Tell me about the most delicious taco you’ve ever eaten. Could it have been Mexico? Do you mean Los Angeles? Do you mean San Diego? Exactly where are you from originally? What about in the comfort of your own home kitchen? Another possibility is that you are a pilgrim who has yet to find the ideal taco.
When asked what constitutes a “really ecstatic taco experience,” people provide varying answers. Corn tortillas are favoured by some over flour tortillas. Different people have different taco filling preferences, with some preferring pork and others pulling chicken or fish. Some people like their tacos plain, while others like to top them with guacamole and sour cream. We surveyed 10 critics from 10 different U.S. cities and asked them to describe how they discovered their favourite restaurant and what sets it apart. Find out whether the taco you consider to be the best made the cut.
Tacodeli, Austin, Texas
“Tacos are like taste bombs,” wrote Rachel Feit of The Austin Chronicle. According to Feit, the key to a fantastic taco is a flavorful filling, and this means meats that have been slow-cooked in a sauce with plenty of chilies and spices. Salsa, guacamole, and sour cream are staples in her household, but she also appreciates the added depth that ingredients like Queso Fresco, cilantro, and jalapeos provide.
Feit says, “Austin is a taco town, and there are tacos for every occasion, every emotion, and every pocketbook,” so it was difficult to choose just one. But Tacodeli, with its three outlets, has won her affection and stomach. Served exclusively on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Deli Belly is a $4 wonder of slow-braised pork belly, sliced and crisped, topped with cilantro and onions on a flour tortilla. Feit suggests finishing the tacos with the tiny chain’s emulsified green Doa sauce (a secret recipe she hopes to snag someday). I think salsa is essential for tacos, so I put it on every single batch I make, she explains. 4200 North Lamar (512-419-1900)
Located in the Windy City, Tio Luis Tacos
Chicago Tribune food critic Phil Vettel drove all around town to try other restaurants’ offerings until he settled on the $1.95 beef, onion, cilantro, and lime taco from Tio Luis Tacos as his favourite. As Vettel explains, “I thought I was on to something when I noticed the tiny sear on the skirt steak.” The crisp vegetables, fluffy tortilla, and tangy Key lime dressing made for a delicious combination. (773-468-2267 or 3856 S. Archer Ave.)
Pinche Tacos, a Denver staple
According to Denver Post food critic Tucker Shaw, “the taco found me” on his search for the best taco in town. Shaw had been looking for the Pinche Tacos truck for what seemed like forever when it finally made an appearance in front of his workplace. For about $3.50, he may get his hands on the “agridulce” taco, a masterpiece of sweet-and-sour braised pork belly, candied garlic, and cabbage and cilantro slaw in a corn tortilla. Shaw says, “You’d think I’d have waited to bite into it before choosing if it was my best taco in Denver, but the fact is I decided simply by the scent of it [meaty, fatty, sweet, sharp, and soulful] and the sight of it on the plate, so plump and gleaming.” You may contact them at 1514 York Street or by calling (720) 475-1337.
The Five Points, or Los Angeles
According to Los Angeles Magazine’s Patric Kuh, he was travelling through the Boyle Heights area of the city when he saw his “soul-taco.” In an instant, the word masa appeared on the side of the building, commanding his attention. He pulled over to see what was going on at Los Cinco Puntos, and saw several ladies slapping together dough to make tortillas, which they then cooked on a nearby griddle. One of his favourite tacos at Los Cinco Puntos is the sheep’s-head meat wrapped in a warm corn tortilla. But, as Kuh notes, the filler wasn’t the only thing that hooked him over.
He like tacos prepared with tortillas that have a somewhat acidic taste since they are made with freshly ground nixtamal, or dry corn. When added to other tastes, “it sharpens all of the others,” and “I have come to regard of it as the tang of perfection.” God forbid he should alter it in any way, so he doesn’t even add spicy sauce. You may reach them at 3300 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave. by calling (323) 261-4084.
“Lucky Taco” in Miami.
Even though Miami New Times and Edible South Florida writer Daniel Treiman claims to have found Miami’s greatest taco, he was really in the Homestead area in search of the city’s finest paleta. Lucky Taco and its $1.50 al pastor awesomeness were discovered by two friends on an adventure to the Redland Market Village neighbourhood with a buddy who is originally from Mexico.
Wrapping tender pork that has been marinated in a mixture of guajillo chiles and pineapple in a soft, warm maize tortilla makes for a sweet and spicy taco that is wonderful on its own or with the addition of lots of fresh cilantro. His “al pastor enthusiast” companion shrieked in joy, according to Treiman. That’s a lot of compliments. It’s at 291 W. Mowry Dr.
In New York,Tacos Morelos.
During a late night stroll down Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, Robert Sietsema of The Village Voice ran across his all-time favourite taco. At the food truck-turned-gastropub Tacos Morelos, Sietsema spotted tacos loaded with yellow rice, and as if the double starch wasn’t intriguing enough, he observed that one of the tacos also had a chile relleno, oozing with cheese. Meal-sized quantities of these tacos with a side of grilled peppers may be purchased for $5 at Tacos Morelos. Sietsema suggests spicing up this taco masterpiece with some chipotle sauce. (94-13 37th Ave.; 347-832-0193)
Tacos at Atoyac in Phoenix
Gwen Ashley Walters, the Phoenix Magazine restaurant critic and food writer, admits that she drives 45 minutes from her house whenever a craving strikes for her favorite taco from Tacos Atoyac. Even though this bare-bones restaurant is known mostly for its Oaxacan street food, Walters is a devoted acolyte of the $1.50 Indonesian catfish-stuffed Baja Taco.
What’s in it besides beer-battered fish? Red onions lightly pickled with jalapeño vinegar, shredded green cabbage, and Mexican crema spiked with hot sauce, all served inside a griddled flour tortilla. As Walters, who also happens to be a trained chef, puts it, “It’s a juxtaposition of cool and hot, crunchy and soft. In a word? Delicioso.” (1830 W. Glendale Ave.; 602-864-2746)
Providence, Rhode Island: La Lupita Tacos Mexicanos
“I want the real deal, the same kind of genuine article I would find on the streets of Mexico.” That’s what Gail Ciampa of The Providence Journal said when we asked her what she’s looking for in the best taco in town. What’s more, she tells us, “I want to be surprised by the freshness of the ingredients, the range of flavors that come from a few expertly blended spices and meats that have been marinated or roasted slowly.” She found exactly that at a taqueria in Olneyville called La Lupita Tacos Mexicanos.
This half-grocery-store, half-restaurant neighborhood institution sells an array of taco fillers such as pulled pork, marinated pork, tripe, beef tongue, chorizo, ground beef, and steak, and they also do a veggie taco. But for Ciampa, it’s all about the Crispy Taco, which is rolled up and stuffed with pulled chicken, onions, and cilantro and then deep-fried. Though guacamole, cheese, and sour cream come standard, Ciampa prefers hers without, and instead dips it in two spicy salsas. Crispy Tacos are $1.62 each or three for $4.20. (1950 Westminster St.; 401-331-2444)
San Antonio: Guajillo’s
“Balance, depth of flavor, and the ineffable taste of home—that’s what I want in my taco,” proclaims Edmund Tijerina of the San Antonio Express-News. The first time he tried tacos al pastor was in Mexico City more than a decade ago. In San Antonio, however, he depends on Guajillo’s for his fix—even though, as he admits, it looks like a chain restaurant, it’s a pain to get to, and it’s at the intersection of a major thoroughfare and a freeway.
According to Tijerina, it’s almost impossible to find a disappointment on this menu, but his taco craving is the pork, which is rubbed with a mixture of spices including achiote, slowly roasted on a vertical spit, then shaved onto an oil-moistened corn tortilla. One $6.25 order includes six small corn tortillas (about 4 inches in diameter) that slightly overlap and cover an oval plate topped with a generous mound of meat.
A separate plate holds slices of pineapple, minced fresh cilantro, and finely diced onions, and there’s a small cup of sliced limes and another small bowl of a tangy guajillo-based salsa. Tijerina assembles the tacos by taking a single tortilla and topping it with a heaping tablespoon of meat, a couple of pineapple slices, a sprinkle of cilantro, and some onion, finished with a squeeze of lime and a dollop of salsa. “I don’t add anything that’s not supposed to be there. It’s Mexican cooking as it should be.” (1001 Northwest Loop 410; 210-344-4119)
San Diego: Marisco’s German
Troy Johnson, food critic for San Diego Magazine and host of Food Network’s Crave, has a good street-taco-junkie friend to thank for introducing him to his ultimate taco. “I was born and raised in San Diego. We learn the Scoville scale (a form of measurement that relates to level of heat in a chile pepper) before basic math.
Anyone can overload a tortilla to satiate the more-more-more ethos of American eaters, but very few people can keep it balanced—the veggies cut through the cheese, acid lances the fat, light permeates the heavy,” explains Johnson. And according to him, that mythical balance is exactly what “The Gobernador” from Marisco’s German truck manages to achieve.
This corn-tortilla wonder, which comes with a side of the truck’s famous xaldo de siete mares, packs in a massive heap of what Johnson describes as “bulging, steroidal-looking” grilled shrimp, sautéed onions, celery, bell pepper, and spices.
The final touch is what some taco purists would consider blasphemy—melted cheese. Lots of it. “One taco (plus free soup) for four bucks? It’s a steal!” The taco truck parks in a dirt lot outside a liquor store. And Johnson is fairly certain that all of the tires are flat. He tells us that there is an awning, some plastic tables, and chairs. Anyone who can look past the absence of Dodd Mitchell design is greatly rewarded. (3505 University Ave)
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