Jarod Neece, Gordon “The Commish” Murphy, Justin “Cornbiter Deluxe” Bankston, and Mando “El Mundo de Mando” Rayo are the “Taco Mafia” in Austin. Their blog, “Taco Journalism”, offers critique of taco destinations across the city.

Photo courtesy of Jared Neece.

It is difficult to find a person without an appreciation for the art form that is the taco. But for four Austin men, their love for tacos transcends the average devotion and borders on insanity. By day, the quad lives in pleasant American normalcy, but by night, they transform into crusaders searching for the best taco Austin can offer.

Jarod Neece and his partners, Gordon “The Commish” Murphy, Justin “Cornbiter Deluxe” Bankston, and Mando “El Mundo de Mando” Rayo spend much of their lives eating and writing about nothing but tacos. They started their popular Austin-based blog, “Taco Journalism,” in 2006.

“Tacos are the perfect, traditional food,” Neece said, “You have to be invested in eating a big, fat burrito. You can do so much more and have much more fun with a taco.”

“Taco Journalism” is a blog dedicated to spreading the word about the best tacos in the Austin area. They were inspired by the progress of Yelp and their mutual love for breakfast tacos. The sheer number of tacos in Austin keeps their blog updated constantly with new taco destinations.

“We’re not here to bring down taco establishments in Austin,” Neece said, “We want to love every taco we try, and make everyone love tacos.”

“Taco Journalism” grades each restaurant, trailer, truck and hole-in-the-wall with a one to five star ranking. Both ends of the star spectrum are hard to come by on the website. They post a short description and explanation with the star ranking and offer up advice for ordering.

Neece noted that his favorite taco in Austin is at Al Pastor Taco Stand on Riverside Drive. It is situated in a trailer in the parking lot of a bingo parlor. Neece emphasized that upscale décor and a hefty price tag do not necessarily make a good taco.

“The most important thing is to see the effort and the love that went into each taco,” Neece said, “Dry, store-bought tortillas, bland salsa and tough, chewy meat proves they don’t care about what they are serving me.”

The four bloggers agreed that homemade tortillas, full-bodied salsas and carefully prepared meat from quality cuts of the animal are crucial elements of a proper taco.

“The tortilla is the most important part of a good taco,” Mando said, “It has to be fresh, hand-made and just like ‘abuelita’ used to make.”

“Taco Journalism” also offers tips for die-hard taco eaters. Most taco joints, according to Neece, have secret, special sauces that they don’t normally serve with their everyday taco. He suggests asking a server for their special salsa or sauce on the side.

“A good sauce can totally turn up the dynamic of the taco you’re eating. It can change it entirely,” Neece said, “I always ask for a side of green sauce to change up my tacos.”

The bloggers call Austin the “taco capital of the world.” They believe the combination of generational family establishments and a dynamic, hip culture creates an extremely versatile taco scene. In many ways they believe the Austin taco is as diverse as the city from which it was made. They urged the importance of not judging a book by its cover.

“I took Taco Journalism’s advice to go to Joe’s Bakery for the best breakfast taco in town,” special education freshman Katherine Aitken said. “It was spot on. They really know how to find the extraordinary in what seems average.”

The bloggers are currently writing a book called “Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day.” It will debut at the Austin Hot Sauce Festival in the first week of August. The book explores the history of the Austin breakfast taco, recipes from Austin culinary icons and taco oddities around the city.

“Everyone seems to have a story,” Neece said, “We’re just trying to spread the taco love however we can.”

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Printed on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 as: Four Austin bloggers critique local tacos 

Retired Texas teachers may soon be seeing a boost in their financial benefits if two bills filed for the 2013 legislative session pass.

State Reps. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, and Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, each filed bills earlier this month to increase financial benefits for those receiving pensions from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, a group that has not seen an increase in its pensions since 2001.

The retirement system serves Texas public education employees including eligible employees at UT and is governed by the state legislature. It is the largest public retirement system in Texas in terms of membership and assets, with 1,316,566 participants and $101 billion in net assets as of Sept. 30, 2011, according to its website.

Gonzales’ bill would allow the state legislature to more easily provide supplemental payments to those retirees. Currently, the state legislature must request additional funding from the state’s general revenue to make such a payment, and the bill would allow them to do so without taking that step.

Bill Barnes, legislative coordinator for Texas Retired Teachers Association, said his organization supports Gonzales’ bill because it could be used to help supplement the buying power retirees have lost since 2001.

“That buying power has gone down by more than 30 percent,” Barnes said.

He said only one supplemental payment for the retirees has been approved by the state legislature in the last 10 years, and it was in 2005.

Barnes said the Texas Retired Teachers Association also endorses Martinez’s bill, which would provide a more consistent means of retirement funding for seniors. The bill would provide for a cost of living increase based on the percentage change in inflation reflected in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, a number that has most recently been published by the United States Department of Labor.

Scott Jenkines, chief of staff for Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, said the bill is needed to give teachers increased stability in their pensions. 

“When they retire the vast majority of them do not get Social Security, so they rely on their teacher retirement,” Jenkines said. 

Social Security payments change each year in accordance with the index.

Jenkines said budgetary constraints within the legislature and a general anti-government attitude in Texas will be the biggest obstacles for the passage of Martinez’s and similar bills.

“It’s going to be tough. No denying it’s going to be tough,” Jenkines said.

He said he believes passing the bills is possible, and that it will be easier to tell where the legislature stands on the bills once the 2013 session begins. 

Printed on Thursday, November 29, 2012 as: Texas retired teacher benefits may rise