have eggs, although the Jalapa team says that all of them have eggs. Although Sietsema didn't detect them, they could have been buried in the mix, so the post has been updated.

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