America’s 75 Best Tacos for 2018 from America’s 75 Best Tacos for 2018 Gallery
America’s 75 Best Tacos for 2018 Gallery
America’s 75 Best Tacos for 2018
When you close your eyes and picture a perfect taco, what do you see? Is it the Ortega taco-night classic: a hard-shell taco, spiced ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce, and tomato? Or is it something from your favorite taco stand: two small corn tortillas, shredded pork, onions, and cilantro? Or maybe something in between? There are plenty of tacos out there, from fried fish to pork with pineapple, and from roasted goat to cow’s tongue, and we’re proud to present our sixth annual ranking of America’s best.
First, let’s define what exactly a taco is. By the broadest definitions, it’s a handheld, folded, unleavened flatbread encasing something edible. For our purposes, however, we’re defining a taco as meat or vegetables placed onto a warmed tortilla, with the express purpose of folding it and eating it with one hand. And man, there are some amazing tacos out there.
One great thing about a taco is that, along with burgers and hot dogs, it’s one of the most democratic foods known to man. You’ll find them at the most homespun, rustic roadside shacks as well as on the menu at some of the country’s most high-end Mexican restaurants. One reason they’re so popular is because they’re so inexpensive, usually selling for just a couple of bucks. The low price and smallish size also makes it easy to become a self-styled taco expert, as seeking out great tacos and eating as many different varieties as possible is as honorable a pastime as any. On our quest for the country’s best, we tracked down not only authentic Mexican offerings but also Tex-Mex tacos and a few that are decidedly not authentically Mexican but delicious nonetheless.
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-based, but occasionally flour) should be super fresh and, ideally, handmade on the premises. The filling should be made with an eye for balance. The toppings, be they onions and cilantro or chipotle harissa, should brighten, heighten, and tie the whole taco together into a cohesive, delicious dish.
To assemble our ranking, we created a survey or more than 400 tacos from brick-and-mortar restaurants (not including carts, trucks, or breakfast tacos — those are 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, and we tallied the results. Here are America’s 75 best tacos.
#75 Pinches Tacos, Los Angeles: Carne Asada
As their website states, Los Angeles’ Pinches Tacos is “Real Mexican Food by Real Mexicans,” and their menu — the same across all six locations — is certainly authentic. Their carne asada taco is a favorite of devoted local customers — it’s dressed simply with cilantro, green sauce, and raw white onion.
#74 El Charrito, Riverside, Conn.: Carnitas
This community in the famously posh town of Greenwich may be the last place you'd expect to find real Mexican takeout food. But at El Charrito, Carlos and Alex Terrón, who also run a popular food truck in neighboring (and more Hispanic) Stamford, have brought southwestern Connecticut a standard of Mexican cooking usually found only in urban Texas or California. The wide variety of taco fillings ranges from chicken, shrimp, and spicy pork adobada to pig's ear, tripe, and cow's tongue. The carnitas tacos are typical: a couple of flavorful steamed corn tortillas with a scattering of sweet, crispy pork bits, minced onions, and cilantro, with lime segments on the side for squeezing over everything. Simple and perfect.
#73 El Come Taco, Dallas: Al Pastor
Yelp/ Karen W.
A little bit of Mexico City in Dallas, El Come Taco opened in 2013 and has established a reputation as one of the city’s best Mexican spots. The family-run counter-service restaurant serves tortas, alambres, ceviche, and tough-to-find pambazos, but it’s the $1.95 tacos that really set this place apart. Rarities like cow head, tripe, and brains are on offer, but it’s the sweet and spicy al pastor that keeps the regulars coming back.
#72 Los Gauchos, Columbus, Ohio: Al Pastor
The tiny Los Gauchos serves a wide variety of Mexican street food including tortas, quesadillas, burritos, and huaraches, but it’s the tacos — especially the al pastor — that are its claim to fame. The al pastor is made the old-fashioned way, by marinating pork and roasting it on a vertical spit, and to serve, it’s sliced and piled onto two corn tortillas with pineapple, onions, and cilantro. They take a lot of pride in their al pastor (the spit is emblazoned on their logo, and the motto is “The best tacos al pastor in the city!”), and justifiably so — they’ve really got a winner on their hands.
#71 Taco Taco Café, San Antonio: Puffy Taco With Picadillo
Puffy tacos, a San Antonio delicacy, can sometimes be tough and greasy, but the one at Taco Taco is light, airy, and almost out-of-this-world good. In the small, unassuming building, they make all their tortillas from scratch, including delicious flour tortillas, but if you try one thing here, go for the puffy taco with picadillo, or spicy ground beef. The ground beef is mixed with a blend of seasonings, and slow-cooked with onions, tomatoes, and a little bit of potato. It's topped with a dash of hot sauce and some lettuce and tomatoes, and you can go home knowing that you’ve eaten a truly great puffy taco. Just make sure you head over for breakfast or lunch — they’re only open until 2 p.m. daily.
#70 Green Ghost Tacos, Ridgeland, Miss.: Chorizo
This Ridgeland favorite has emerged as the winner of Mississippi’s taco game. It’s run by San Luis, Mexico, native “Mama Yolanda,” and her recipes have been passed down for generations and cooked in small batches. Burritos, tortas, empanadas, enchiladas, quesadillas, chile rellenos, and nachos are all spectacular, and tacos are served in corn tortillas, hard-shell tortillas, and flour tortillas. We suggest you stick with the classic corn tortillas, and use them as a vessel for Mama Yolanda’s spectacular homemade chorizo.
#69 Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, Los Angeles, Calif.: Fish
If a restaurant is going to call itself “Best Fish Taco in Ensenada,” it better be able to stand by it, and this place is the real deal. It’s run by Joseph Cordova, who sources high-quality fish, shrimp, and vegetables and turns them into something truly special. The crust that surrounds the seafood is soft and crispy, the tacos are fresh and light, there are several salsa options (go for the mango), the slaw is crunchy and crisp, and the seasoned crema is icing on the cake.
#68 El Taco Riendo, Minneapolis: Lengua
This Twin Cities favorite is bringing Mexico City street food to Minneapolis in a fun and laid-back setting. Tostadas, tamales, sopes, enchiladas, burritos, and chilaquiles keep the crowds coming, but the tacos, made with tortillas produced by local tortilleria La Perla, are really things of beauty. Even if you’re not a fan of tongue, the slow-cooked lengua will make you a convert.
#67 Supermercado Chicago, Atlanta: Asada
The area just outside Atlanta, especially near Buford Highway, is full of Mexican groceries hiding excellent taquerías. Supermercado Chicago is one of the finest examples you’ll find, as the ramshackle little room in the back is serving some glorious tacos. If you go during the weekend you’ll experience a much larger menu, but during the week it’s all about the tacos. The carne asada tacos, in particular, are the ones to try: flavorful, deeply seared, and perfect when mixed with any of the handful of fresh-made salsas that are on the side. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the tortilla machine: Corn kernels are essentially ground and turned into tortillas to order.
#66 Coconut’s Fish Café, Maui, Hawaii: Fish
Coconut’s has locations in Arizona, Plano, and Sacramento, but the original Maui location is still the best, and it’s serving the best taco you’ll find in Hawaii. Open since 2009, the fish taco is a work of art: Fresh grilled mahi mahi and ono top a grilled tortilla, and the fish is topped with wasabi-coconut milk coleslaw, fresh tomatoes, mango salsa, and a little melted cheese. It’s a masterpiece.
#65 Aguilas de Mexico, Newark, N.J.: Al Pastor
There’s no shortage of solid Mexican spots in Newark, but locals agree Aguilas de Mexico is the real deal. This family-owned Ironbound gem has only been around since 2012, but its freshness and consistency has already endeared it to locals. The al pastor is tender and delicious, with a little crisp on the pork and some pineapple tying it all together.
#64 Fat Fish, San Diego: Fish
The surf & turf taco combo of one shrimp taco and one grilled steak taco gets a lot of worthy buzz — but surprise! The very best tacos at San Diego’s Fat Fish are, indeed, the namesake option. An order comes with two soft flour tortillas, each filled with crispy fried Icelandic cod, lettuce, and pico de gallo, all of which is sprinkled with grated cheese.
#63 Tito's Tacos, Culver City, Calif.: Tito's Taco With Cheese
This Los Angeles Westside institution is famous for its plump burritos (like one with chili con carne and refried beans that people dream about), but for good old American-style tacos — the kind purists scorn — it's hard to beat this place. The beef is long-cooked and shredded, not ground. The shredded Cheddar is tart, and the julienned iceberg is crisp and cool. It’s nothing short of hard-shell taco perfection.
#62 Chico's Tacos, El Paso, Texas: Chico's Taco
The best way to explain how Chico’s serves one of America’s best tacos is to say how improbably bad this small chain and its fare appear at first. Signs outside the drab, unimpressive buildings give no indication of its signature dish: three rolled tacos containing ground beef covered in finely shredded cheese, all soaked in translucent red "salsa" in a white cardboard boat and topped with jalapeño salsa. Take the cheese, which is so finely shredded you could swear you see powder. But something happens with that first bite. The flautas are crunchy, but soaked in the salsa, the crispness begins to give. And though it's more like a thin broth, there's surprisingly good flavor. The heat of the broth melts the cheese, turning it into a soupy mess of flavor punched up by the heat of the jalapeño sauce. There's a hot, dip-with-every-bite experience, and no need for plastic utensils. You pick one up, bite, dip, and bite again until they're gone and you're left with a quarter-inch of cheese and sauce that begs drinking.
#61 Hugo’s Tacos, Houston: Tacos de Pescado Estila Baja
Yelp/ Pauline L.
Hugo’s is a Houston legend, serving some of the finest Mexican food you’ll find anywhere since star chef Hugo Ortega opened it in 2002. Stop by during lunchtime hours and make sure you order the Tacos de Pescado Estila Baja, Baja-style fish tacos that are only available during the day. To make the tacos, beer-battered catfish fillets are fried until golden brown, then tucked into fresh corn tortillas atop a pile of fresh shredded cabbage, chipotle mayo, and pico de gallo. An absolute must-eat.
#60 Tacomiendo, Los Angeles: Potato
At the no-frills, order-at-the-counter Tacomiendo, where you'll hear much more Spanish than English spoken, the tortillas are homemade, the prices are reasonable, and the tacos are big. Burritos are a favorite here, but the tacos get high marks, too. If you don't mind carbo-loading, the unusual potato taco — potato chunks and cheese in a crispy shell — is very memorable.
#59 Big Truck Tacos, Oklahoma City: Green Chile Pork
One of OKC’s most popular food trucks now has three trucks and a brick-and-mortar location, and it’s putting a twist on traditional Mexican street food. Get there early to avoid the lines, and take your pick from specialties including The Rancher (brisket, sautéed mushrooms, onions, potatoes, and escabeche); Okie-Wahoo (tilapia, sweet chili jicama-cabbage slaw and green onions); and Borracho Chicken (spice-rubbed beer-can chicken, spicy tomato sauce, onion, and cilantro). But if you’re only going to try one taco, make it the Green Chile Pork with slow-roasted pork, Hatch green chiles, queso fresco, onions, and cilantro. It’s a classic Southwest dish, and these guys do it right.
#58 Matt's Famous El Rancho, Austin: Al Carbón
A go-to Mexican restaurant for Austinites since 1952, Matt's, which advertises itself as having the "Best Mexican Food in the World — Always Good," is a big place with a big menu.
Dishes like the smoked duck enchiladas, the grilled shrimp with bean and cheese flautas, and even the chicken-fried steak ("cowboy-style" with chili) have their loyal fans, but the tacos are terrific. The al carbón version offers grilled beef tenderloin pieces wrapped in flour tortillas, with guacamole, rice, beans, chile con queso, and pico de gallo on the side, adding up to a serious meal.
#57 Johnny Sanchez, New Orleans: Carne Asada
When chefs with the pedigree of John Besh and Aarón Sánchez team up to open an Authentic Mexican restaurant, you can bet good money on the end result being spectacular (even though Besh is no longer involved). And by all accounts, Johnny Sanchez is. To get a good idea of the amount of skill (and the quality of the ingredients) on display here, start your meal with an order of carne asada tacos, made with perfectly cooked grilled skirt steak and topped with a one-two punch of pickled jalapeño guacamole and fresh pico de gallo. It’s a masterpiece.
#56 La Ranchera, Abilene, Texas: Lengua
Graciela Chavez and her crew make their own Mexican pastries and flour and corn tortillas, offer all the Mexican standards at low prices (the $1.35 breakfast burritos have a loyal local following), and serve classic menudo and caldo de res (beef soup) on weekends. No wonder La Ranchera has been called this West Texas town's best Mexican restaurant. Enhance some of those (corn) tortillas with nothing more than a generous portion of tender, perfectly seasoned beef tongue and some onions and cilantro — simplicity itself — with rice and beans on the side, and you're all set, with change for a tenner in your pocket.
#55 El Pique, Wilmington, Del.: Lamb Birria
This tiny hole-in-the-wall gets packed on a daily basis, but it's still easy to pass by. Head inside and you'll encounter just a few tables and behind the counter, a plancha manned by two ladies cooking an astounding variety of proteins, including hard-to-find cuts like pork snout (trompa), beef head (cabeza), and a combo of all different types of offal (surtida). The best move is to go for the birria, made with lamb. It's super-flavorful and incredibly tender, crisped up on the griddle and served with onion, cilantro, and your choice of three sauces.
#54 Gonzalez, Dallas: Crispy Beef Tacos with Salsa Fresca
Serving Dallas since 1973, Gonzalez offers authentic Tex-Mex fare, and makes many of their products in-house, including the bread and tortillas. Go with the crispy beef tacos with salsa fresca — the subtle play between the fresh tomatoes and onions and the crispy taco shell is supremely satisfying.
#53 Taco y Taco, Las Vegas: Al Pastor
If you’re looking for a classic taquería experience in Las Vegas, you’re going to need to abandon The Strip and head to Taco y Taco, which has locations on East Tropicana Avenue and South Eastern Avenue.
Opt for the al pastor and pork will be sliced from a giant rotating spit and deposited directly onto the flat top for some extra caramelization. Piled into a tortilla with onions, cilantro, and chopped pineapple with an elote (ear of corn) on the side, it’s the perfect distraction from the glitz and glamor of The Strip.
#52 Carnitas Uruapan, Chicago: Carnitas
Since Carnitas Uruapan opened in 1975, chef and owner “El Güero” Carbajal has undertaken the mission of introducing “the authentic carnitas of his hometown of Uruapan to Chicagoans.” We think he can count his mission accomplished, as his carnitas taco is one of the best in the business. The pork is slow-cooked for over two hours and then loaded into a flour tortilla. Feel free to garnish it with pico de gallo, although there’s really no need. Bonus tip: You can order a pound of the carnitas to take home, which you should absolutely do.
#51 Rubi’s At Maxwell Street Market, Chicago: Huitlacoche
The Eastern Europeans who dominated the area surrounding Maxwell Street in Chicago from the 1880s to the 1920s are credited for turning the original open-air market into the bustling hub it is today. The market has moved to a new location, but it remains a center for food and goods vendors to hawk their wares. Rubi's at Maxwell Street Market is ranked No. 4 on Foursquare for tacos in the South Loop, and its huitlacoche probably has a lot to do with that. Huitlacoche, also known as corn smut, is really a fungus, but we like to think of it as corn cheese, or perhaps even corn truffle. It’s a Mexican delicacy that tastes a bit like mushrooms, and Rubi’s gets major authenticity points for helping to make it a widely known and appreciated food in Chicago.
#50 Taqueria La Vaquita, Durham, N.C.: Barbacoa
Rachel K./ Yelp
There’s a whole lot to love about their menu, but make sure to order the barbacoa taco. It’s composed of flavored beef with chopped onions, cilantro, radish, and green or red sauce, all rolled into a handmade corn tortilla.
#49 Loteria Grill, Los Angeles: Carne Deshebrada
With three locations around Los Angeles, Loteria Grill is a bit of an LA institution, and the one in Hollywood holds the reputation as the best of the lot. Many repeat customers will encourage you to order the taco platter, but if we had to pick just one variety, we’d go with the carne deshebrada: braised shredded beef, cilantro, guacamole, onions, and salsa roja.
#48 Tacos Mex y Mariscos, Albuquerque: Al Pastor
Mike McCune/Wikimedia Commons
You just can’t beat the value of Tacos Mex y Mariscos’ 99-cent tacos, and it helps that they’re also very authentic. We encourage you to peruse the menu and pick out something a little out of the ordinary, like cabeza (head) or tripas (which are intestines, not tripe), but their al pastor taco is sure to please even the least adventurous eater. The spit-roasted pork and grilled pineapple is loaded into double-layered tortillas and sprinkled with cilantro and raw onions, which you can then take over to the salsa bar and garnish with traditional condiments like fiery tomato salsa, guacamole, and pico de gallo.
#47 Trois Familia, Los Angeles: Potato
The trio of Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo, and Ludo Lefebvre (the same guys behind the insanely popular Trois Mec and Petit Trois) turned their attention to French-Mexican hybrid cuisine for their third outing, casual brunch spot Trois Familia, with stellar results.
The double-decker potato tacos are the sleeper hit of the menu: A soft flour tortilla and a hard-shell corn tortilla barely contain a heaping pile of soft and flavorful potato mash, crème fraîche, lime, and pico de gallo kicked up by some shredded carrot. Not only is it a great taco, it’s one of LA’s best vegetarian dishes.
#46 Bear Flag Fish Co., Newport Beach, Calif.: Basa
Folks line up daily at this Newport Beach gem for seafood served every way you can imagine: as sushi, in poke and ceviche, in salads, as burritos, grilled in sandwiches, in soups, and, of course, in tacos.
Made with basa (similar to catfish) or another fish of your choice, coated with panko, grilled, and topped with pico de gallo, fresh cabbage, and a curried hot sauce they call Tommy sauce, Bear Flag’s offering is fish taco perfection.
#45 Habanero Mexican Café, Austin: Barbacoa
The Ibarra family first opened Habanero Mexican Café in eastern Oregon, but eventually moved the operation to Austin, and for over 10 years the city’s residents have been counting themselves lucky that they did. Barbacoa, which Habanero executes particularly well, is steamed, shredded beef, and it's delicious. Get there before closing at 3 p.m., and make sure to ask them to add pico de gallo to your taco.
#44 Oyamel, Washington, D.C.: Carnitas Estilo Michoacan con Salsa de Tomatillo
Just about anything chef José Andrés makes turns to gold, and that can certainly be said of his tacos. At Oyamel, his now-legendary Mexican restaurant in D.C., tortillas start out as heirloom Mexican corn and are ground in-house daily and cooked to order. Shredded pork, sautéed mushrooms, braised beef, shredded goat, grilled chicken, cobia, house-cured pork belly, and even grasshoppers all make for delicious fillings, but you absolutely must try the carnitas Michoacán: slow-cooked shredded confit of suckling pig topped with green tomatillo salsa, onions, cilantro, and pork rinds for that extra crunch. It’ll stop you dead in your tracks.
#43 Taqueria Vallarta, San Francisco: Al Pastor
At this beloved Mission District taquería, more than a dozen meats stay warm on a circular iron comal. When you place your order it gets a quick crisping before heading into a warm tortilla (also heated on the comal), then topped with your choice of grilled or fresh onions, grilled jalapeños, fresh cilantro, and a splash of killer green salsa from a self-serve counter. Opt for the pineapple-flecked pork al pastor, which is crispy and melt-in-your-mouth.
#42 Tacos Morelos, New York City: Chorizo
What began as a modest street cart in Queens turned into a fleet of trucks and an East Village brick-and-mortar establishment in 2013. Tacos Morelos has been embraced by local Mexican food enthusiasts with open arms and grateful exclamations that the search for authentic Mexican food in New York has come to an end. They offer no less than a dozen possible fillings, but our vote goes to the chorizo taco: It’s served with cilantro, guacamole, and chopped onions.
#41 El Vez, Philadelphia and New York: Shrimp
Restaurateur Stephen Starr knows what people love to eat, and at El Vez he’s bringing top-notch Mexican food to the hungry masses. An order of the tacos al carbon is enough to feed two, and the grilled shrimp is the way to go; it’s a masterpiece. Homemade flour tortillas get filled with slightly spicy and super flavorful shrimp that are hot off the grill, and you can customize how much poblano pepper, pico de gallo, guacamole, and queso fresco you want to add.
#40 La Lagartija Taqueria, Chicago: Shrimp
This tiny restaurant in an off-the-beaten-path location serves some of the finest tacos in Chicago. The al pastor earns high praise, but the real standout here is the shrimp taco. The shrimp gets a light batter and fry that leaves it crispy, juicy, succulent, and not greasy at all. Topped with a creamy sauce and tucked into a house-made tortilla, this taco might just make you think you’ve been teleported to Mexico City.
#39 La Nueva Fresh & Hot Tortilleria, Dallas: Guisado Verde
The green pork stew known as guisado verde is the name of the game at this small tortilleria, which is dominated by a giant tortilla machine that raises the temperature of the room to borderline-inhumane levels. But it’ll be worth it once you receive your order, splash some spicy salsa on top, and head back to your air-conditioned car to enjoy. The tortillas are light and soft, the freshest you’ll ever have, and the stew is the ultimate comfort food.
#38 My Ceviche, Miami: Raw Tuna
My Ceviche is a fast-casual seafood spot that’s become a Miami standby, with six locations throughout the city. Ceviche (made with your choice of three types of seafood and in six styles), burritos, bowls, and salads are all solid options, but don’t miss the tacos, which are available with fish, shrimp, octopus, chicken, or raw tuna. It may be unexpected, but raw tuna is the way to go: It’s chopped into tiny pieces and piled into a corn or flour tortilla with a bright combo of pickled red onions, julienned radishes, shredded queso fresco, and cilantro; we suggest you ask for some sliced avocado on top as well.
#37 Guisados, Los Angeles: Cochinita Pibil
Guisados has become an essential Los Angeles taquería, even though it’s only been open for a few years. It currently has five locations, but the Boyle Heights original is located in the heart of Boyle Heights and run by three generations of the De La Torre family, and these folks know what they’re doing, right down to the homemade tortillas. The cochinita pibil is a thing of beauty: Pork shoulder is marinated overnight in a citrus-heavy mixture, and then simmered for nearly four hours before being shredded. Served with pickled onions, fresh cilantro, and as much habanero salsa as you can handle, it’s a true masterpiece.
#36 Laredo Taqueria, Houston: Pork in Red Sauce
Don’t let the long line at this Houston favorite dissuade you; it moves quickly, and the final product will be so worth it. If you’re expecting a taco loaded up with cheese, lettuce, onions, and the like, that’s not what you’ll find. The tacos at Laredo are all about the meat, and that’s all you’ll get. Opt for the super-flavorful and tender pork in red sauce.
#35 Mariscos El Pulpo, San Diego: Pulpo Ajillo
When the name of the restaurant contains both “octopus” and “seafood,” you know that the octopus served there is going to be good, and this hidden-in-plain-sight San Diego gem is a winner. There are three octopus tacos on the menu: one with the octopus sautéed in garlic butter (mojo de ajo), one in a house chili sauce (enchilada), and the third in a garlic and ancho chile butter (ajillo). Go for the ajillo; tender chunks of octopus are slathered in the most flavorful butter imaginable, topped with a sprinkling of cilantro and onion. If you weren’t a fan of octopus before trying this, you will be once you do.
#34 El Rey Del Taco, Atlanta: Cabeza
Ethnic eats abound on Atlanta’s Buford Highway, and this 24-hour Mexican diner doesn’t disappoint. Made-to-order tortillas come filled with exotic options like tongue, tripe, and pork stomach, but don’t be afraid of the cabeza, or beef cheek, which is meltingly tender. Shredded and topped with some cilantro and onion (and roasted onions if you ask for them), these things are groan-inducingly good.
#33 El Buen Gusto Mexican Café, San Antonio: Carne Asada
Carne Asada_Nick R./Yelp
The corn tortillas at El Buen Gusto, which has been drawing in locals since 2011, are made from scratch by owner Jobita Nuñez, and they’re put to good use enfolding crunchy chicharrones with red chile sauce and griddled and broiled al pastor. But if you want to try one taco here, make it carne asada, which is marinated with herbs and grilled. Make sure to drizzle on some fiery house-made chile de arbol salsa.
#32 Seviche, Louisville, Ky.: Mahi Mahi
Flickr/Edsel Little/CC BY-SA 4.0
One of Louisville’s finest restaurants, Seviche also serves what’s most likely the city’s best taco. The mahi mahi in the taco at chef Anthony Lamas’ shrine to Latin cuisine is marinated and grilled before being topped with a cumin-lime aïoli, cabbage, and a cilantro-flecked pico de gallo and placed atop two frilled corn tortillas. You might as well order two when you sit down, because you’re not going to want to stop eating these.
#31 La Flor de Yucatan, Los Angeles: Cochinita Pibil
There are precious few restaurants in the U.S. that specialize in Yucatecan cuisine, but La Flor de Yucatan is serving wonderfully authentic fare from the once-isolated peninsula. Traditional classics including chirmole (slow-cooked pork and beans) and puchero de tres carnes (beef, chicken, and pork cooked with vegetables, noodles, cabbage, and garbanzos) are on point, but no visit is complete without a couple tacos loaded with the most famous Yucatecan dish, cochinita pibil. To make this dish, pork is slow-cooked with citrus and achiote until falling apart, and it’s simply served with a smattering of pickled onions.
#30 Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca, Phoenix: Fish
Formerly known as Tacos Atoyac, this beloved Phoenix taquería closed down with no notice a few years back and reopened nearly a month later with a new name — and, thankfully, the same menu.
While the standard lineup of meats are all spectacular (even the tripas, or intestines, are good), the fish taco is the way to go. Flaky white fish is fried until golden brown and crispy, topped with shredded cabbage and a flavorful chipotle sauce. Roasted onions and jalapeños are offered for free on the side; you’re going to want to say yes to those.
#29 Tacolicious, San Francisco: Bistec Adobado
This San Francisco gem has five locations in the Bay Area, and its success lies in fresh ingredients and an eye toward authenticity. Their bistec adobado is a work of art: Flank steak gets a heady three-chile adobo marinade before being grilled to medium-rare and piled onto a fresh tortilla with a handful of pickled onions. A taco this good should cost far more than $3.95.
#28 Joe’s Bakery, Austin: Carne Guisada
Joe’s Bakery was established in 1962, and has been a destination for Tex-Mex breakfast and lunch ever since. Recipes have been passed down for generations, and the carne guisada is nothing short of revelatory. Pork butt (as opposed to traditional beef) is slow-cooked in tomato sauce with garlic, cumin, salt, and a little flour, and heaped into a house-made flour tortilla. Belly up to the counter and experience a true Austin original.
#27 Border Grill, Los Angeles and Las Vegas: Crispy Potato Rajas
From acclaimed chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken comes Border Grill, with three locations and a truck in Los Angeles, and two more outposts in Las Vegas — including one at Mandalay Bay. Their star taco is the fried crispy potato rajas, which holds Yukon Gold potatoes cooked with bell peppers, chiles, cream, cheese, and onions, all garnished with corn relish and guacamole.
#26 Tacos Tequila Whiskey, Denver: Pork Belly ‘Agridulce’
Now called Tacos Tequila Whiskey because the former name, Pinche Tacos, caused some controversy around Denver — it isn’t fit to translate on a family website, as pinche is something you might say when you’re moved by extreme emotion — this restaurant was originally a taco truck and maintains a bit of street attitude. Given how good the restaurant’s pork belly agridulce (“sweet and sour”) is, you too may be moved to use some colorful language.
Chef Kevin Morrison has put a modern twist on Mexican street food, serving a sweet-and-sour-braised pork belly with candied garlic, cabbage and cilantro slaw, and a nuanced braising jus to add extra flavor and moisture.
#25 Bob’s Taco Station, Rosenberg, Texas: Barbacoa
In the world of Tex-Mex, Bob’s Taco Station, family-owned since 1991, is one of the all-time greats. And when the mascot is a smiling hard-shell taco, proudly holding another taco while wearing a sombrero and cactus-emblazoned cowboy boots, you know you’ve come to the right place. Bob’s is renowned for its pork tamales, breakfast plates, and tortilla soup, but the tacos, served in homemade flour tortillas, are the real claim to fame. There are classic breakfast tacos along with tongue, carne guisada, and barbacoa, rich, beefy, and topped with cilantro and onions upon request.
#24 Cemitas Puebla, Chicago: Taco Arabe
Cemitas (sandwiches on a sesame seed roll with meat, avocado, Oaxaca cheese, and chipotle sauce) may be the claim to fame at this beloved Chicago standby specializing in the cuisine of Puebla, but the tacos are definitely not to be ignored, especially the tacos arabe.
A Pueblan specialty, this falls somewhere between Lebanese-style shawarma and Mexico City’s al pastor; pork is piled onto a tall spit and slowly roasted until crisped and caramelized, and it’s sliced directly into a fresh flour tortilla. While it’s deeply flavorful on its own, don’t resist the opportunity to top it with the house-made salsa verde, salsa rojo, or chipotle salsa.
#23 El Parasol, Santa Fe: Shredded Beef
Since 1958, El Parasol has been serving traditional Mexican classics as well as no-frills American fare like burgers, hot dogs, and chili cheese fries. Only three types of tacos are available (chicken, ground beef, and shredded beef), but what tacos these are: The shell is deep-fried and crackling, and the standout shredded beef is boiled until it’s falling apart and then mixed with a sauce that’s a long-kept secret. Topped with either guacamole or salsa, it’s a crunchy, beefy, Tex-Mex (New-Mex-Mex?) classic.
#22 Big Star, Chicago: Al Pastor
Yelp/ Adele F.
Wicker Park’s Big Star, from Chicago superstar chef Paul Kahan (of Publican fame) and chef de cuisine Julie Warpinski, combines Mexican street food with a honky-tonk atmosphere, and the results are phenomenal. The menu is small but brilliant: six tacos (plus a corn chip-based "walking taco"), queso fundido, chips and guacamole, and $3 whiskey shots to wash it all down, all prepared with the expert precision of a world-class chef. The taco al pastor is the first item on the menu and the one to order: Pork shoulder is spit-roasted and sliced off to order, and served with grilled pineapple, grilled onion, and cilantro. It’s smoky, small enough to eat (more than) a few, and astoundingly delicious, especially after a couple of Big Star margaritas. You might have to line up to get in, but you’ll be glad you did.
#21 Carnitas Lonja, San Antonio: Carnitas
Yelp/ Carintas Lonja
When a taqueria has the word carnitas right there in its name, you know that they’re going to do it well. And at this no-frills South Side showstopper, chef/owner Alex Paredes cooks massive hunks of pork — skin, fat, and all — in large cauldrons of boiling lard until the skin is crunchy and the meat is tender and caramelized, and it’s chopped and piled into spectacular handmade corn tortillas. Your taco will come accompanied by free pickled jalapeños and onions, pico de gallo, and red and green salsas, but make sure you try some carnitas as-is before piling on the accompaniments. You’ll never look at fried pork the same way again.
#20 Ray’s Drive Inn, San Antonio: Carne Guisada Puffy Taco
With more stuff on the walls and floors than a TGI Fridays (including a 1924 Model-T dump truck), a wonderfully raucous jukebox, and an atmosphere that suggests a funky roadhouse more than an urban Tex-Mex place, Ray's — which opened in 1965 — turns out fine versions of the local standards, along with hot dogs, hamburgers, and fish sandwiches.
It is particularly famous, though, for its puffy tacos, which weren't invented at Ray's, but may have first been named here. They're light, crisp, and flavorful, and the meltingly soft carne guisada (stewed beef) filling is perfectly spiced and not at all greasy.
#19 Mary and Tito’s Café, Albuquerque: Carne Adovada
The carne adovada at the James Beard Award-winning Mary & Tito’s Café in Albuquerque is nothing short of legendary, and has been for decades (since 1963, to be exact). The secret to that success? Two words: red chile. The fiery sauce, made simply from ground dried whole chiles, salt, and garlic, tops everything from eggs to chile rellenos, but the carne adovada, juicy and tender marinated and slow-baked pork, is the way to go. If a great taco requires perfection in all of its elements, then the carne adovada at Mary and Tito’s, heaped into a fresh corn tortilla, is undeniably world-class.
#18 Panchos Mexican Taquería, Atlantic City, N.J.: Chivo
Located right next door to the legendary White House Sub Shop, this unassuming taquería was opened to cater primarily to employees of the local casinos, but it quickly achieved a level of local renown when chef David Chang stopped by and deemed it “the best Mexican food on the East Coast” in Lucky Peach magazine, and when legendary Philly chef Michael Solomonov fell in love with it on an episode of Vice Munchies. So what makes this place so good, exactly? For one, the tortillas aren’t just homemade, they’re made to order. Second, tacos and huaraches are filled with a wide variety of expertly prepared proteins like steak, chicken, brisket, goat, tripe, chorizo, and carnitas. And third, their mole poblano enchiladas are life-changing. Don’t try to call or look for a website; they don’t answer the phone much and there isn’t one. Just go. And when you do, order the chivo, slow-roasted and shredded goat in red chile sauce.
#17 La Condesa, Austin: Arabicos
This "modern Mexican" restaurant does things its own way: there's a sea trout ceviche with pineapple-aji sorbet, a roasted cauliflower "steak" with chipotle-raisin purée and chile de árbol vinaigrette, and a lump crab tostada with green mango and grapefruit, among other things, so it's hardly surprising that the tacos are non-standard as well.
The Arabicos tacos, for instance, which get high marks for originality and intensity of flavor, combine seared venison with pickled cucumber, chipotle harissa, fennel pollen yogurt, and cilantro, wrapped in a tortilla made — in decidedly non-Arabic style — with bacon fat. Neither classic Mexican nor Tex-Mex, this thing is just plain good.
#16 Papalote Taco House, Austin: Cecina Taco
Tacos, not surprisingly, are the raison d'être (razón de ser?) of this popular eatery. Versions filled with mushrooms, hominy, and epazote or with fried avocado and black beans are popular with local vegetarians, but we love all the variations aimed at carnivores — most of all the cecina taco. Cecina is salted, dried beef, a rustic relative of bresaola. Papalote's cecina taco adds refried beans, shredded cabbage, queso fresco, crema (the thin Mexican sour cream), and guajillo salsa, and the result is simply wonderful.
#15 Los Tacos No. 1, New York City: Adobada
With Los Tacos No. 1 setting up in the Chelsea Market, there’s only one thing to say to taco-crazy New Yorkers eager to assert that they now have one of America’s best tacos: You're right.
Los Tacos No. 1 serves a taco so good that you could dare anyone to taste it blindfolded against their supposed favorite and make money betting on the outcome. Not that the proprietors here are unfamiliar with real tacos: Los Tacos is a collaboration between three close friends from Tijuana and Brawley, California. You really can’t go wrong with the adobo or pollo tacos here, but the winner is the red chile-marinated pork — the adobada. Moist. Salted. Flavorful. Sweet but not cloying. There are also expertly prepared salsas, so you can dress your taco yourself. You’ll shut up because your mouth will be full and you will be happy.
#14 Torchy’s Tacos, Various Locations: Trailer Park Taco
At Torchy’s, which has locations throughout Texas (centered in Austin, Dallas, and Houston), owner Michael Rypka has created tortilla-bound concoctions that are nothing short of devilish, and made fresh every day.
There’s the Brush Fire (Jamaican jerk chicken, grilled jalapeños, and mango), the Dirty Sanchez (scrambled eggs with fried poblano chile, guacamole, escabeche carrots, and shredded cheese) and The Republican (grilled jalapeño sausage with shredded cheese and pico de gallo), but the wildest and most delicious creation on the menu is the Trailer Park, a massive battered and fried hunk of chicken breast, topped with sautéed green chiles, lettuce, pico de gallo, and shredded mixed cheese on a flour tortilla from El Milagro, topped with poblano sauce. If you prefer to "get it trashy," they’ll remove the lettuce and replace it with cheese sauce. And who needs lettuce when cheese sauce is an option?
#13 ABC Cocina, New York City: Short Rib
ABC Cocina is a partnership between ABC Carpet & Home and Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten that highlights both the chef’s and the store’s commitment to conscious sourcing, and this means that are some really tasty high-end tacos. Available only on the dinner menu, these tacos consist of tortillas filled with glazed short rib, frizzled onion, and habanero relish.
#12 Henry’s Puffy Tacos & Cantina, San Antonio: Spicy Beef Fajita
Whether they invented the genre and the name (Ray’s Drive Inn claims the latter honor) or not, Henry’s is an iconic spot for San Antonio’s signature dish (one that has since spread significantly beyond San Antonio to Dallas and Austin). Henry (who actually grew up in California) is retired, but his legacy continues at the family’s friendly, eponymous strip mall restaurant run by his sons Rick, Robert, and Jaime and their sister Imelda Lopez-Sanchez. The famed tortillas are made in-house and fried so that they puff out, creating a fun way to eat what otherwise is a relatively conventional Tex-Mex taco. The puffy tortilla shell is filled with the meat of your choice (spicy beef fajita is the most popular), then topped with shredded iceberg lettuce, grated cheese, sour cream, and guacamole. With truly great puffy tacos, the shell shatters a little, adding textural variation to each bite, and that’s exactly what happens here.
#11 Tortilleria Nixtamal, Queens, N.Y.: Carnitas
Located a couple of blocks from Queens’ Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Tortilleria Nixtamal isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a tortilla factory. Opened in 2008, it quickly developed a reputation as one of New York’s premier taco spots, and with good reason: Just about everything they offer is astoundingly delicious. Tortillas are made from non-GMO corn, with no additives or preservatives, and meat comes from Franco’s, a local butcher. While the lamb barbacoa and homemade chorizo are certainly delicious, you won’t want to leave without trying the carnitas. Chunks of pork are slow-cooked for more than two hours in lard, and then simply topped with onion, cilantro, and a little hot sauce. It’s taco perfection.
#10 La Super-Rica, Santa Barbara, Calif.: Tri Tip
The fresh flavors and simple but perfect presentations at this casual, counter-service Santa Barbara landmark, known as Julia Child's favorite Mexican restaurant, continue to draw long lines of hungry customers.
Though the vegetable tamales, cheese-stuffed pasilla chiles, chorizo quesadillas, and the like have strong followings, it's hard to beat La Super-Rica's exquisitely minimalist tri-tip tacos: grilled tri-tip (from the bottom of the sirloin) — the defining beef cut on California's Central Coast — heaped atop made-from-scratch corn tortillas (you can watch them being patted by hand through a window into the kitchen). Feel free to add pico de gallo or other condiments from the oft-refreshed salsa bar.
#9 Mi Tierra, San Antonio: Carnitas Michoacan
This popular San Antonio spot has been slinging tacos since 1941, when it opened with just three tables. Over the years, the restaurant has expanded to seat more than 500 at the same address but stretching the entire city block. The American Dream mural is as big of a draw as the food, but definitely don’t forget the food.
Order the plate of two tacos with the orange-marinated pork and it comes with all the fixin’s: guac, pico de gallo, and traditional pinto beans. Best of all, the restaurant serves them up 24 hours a day, so you can get your taco fix whenever you need.
#8 Mariscos German, San Diego: Fish
Mariscos German’s version is the quintessential San Diego fried fish taco: generous in size and filled with grated cabbage and fresh, battered pieces of fish fried to golden brown perfection, topped with a creamy sauce. If you’re really hungry, order the Baha Trio — one fried fish taco, one marlin taco, and one shrimp taco — and wash it all down with a cheap can of beer or some coconut juice sipped right out of the coconut.
#7 El Real Tex-Mex Café, Houston: Chicken Puffy Taco
Located inside a restored theater in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, El Real serves Tex-Mex classics like chili con carne, nachos, and Frito pie (Tex-Mex and Texas food authority Robb Walsh is a partner here), but we recommend you head directly for the San Antonio Puffy Taco Plate with smoked chicken.
The deep-fried and puffed-up shell gets a smear of refried beans, then the smoked chicken (smoked whole before being shredded) is liberally applied. Lettuce and tomato come on top.
#6 The Shed, Santa Fe: Chicken With Green Chile
Yelp/ Marlo M.
Santa Fe loves the green chiles from Hatch, down in the southern part of New Mexico, and their nearly supernatural ability to pair perfectly with just about any type of food you can think of. At The Shed, in business since 1953, the chiles are grown especially for the restaurant and brought in fresh daily, then processed on-site. One of the best applications of this spicy green sauce that you’ll find in the city is on the restaurant’s taco plate: two fresh blue corn tortillas with baked chicken topped with green chile, Cheddar cheese, onion, lettuce, and tomato. The chicken is perfectly cooked, but the chile is the real star of the show (as is the stellar posole that comes with it).
#5 Tacodeli, Austin: El Conquistador
Austin without Tacodeli, which has five locations around the city (as well as two each in Dallas and Plano and one in Houston), just wouldn’t be the same. Their made-from-scratch sauces are works of art, and their most popular taco, El Conquistador, is a perfect showcase for the house chile pasilla sauce. Mixed in with shredded, slow-roasted pork shoulder topped with avocado, cilantro, and onion, all wrapped in a fresh flour tortilla, it's the star of a taco you’ll be dreaming about. Go for lunch — all Tacodeli locations are only open until 3 p.m.
#4 Birrieria Zaragoza, Chicago: Birria Tatemada
At Chicago’s family-run Birrieria Zaragoza, goat is the name of the game. Namely, the roasted goat taco, or birria tatemada, based on a recipe that’s more than 100 years old. The goat is steamed for around five hours, then rubbed with an ancho chile-based red mole sauce before being roasted and served on house-made corn tortillas with fresh condiments, including onion, cilantro, red salsa, and roasted chiles. You can request any part of the goat you like, but we suggest you go with the pistola, or shank. It’s juicy, tender, and full of flavor, a bite worth seeking out if you’re even a passing fan of falling-off-the-bone meat. And who isn’t?
#3 Las Cuatro Milpas, San Diego: Shredded Pork
Located in an unassuming Barrio Logan back alley, Las Cuatro Milpas has been serving some of San Diego’s best tacos since 1933. Order up front, grab your table in the middle, and watch tortillas being made in the back. With the tortillas deep-fried to order, these crunchy tacos are filled with beef, chicken, or pork, but opt for the shredded pork, topped with lettuce and tangy, crumbled goat cheese. The hot sauce — which is made by simmering chiles and spices in lard — isn’t for the spice-averse, but is addictively good.
#2 Los Cinco Puntos, Los Angeles: Carnitas
One of LA’s most beloved taquerias (and our pick for the city’s best), Los Cinco Puntos is also an essential neighborhood grocery, and it sells its meats by the pound or inside of taco or burritos. Tacos are the real draw here, though, starting with corn tortillas made by hand from corn masa in the back on a large plancha. Meats including carne asada, buche (esophagus and stomach), and suadero are displayed in steaming piles behind a counter, but peer into the back and you’ll see a cauldron filled with pork shoulders boiling in their own fat. Clearly, carnitas are what you should order. After some crisping up on the plancha, they’re chopped and nestled into those homemade corn tortillas, topped with pickled nopales and salsa verde, and will forever change your view of carnitas.
#1 La Taqueria, San Francisco: Carnitas
When it comes to leaders of a culinary genre, there are few restaurants in America with greater gravitas for their respective focus than San Francisco’s La Taqueria has for tacos. That gives it, and its tacos (carnitas among them, quite arguably the best), quite a heavy reputation to live up to. La Taqueria, just one of the Mission’s many casual Mexican joints, does Mexican the way it should be done: fresh. As if the amazing rice-free burritos weren’t enough (you’d never notice its absence), there are the tacos. To prepare the carnitas, chef/owner Miguel Jara slow-cooks chunks of pork shoulder in cauldrons of bubbling lard until tender, then roasts it until it’s crispy. When it's tucked into a double layer of corn tortillas and topped with your choice of pinto beans, onions, pico de gallo, cheese, crema, or guacamole (or none of the above), there’s no better taco in America; the burritos there are also spectacular.