Where to Eat Nationwide on National Taco Day

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.

B.S. Taqueria

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

Barrio Café

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

Carnitas Lonja

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

Chacho’s Tacos

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

Crujiente Tacos

Crujiente Tacos, where executive chef Richard Hinojosa focuses on crunchy tacos (crujiente is Spanish for “crunchy”). There are beef and green chile pork crunchy tacos; however, a birria-style lamb replaces the standard chicken. Each taco is juicy and topped with cheeses. Beef gets a Tex-Mex-leaning cheddar-Monterey Jack blend; pork is matched with spice-prickling pepper jack; and the lamb is paired with a classic Mexican crumbled cotija. Hinojosa’s version of street tacos are served on blue and white corn tortillas and represent a worldly experience that hints at his well-traveled fine-dining background at resorts in Hawaii, San Diego, Colorado, and Arizona. 3961 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018, 602-687-7777, www.crutacos.com

Dai Due Taqueria

This taco counter in downtown Austin does tacos the hard way. This method takes form first in nixtamalization of landrace corn sourced from family farms in Mexico through maize purveyor Tamoa. One week, Dai Due Taqueria executive chef Gabe Erales can use blue corn. The next, he can have conica morada, a red corn with chocolate notes and a soft texture. It’s almost like there’s cake flour in the masa. The crimson-edged meat on the trompo isn’t pork, per se; rather, it’s wild boar hunted right here in the Lone Star State. Everything from the chile chihuacle that goes into the mole negro to the limes garnishing plates are acquired and utilized on a seasonal basis. When limes aren’t in season, they’re not available fresh at Dai Due Taqueria, if they’re available at all. That can cause some confusion on the part of customers accustomed to having tacos and taco components accessible year-round. And it’s an issue that Erales and owner Jesse Griffith and Tamara Mayfield have to contend with. Self-handicapping aside, Dai Due offers taco humdingers, including a vegetarian longaniza sausage that replaces the seasoned pork with beets. The earthiness from the seasoning remains, as do enough elements of the original filling’s texture to confuse and please your palate. Mole gets a venison and sweet potato combination. Shrimp gets ground, shells and all, as a filling. This craft and labor, from the tortillas to the salsas and the seasonality of ingredients like limes, makes for a high-price taco. The wild boar pastor clocks in at six dollars. But that’s the price of quality and thoughtful cooking, whether it’s in the fine-dining arena or the fast-casual lane. 111 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701, 512-284-7083, www.daiduetaqueria.com

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Del Fuego Taqueria

The tacos at this New Orleans spot are vibrant and plated on mismatched dinnerware that could easily have been pulled from your Aunt Mabel’s grits-and-greens kitchen. The tacos, on gleaming plates with sylvan wreath prints, are spice-rippling offset with queso fresco that sends the red sausage to the popping forward. The cheese commits pleasant saltiness to the dish. Another floral-decorated plate carries a jumble of cactus strips absent the sliminess of inexperience. It nips under more queso fresco. The battered Gulf fish rests under a spirited Baja-style cream sauce. These tacos are stuff of joyful times—so much so that during my short time in the Crescent City, visited Del Fuego a second time. 4518 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70115, 504-309-5797, www.delfuegotaqueria.com

EaDeaux’s Cajun Cocina at EaDo Hand Car Wash

The EaDeaux’s Cajun Cocina trailer sits rickety, bright, and quiet at a front corner of the EaDo Hand Car Wash. There is little in the way of relief from the elements save for the misters under a covered picnic area adjacent to the trailer. That’s nice and all, but they’re unlikely to beat back the steady, simmering spice from EaDeaux’s gumbo taco, a flour tortilla bearing liberal scoops of the namesake Louisiana stew generous with wheels of Andouille sausage and fragrant with the Bayou State’s holy trinity of vegetables (celery, onions, and bell peppers). But this isn’t the Bayou State. It’s the Bayou City, Houston, in Southeast Texas, where Cajun cuisine meets the Lone Star State’s affinity for swaddling everything in a tortilla, corn or flour. This mishmash isn’t a left-field head scratcher. Gumbo, as previously mentioned, is a stew. There is a long tradition of stew-based tacos, they’re called tacos de guisados and include such dishes as mole poblano, chorizo and egg, picadillo, and moronga (blood sausage). At some taquerias rice can be added to the fillings, which is were boudin comes into play. The boudin taco with servings of the blood sausage bound with rice is another delectable example of this niche Southern cookery finding a fitting home in a taco and coming in a close second to the gumbo as EaDeaux’s best taco. 2017 Leeland St, Houston, TX 77003, 832-834-4892, www.eadohandcarwash.com

El Mero Taco

“El Mero is us,” say Jacob and Clarissa Dries, owners of El Mero Taco, a Memphis, Tennessee, food truck specializing in the intersection of the culinary traditions of the American South and Mexico, two of the world’s greatest corn cultures, that also takes its name from Spanish slang for “the best.” A way to express something is the best of the best in Spanish is to say “el mero mero.” The Drieses met while attending culinary school in Austin, Texas, and relocated to Jacob’s native Memphis after the city permitted the operation of food trucks. They moved specifically to open a taco truck that was an extension of themselves. This Sur-Mex—the blending of Mexican and Southern cooking—is best experienced with the buttermilk fried chicken taco. Light and tangy with a blanket of queso blanco—melted warm white cheese dip beloved in Texas, where it is often made from orange cheese—the truck’s signature taco is a marvel of incorporation on corn tortillas from Memphis’ own Tortilleria La Unica. The disc is sturdy yet pliant. If you were to rumple it in your hand, the tortilla would bloom anew once you open your hand. It’s certainly strong enough for the bird and the dressing. Sweetness pervades the taco but there are reminders of spice applied in slices of house-pickled jalapeños. El Mero Taco is usually serving lunch at Court Square in Downtown Memphis, but to make sure of their location, download the truck’s smartphone app. Otherwise, follow them on Instagram and Twitter. www.elmerotaco.com

El Parasol

Mention tacos, and Santa Feans enthusiastically ask if you’ve been to El Parasol for the chicken guacamole. After tasting it myself, I understand why. Rich stewed chicken is folded into a corn tortilla and then gets crisped up on the flattop until it’s this side of crunchy. A cool dollop of guacamole, lettuce, and tomato are added before the shimmering yellow parcel is wrapped, bagged, and handed over the counter to the customer to go. (There isn’t much in the way of seating at the nearly 60-year-old restaurant.) The chicken guacamole taco is Santa Fe’s tacos. Equally as good is the beef, which, unlike its treatment in the standard crunchy taco, is served shredded. 1833 Cerrillos Road, 505-995-8015, www.elparasol.com/santa-fe-cerrillos-road

Eloisa

Hometown boy done good John Rivera Sedlar has proven himself a prominent figure in the New Southwestern cuisine movement, but he did so from Los Angeles until now. Earlier this year, Sedlar returned to his native Santa Fe and opened Eloisa in the Drury Plaza Hotel. If Anasazi’s makeover didn’t eschew a sense of place, Eloisa is appointed as unabashedly modern as modern gets. It’s white and sleek and expansive. But Eloisa — named for Sedlar’s grandmother, whose visage graces plates — serves food with a firm foundation in The City Different without forgetting L.A. The platter of mini pastrami tacos in crispy blue shells, with its roots in the East L.A. Jewish delis of the mid-20th century — where workers were apt to put any kosher meat in a tortilla — is one example. The beef slices, thin and presented atop tangy sauerkraut, are the briny ribbons to the pickled serranos’ kicking bows. The mustard, a required condiment if ever there was one, added the finishing touch to my tour of Santa Fe tacos. 228 E. Palace Ave., 505-982-0883, www.eloisasantafe.com

Galaxy Taco

Chef Christine Rivera use blue conico landrace corn from maize purveyor Masienda for tortillas at Galaxy Taco in La Jolla, California. The resulting disc is textured, denim-hued and carries the steak Cali Taco, upon which teeter a loose stack of thin fries. I’m reminded of the French fry-topped tacos of Mexico City, but Rivera says she was inspired by the late-night stops for California burritos—which, you know, makes more sense. The taco is reflective of the creative freedom she has a Galaxy, which owner Chef Trey Foshee opened in 2015 with Rivera at them helm. Foshee tapped Rivera as Galaxy Taco’s chef while she was at George’s at the Cove, Foshee’s contemporary California restaurant. Considering his dedication to local bounty, it’s not surprising that Galaxy Taco is an Alta California taqueria, that is a taco spot specializing in cuisine rooted in California’s Mexican history and seasonal crops. At the beachside taqueria, mushrooms swirl in red salsa with hoja santa providing a teasing aroma, beans hang over carnitas, and the grilled fish has an optional uni topping for three dollars more. The lengua taco shot with a swatch of avocado-fortified salsa verde, says Rivera and diced onion and cilantro, is the beef tongue preparation she enjoys with her family. 2259 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037, 858-228-5655, www.galaxytaco.com

Guerrilla Tacos

My first visit to Wes Avila’s Guerrilla Tacos began with a frustrating search for a parking spot near Blue Bottle Coffee in Los Angeles’ Arts District. It was at that coffee shop where I would at last get my hands on the blockbuster tacos slung out of Avila’s truck. The sweet potato taco with chunks of the orange-tinted root vegetable punctuated by feta and corn nuts is Guerrilla Taco’s bestselling taco. Its inspiration is found in the mashed potato-packed tacos dorados of Avila’s youth, and, as the chef tells it in his Guerrilla Tacos cookbook, when he acquired his taco op’s first iteration, it was the taco he went back for—“with a few modifications.” Upon the first bite I had forgotten that I loathe sweet potato, especially in its common form: the abomination that is the sweet potato fry. But Avila’s touch is a golden one. It’s seen—and sampled—in the bay scallop taco with cashews, the swordfish taco with cherry tomatoes, and the rib-eye taco with spindles of beef. It’s in his pocho taco, what he calls the folded meat-and-potato fried tacos he grew up with. But Avila’s version is imbued with lemon zest-marked crème fraîche and dispenses with the shredded lettuce. You should have less trouble than I did when you visit Guerrilla Tacos. The operation now has a physical location. 2000 E 7th St, Los Angeles, CA 90021, 213-358-7070, www.guerrillatacos.com

HomeState

For Texans in Southern California, HomeState is obvious from the first drink of Topo Chico, the salty, refreshing mineral water bottled in Monterrey, Mexico, and a favorite beverage across Texas. A bite of the chorizo, egg, and cheese in a chewy, slightly sweet house-made flour tortilla, and your mind is right back in the Lone Star State while your body remains in Los Angeles. Tacos are named not for main ingredients but for Texas rivers. The aforementioned trio is the Guadalupe. The Trinity is classic combination of eggs, potato, bacon, and cheddar. The same goes for the Frio, refried charro beans and Monterey Jack. All of them are among my favorite selections at HomeState. Veggie options, another indicator of Austin’s influence, are also available, with mixed results. (While the Neches with black beans, eggs, and Monterey jack is fantastic, the Blanco with egg whites, mushrooms, and Monterey jack, can make for a soggy pocket.) Nevertheless, Valdez and staff make tacos that are the stuff of Texas childhoods. It’s confusing, joyous, and, frankly, awesome. “At its roots, this is poor people’s food,” Valdez explains. “It’s the food I was raised on. The food that grandmothers and mothers make for their families. It should be simple. And the intention, loving.” And it’s in California. Two locations, www.myhomestate.com

Hugo’s and Xochi

Hugo Ortega’s Houston restaurants, Hugo’s and Xochi, are catapulted forward by thoughtfulness. Both restaurants emphasize platters but also feature several delightful tacos and tortilla-based dishes. At Xochi, pressed, rectangular cuts of cabrito sit matter of factly on three blue corn tortillas. Between the meat and the tortilla, a hefty but bright salsa verde keeps the kid goat in place. A thin wheel of radish leans against the meat. Connecting the salad-bowl puffed taco of Tex-Mex to its predecessor in Mexico, the infladita. At Xochi it’s filled with rabbit, and is large and made from an inflated blue corn tortilla tinctured with squid ink and perforated and brimming with luscious ropes of rabbit. Perched atop the meat, which like the goat lacked gaminess, were ribbons of carrots and a loose collection of greens. Raisins and almonds were sneaky, joyous treats. A bundle of taquitos dorados, fried tacos rolled with nearly translucent, wonton-wrapper thin tortillas had juicy chicken tucked inside. The assemblage rested on swathes of islands of crema studded with queso fresco and a dark mole shimmering under the restaurant’s pre-dimmed lighting fixtures. Tacos dorados are also available at Hugo’s. However, instead of being filled with the classic potato stuffing, the potatoes were used to form tiny taco shells. Hugo’s, 1600 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006, 713-524-7744, www.hugosrestaurant.net; Xochi, 1777 Walker St, Houston, TX 77010, 713-400-3330, www.xochihouston.com

KiMexico

Approximately three hours from Taco Trail HQ in Dallas, KiMexico was an unscheduled visit, recommended in passing by a server at another Shreveport taqueria. Im happy to have gone out of the way for a taco that has no business being as good as it is: the tofu costra al pastor. Firm tofu marinated in al pastor adobo gets wrapped in grilled cheese and placed into a tortilla. Spicy, chewing, crispy, inventive, and completely satisfying, the taco is a beaut. 3839 Gilbert Dr, Shreveport, LA 71104, 318-861-5941, www.facebook.com/kimexico

Lucy’s Café

The Taco Antonia platter of freshly fried crispy tacos dusted in copper-colored seasoning salt is packed with shredded brisket, a citrus-cabbage salad, avocado wedges, and Muenster cheese (a local specialty topping the majority of El Paso crispy tacos’ fillings). Rice and refried beans nudge up against the tacos. These one-of-a-kind treasures are named in honor of founder-owner Lucy Lepe’s sister, Antonia, who helped create the dish before it was put on the menu in 1979. Hefty with its delightful knotted strings of beef and a solid snap that steers clear of disintegration, the Tacos Antonia are the most popular dish on the menu. 4119 N Mesa St, El Paso, TX 79902, 915-544-3922, www.lucysrestaurants.com

Taco placero at Taqueria Izucar

Madre Cocina & Mezcales, Santa Ana Deli & Grocery, and Taqueria Izucar

Marde Cocina & Mezcales’ deep blue corn tortillas, on which are placed the popular Puebla-transported tacos de placero fillings. Hailing from the markets of Puebla with no rigid limits on fillings, the placeros in New York are given a base of rice and hardboiled eggs. What’s more, they are alternatively named tacos de guisados and have become synonymous with New York’s contemporary taco scene. They’re found at Madre Cocina, Santa Ana Deli and Taqueria Izucar, among myriad other places I usually go for a chile relleno taco. But they are perhaps most accessible to taco novices at Madre Cocina & Mezcales. Here the tortillas are always fresh and fragrant and the tacos stuffed with classic fillings like carnitas, chorizo, and my favorite, the placero. Madre Cocina is always a treat for me. It’s a restaurant that occupies the sweet spot between traditional taqueria and an eating establishment fixated on the idea of modern Mexican. It’s a place that isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel, notes co-owner Noah Arenstein, but “you can’t be sloppy and can’t be taking short cuts.” This restaurant is one of the first taco stops I make when I visit New York.

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Mariscos Jalisco

Dallas has its own taco de camaron, a shrimp-filled fried taco from San Juan de los Lagos in Jalisco state, at Maskaras Mexican Grill. It’s great! But Mariscos Jalsico in Los Angeles prepares and sells what is the gold standard on this side of the border. The salsa is loose and light enough and the fried tortilla strong enough that the corn does not turn to mush. There’s heat but it not of the gum-searing heat. It’s not a dainty treat but its small, manageable and worth a pilgrimage. 3040 E Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90023, 323-528-6701

Ms G.’s Tacos N’ More

At Ms G.’s Tacos N’ More in McAllen, in the Rio Grande Valley, the rich Tex-Mex beef stew known as carne guisada sizzles with earthy spices and spills out from a small flour tortilla, a little dusty, strong and with a good chew. 2263 Pecan Blvd, McAllen, TX 78501, 956-668-8226, www.msgstacosnmore.com

Obregon’s Mexican Restaurant No. 2

Laredo’s local name for breakfast tacos, mariachis, may be falling out of favor, but the quality is not dropping. At Oregon’s Mexican Restaurant No. 2, tortillas, both corn and flour, are prepared from fresh masa at a comal against the western wall. Here, the weenie and eggs is an excellent order. 303 Market St, Laredo, TX 78040, 956-462-5298

Plaza Fiesta and Buford Highway

Look, if you’re going to eat tacos in Atlanta, haul your butt up to Plaza Fiesta on Buford Highway. Then eat your way along Buford Highway. 4166 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30345, www.plazafiesta.net

Ray’s Drive Inn

Visiting Ray’s Drive Inn is akin to going to church. Decorated with iconography of the religious and/or of the local sort (sports teams and newspaper clippings) with worn furnishings, the restaurants offer a look into the trappings of tradition, with doses of kitsch. In the case of Ray’s Drive Inn: a painting of an exotic Mexican lady hangs there, a tourism poster here, an awe-inspiring altar replete with religious candles, fading photographs, and statues of saints with La Virgen de Guadalupe smacked dab in the middle define the front dining room. Stories are everywhere. Customers were once able to leave a dime or nickel to light a candle, much like the prayer candles in a Catholic church. The money collected was in turn given to San Juan de los Lagos Parish and Shrine around the corner rom the restaurant. Lopez-Rambo says the occasional prayer circle is held in front of the saints and candles. The back room at Ray’s has more in common with a roadside curio shop than an eating hall, crammed as it is with bric-a-brac, such as a taxidermied wildcat and black-and-white photos. There is also a 1926 Ford Model T truck, one of the many classic rides in Ray’s automobile collection. It’s the perfect environment in which to enjoy a San Antonio classic, the puffy taco: Raw corn masa that is dunked in a deep fryer and crimped with tongs, spatulas, or whatever will do the job, to form the U-shaped taco shell. The perfect puffy taco should have a flaky exterior, a chewy interior, and be cumulus light when filled with ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. 822 SW 19th St, San Antonio, TX 78207, 210-432-7171, www.raysdriveinn.net

Resident Taqueria

Cauliflower tacos are a thing. They’re the kind of thing found on taqueria menus to appease vegetarians. I hate cauliflower. But I love Resident Taqueria’s cauliflower taco. The lightly roasted cruciform is tight with dark islands of caramelization. It’s given paper shreds of kale and a scarf of lime-epazote cream salsa before being presented on a metal plate. The firmness of the cauliflower and crunch of the pepitas play against the citrus-piercing salsa. Chef-owner Andrew Savoie says the idea for his cauliflower taco came from his time at Jean-Georges. (Savoie came to tacos via classical training and time spent in fine-dining kitchens.) “It starts with my experience at Jean-Georges and his caramelized cauliflower with caper raisin sauce and nutmeg,” he says. “Tasting endless amounts of caramelized cauliflower, I became addicted to the flavor.” He wanted to revive the experience of that dish while creating his own cauliflower dish, enhanced with the texture of kale, pepita, and the robust characteristic of epazote. It now outsells every other taco by 25 percent. 9661 Audelia Rd #112, Dallas, TX 75238, 972-685-5280, www.residenttaqueria.com

Revolver Taco Lounge

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Regino Rojas’ Revolver Taco Lounge is the best taqueria in Texas. It hews just close enough to what Americans consider tacos that you can almost hear the food whisper “fuck you” with your rigid notions of Mexican food. Take the El Degenador, a hefty taco campechano of aged chorizo, wagyu beef, frijoles de olla, pico de gallo, and a sunnyside-up egg on a fresh tortilla. Or, how about the carnitas-style squid topped with fried julienne leeks and a deceptively not spice jalapeño salsa? Or, maybe the Kermit in Bangkok, a frog legs and fresh yellow curry taco garnished with Thai basil? Or, perhaps a palm-size cut of griddled wagyu capped with a couple of mushrooms? Damn, I love those tacos. 2701 Main St, Dallas, TX 75226, 214-272-7163, www.revolvertacolounge.com

Taco Maria

To be clear, Taco Maria is not a taqueria. The Costa Mesa, California, restaurant is a prix-fixe dinner tasting-menu establishment with chefs in muted blues and grays and a lunch service with a section of tacos. Though their bases, a blue corn, is dark, the tacos shine with thoughtfulness. The tortilla’s texture plays against lightly fried black cod brightened further with tart, acidic kumquats, with backbone supplied by a charred scallion aioli. Lumpy potato sections set against chorizo, queso fresco, and shiitake mushrooms with threads of wine-colored onions are a romp in your old abuelos’ family farm. This taco from chef-owner Carlos Salgado is gift of respect to farmers and laborers who are our Latino family patriarchs and matriarchs, the men and women who after hours hunched over outside would toss us in the air. They convinced us we could fly, that we could do anything. Repaying such acts is difficult. This taco knows that and attempts to do so. 3313 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa, CA 92626, 714-538-8444, www.tacomaria.com

Taco Stop

I’ve been smitten with this Dallas Design District walk-up taqueria since my first visit a few weeks after it began serving its small, traditional tacos. My favorite is the silky, vegetable-punctuated picadillo. The tinga de pollo is as good a chicken taco as any other, with touches of smoke and no backbiting dry meat. The carnitas and barbacoa offer contrast, one offering crispy wisps of pork, the other glistening beef cheek. It’s impossible to go wrong at Taco Stop. 1900 Irving Blvd, Dallas, TX 75207, 972-971-4859, www.tacostopdallas.com

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Tacos Apson

A tribute to 1960s Mexican rock band Los Apson Boys from Aguas Prieta, Sonora, 120 miles southeast of Tucson, from the son of the band’s drummer, Tacos Apson — get it?! — specializes in straight-up carne asada tacos. From the mesquite, up to the foot pedal-adjusted grill and flour tortillas. Tacos Apson is a dreamy must-visit stop in Tucson. My favorite is the bone-in rib taco. It’s a messy, charred order of joy. 3501 S 12th Ave, Tucson, AZ 85713, 520-670-1248, www.tacosapson.com

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Taquiza Gilberto

West Covina, California is home to some of the best flautas Ive ever had: Taquizas Gilberto. While the namesake Gilberto specializes in sweet, just-this-side-of-gamy barbacoa de borrego, He also makes flautas de birria, whose ends are bursting with charred, crunchy sprays of goat meat that the fried (and flattop-crisped) rolled tortilla couldn’t contain. They’re fetching tacos served hot and depending on your tolerance for spice could dance or scrape across the inside of your mouth and down your throat. I imagine if rock ’n’ roll band Jethro Tull front man and flautist Ian Anderson were to pick one up and attempt to whistle out a ditty, the spirited flauta would play him. Leyva’s Bakery, 551 E Francisquito Ave, West Covina, CA 91790

Tocabe

Owners Ben Jacobs (Osage) and Matt Chandra dole out a solid collection of fry bread tacos, including some with a 10-spice marinated bison given a 13-hour slow braise resulting in a shredded preparation flavored nutty, sweet and retaining juiciness, as well as a choice of black, pinto, or chili beans. With food customized in the fashion of the Denver-based Chipotle chain, including salsas that run teasingly candied (maple vinaigrette) to coyly peppery (ancho-chipotle) and an interior appointed with Native American art, Tocabe is far from a dive. The original location has the feel of a modern proto-chain operation (there is a second Tocabe in Greenwood Village, Colorado, and a food truck). It is more than fry bread. The menu includes wild rice bowls, blueberry barbecue sauce-glazed bison ribs, green chile stew, and wojapi, an indigenous berry sauce. As many ingredients as possible are sourced from Native American purveyors. That includes non-Native foods like the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation’s Seka Hills Olive Oil. 3536 W 44th Ave, Denver, CO 80211, 720-524-8282, 8181 E Arapahoe Rd C, Greenwood Village, CO 80112, 720-485-6738, www.tocabe.com

Trompo

From it’s beginning as a backyard pop-up to its reputation as a Dallas favorite, Trompo has distinguished itself from the bajillion other Monterreyan-style tacos de trompo through a mix of high-profile nods, hard work, and its unintentional adherence to Anglo misconceptions of tacos. The hard-to-find brick-and-mortar is on a dilapidated stretch of Singleton with an interior that includes ordering from a window, a couple of counters, and tortillas tend to run greasy. The latter is a product of searing the pork to the tortilla on a glistening flattop. In the past year, owner Luis Olvera and company have added to the short list of northern Mexican tacos. Alongside the signature paprika-heavy roasted pork, taco de trompo, are barbacoa and chicken tinga, not to mention occasional test-runs on house-made tortillas. That being said, the best taco at Trompo has always been and continues to be the campechano, a mix of bistek and trompo held together by melted white cheese on a Sonoran-style flour tortilla imbued with beef tallow. 839 Singleton Blvd #150, Dallas, TX 75212, 972-809-7950, https://trompo.business.site/

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ

Perhaps the greatest breakfast tacos in Austin are served out of a Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ’s food trailer, which is also among the best taco purveyors in the Lone Star State. Valentina’s melds barbecue tradition with co-owner/pitmaster Miguel Vidal’s San Antonio roots. My favorite is the Real Deal Holyfield, a taco of immense fortitude packed with potatoes, refried beans, bacon and mesquite-smoked brisket or pulled pork that’s topped with a fried egg and zippy tomato-serrano chile salsa. 11500 Manchaca Rd, Austin, TX 78745, 512-221-4248, www.valentinastexmexbbq.com

2M Smokehouse

2M Smokehouse in southeast San Antonio serves traditional Texas barbecue—unabashedly smoky with pronounced black pepper, coarse black bark, and an embracing smoke ring that fades into the meat with a Chicano touch. Taco choices, served on fluffy, slightly dusty house-made flour tortillas, are limited to lean brisket, pulled pork or turkey. The brisket is serviceable but improved with a dose of pickled nopales (chopped cactus pads) and pico de gallo—too much, though, and the vinegar’s tang overpowers the beef and flour tortilla. Better is the pulled pork: a substantial serving of juicy, threaded smoked pig comes with islands of bark that add to the textures and reminds the customer that they’re eating barbecue. Then there’s 2M’s smoked serrano chile and queso Oaxaca sausages. Although they’re not available in taco, the sausages are worth ordering and adding to another taco. Not too spicy with a milky white cheese strong enough to withstand a long rest in a smoker without disintegrating, the sausage is snappy, delightful, and when the sausage finally hits your tray, waiting in line before 2M Smokehouse opens at 11 a.m. becomes worth it. If you’re looking for something that leans hard into Texas Mexican foodways, you’ll want to stop in for barbacoa on the first Sunday of the month, which hits in a few days from now. 2731 S WW White Rd, San Antonio, TX 78222, 210-885-9352, www.2msmokehouse.com


If you’re set on concentrating eating in Dallas on National Taco Day, check out my D Magazine cover story. For options across Texas, the Texas Monthly taco issue I co-edited will work for you. Happy Tacoing.

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2 Comments

Filed under Best of, breakfast tacos, National Taco Day, Taco Tours

2 responses to “Where to Eat Nationwide on National Taco Day

  1. Sylvia Rivera

    I would love to have my Puffy Taco Shack on your lists. How does one get on it

  2. Pingback: The True Story of How National Taco Day Was Invented — Then Appropriated ~ L.A. TACO

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