Taco placero at Taqueria Izucar
This is list is good beyond National Taco Day too.
You might not know this but tomorrow, Thursday, October 4, is the silly sad fabricated food holiday known as National Taco Day in the United States. It offers Mexican restaurants and taquerias an opportunity for promotion, while offering multinational restaurant chains like Taco Bell an even greater boost. There are insane specials available across the country mañana. Google them.
But before you do so, consider this list of taco suggestions across the style spectrum collected while traveling for research for my forthcoming book, American Tacos: A History and Guide to the Taco Trail North of the Border (University of Texas Press). Visiting them all might even be possible if Star Trek transporter tech were real.
A downtown restaurant with an airy space, B.S. Taqueria has a communal table that stands tall. It makes for an excellent vantage point from which to watch the kitchen staff quietly work to send out the sprightliest churros you’ve ever had and the spice-charged brine-pouch that is the clam and lardo taco. You might even get a glimpse of chef-owner Ray Garcia. A serape pattern-stylized U.S. flag hangs on a nearby wall. The back room offers a respite from the urban center with walls decorated as the loose, open curtain of a bright forest. Plants hang from the overhead wood beams. I did not sit in the rear dining space. During my visits to B.S. Taqueria, I’ve always sat in the front room, where I’ve enjoyed the aforementioned clam and lardo taco but also the cheese-covered chorizo and potato taco, both of which came on a blue corn tortilla. It’s a taco of rich swells, showcasing Garcia’s expertise with classic preparations. Meanwhile, the bologna taco recalls Garcia’s upbringing. It was one of the first things he learned to make for himself as a kid. Heating up a tortilla, maybe a little bit burned, warming up bologna (“or not,” he tells me during a phone interview), rolling it up—and that was a snack. With rare exception, Garcia says in regards to the bologna taco and other menu selections, “there are not a whole lot of things that were a replica of a dish that my mother or my grandmother made that are still on the menu.” 514 7th St, Los Angeles, CA 90014, 213-622-3744, www.bstaqueria.com
My favorite at this Phoenix institution is the Baja-style shrimp lightly enchased in a Tecate-buoyed batter, offset in texture by fans of avocado and knots of cabbage. The taco is finished with a classic chipotle cream sauce that gives the pocket zing. The restaurant’s signature cochinita pibil, pork bathed in achiote and sour orange juice that is then roasted in banana leaves is as close as one gets to the traditional in-ground preparation. The finished meat is pleasantly puckering and topped with cuts of pickled red onions. 2814 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85006, 602-636-0240, www.barriocafe.com
Boca Tacos y Tequila
Sitting along the city’s Fourth Avenue, Boca Tacos is chef Maria J. Mazon’s misperception-busting tortilla pulpit. The Tucson-born, Sonora-raised Mazon sees tacos as more than quick curbside noshes. They’re refined eats presented in tortillas, whether those be corn or flour. Mazon and crew do an excellent job of balancing renderings of traditional tacos, especially the regional sort, with interpretations of favorite foods and ingredients applied differently, beginning with house-made corn and flour tortillas. My number one out of the 24 options is the Taco Dog. This take on the beloved Sonoran hot dog comprises a bench of bacon-wrapped hotdog upon which rest a union of onion twists, tomato-dominated pico de gallo, and whole beans. Vegetarians are sated with grilled tofu lathered in honey mustard, a breakfast taco of sorts in the hash browns and fried egg taco, and my preferred choice, a ladle of poblano and Anaheim rajas and corn enveloped in cream. Don’t sleep on the northern Mexican-style discada with a beef-chorizo base or specials like the sliced rib-eye with a peanut sesame-basil salsa. 533 N 4th Ave, Tucson, AZ 85705, 520-777-8134, www.bocatacos.com
One of the greatest meals I’ve had this year was at a tiny San Antonio specializing in one dish—carnitas. Served as plate or as tacos, the carnitas at Lonja are mellow, juicy, and, as is true of the best tacos, world-silencing. Go early. Carnitas Lonja sells out. 1107 Roosevelt Ave, San Antonio, TX 78210, www.facebook.com/Lonja17
In Corpus Christi, the flour tortillas are often thicker—like an actually comfortable futon—but they vary in width. It is here that super tacos stuffed with a ridiculous number of items become common. An extreme example of the super taco is the namesake at Chacho’s Tacos: 14 inches of squishy flour tortilla straining to harness its motley innards of everything else on the menu. It’s a gloriously intimidating wonder ideal for college-buddy dares and treating hangovers. Another option is weenies and eggs. 3700 Ayers St, Corpus Christi, TX 78415, 361-888-7378