The humble taco inspires fierce passion and loyalty throughout the United States. Ask a resident of Texas (Austin and Houston in particular) where the country’s best tacos are, and they’ll say you’re certain to find them in their city, full of pulled and smoked meat. Head to San Diego and you’re sure to meet some people who are absolutely convinced that there’s nothing better than the fried fish tacos that are ubiquitous there. Elsewhere, purists say there's nothing like a carnitas taco, or a taco al pastor.
And you know what? They're all right. New Yorkers have complained for years that it’s tough to find a great taco in their city, but in recent times, several have been introduced that rival the best you’ll find in Mexico. And, up in Chicago, a town that has never exactly been a taco paradise, Maxwell Street Market has arguably become a world-class taco destination.
What makes a great taco, exactly? The best ones tend to be simple, with clean, vibrant, and varied flavors, each component good enough to stand on its own. A perfect taco is balanced in flavor, and isn’t loaded down by superfluous add-ons. The tortilla (traditionally corn in Mexico, but often flour around the U.S. today) should be super fresh and, ideally, handmade where it will be served. The filling should be made with an eye for balance. The toppings, be they traditional onions and cilantro or new-wave chipotle harissa, should brighten, heighten, and tie the whole taco together into a cohesive, delicious dish.
We’ve tackled the task of ranking the country’s best three times before, and last year we started looking to our readers to help us identify more of the best. We also asked our knowledgeable Daily Meal staff and City Editors to weigh in with their picks. We gathered these nominees together and added them to all the tacos that were considered in previous years, ending up with a list of about 330 tacos from brick-and-mortar restaurants (trucks are a ranking for another day), which we then compiled into a survey and sent to our distinguished panel of taco experts — food and restaurant personalities who know a superior taco when they taste one. They voted, we tallied the results. Here are America’s 75 best tacos.
Additional reporting by Kate Kolenda and Arthur Bovino.