Greg Powers courtesy Jose Andres ThinkFoodGroup
Tacos are almost always tasty. Even a quick at-home taco dinner turns out to be pretty satisfying. But what elevates a good taco to heights of greatness? The best tacos are served on fresh tortillas, topped with supremely flavorful fillings and annointed with just enough accompaniments to tie it all together without being overwhelming. We’re thankfully living in an era when a high-quality taco is within driving distance of just about everyone in America, and we’ve tracked down the single best taco in every state as well as Washington, D.C.
In order to find the best taco in every state, we started by revisiting our own ranking of America’s 75 best tacos. We then checked local rankings and researched review sites to see which ones got the highest marks from in-the-know locals. We then judged each contender on quality of ingredients, skill in preparation, level of local renown and authenticity. Most of these tacos fit within the framework of the classic Mexican street taco, but we provided some leeway to allow for different styles (like Baja-style fish tacos) and for culinary creativity.
Los Dos Hermanos is turning out some delicious Mexican food in Birmingham, Alabama, including burritos, quesadillas, tortas and tostadas, but it’s the tacos that are the must-order. Intriguing options like cesos (cow brain) abound, but opt for the flavorful al pastor, and don’t’ forget to grab a fresh green chile from the tub. The lines are long, but your tacos make this one of those restaurants worth waiting in line for.
Lane’s Quickie Tacos in Fairbanks, Alaska, specializes in Tex Mex-style tacos, and The Alaskan is the one to order. This top-seller contains juicy pulled pork, which is topped with diced white onions, cotija cheese, cilantro and a lime wedge. Opt for a flour tortilla — they’re made in-house.
Fish taco perfection is on the menu at Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca in Phoenix. At this Arizona hotspot, a generous portion of super-crispy fried swai fish is topped with crunchy slaw and a creamy mayo-based sauce, and all the components work together in perfect harmony.
The taco arriero is the thing to order at Taqueria El Palenque, a charming cantina in Little Rock, Arkansas. A soft and supple flour tortilla is filled with grilled steak and chunks of Mexican sausage and topped with pico de gallo and big slices of fresh avocado.
San Francisco landmark La Taqueria serves the best burritos in America, so it’s no surprise that its tacos are also spectacular. Go for the carnitas, which are slow-cooked and both tender and crispy, tucked into housemade corn tortillas and topped with pinto beans and fresh salsa.
The creative and delicious tacos at Tacos Tequila Whiskey are beloved across Colorado, and the Pork Belly “Agridulce” is the one to order at this Denver haunt. A locally made tortilla is topped with a slab of sweet and sour braised pork belly, candied garlic, a cabbage-cilantro slaw and a spoonful of braising jus. It’s a fatty, porky masterpiece.
El Chilito in Riverside, Connecticut, makes its corn tortillas in-house, and they’re the ideal vessel for carnitas, which are served simply topped with cilantro and onion, with a lime on the side. The carnitas have the perfect ratio of crisp to tender to luscious, and they’re insanely savory and satisfying.
Shannon R. /Yelp
Slow-cooked barbacoa (made in the traditional way with lamb) is the way to go at El Pique in Wilmington, Delaware. The slight gaminess and richness of the tender lamb is perfectly complemented by the cilantro and raw onion on top — a squeeze of lime ties it all together.
The best thing to do in Florida that isn’t Disney World? Going to Miami and eating. Located in Miami’s Little Havana, Taqueria Viva México is a beloved standout and a great place to sample some lesser-seen pork fillings like cuero (skin), oreja (ear) and maciza (lean pork leg). If you’re not feeling adventurous, opt for the al pastor. Which is slices of marinated pork with caramelized onions. Tacos are served with no toppings, but you’re welcome to help yourself to a variety of sauces, onions and cilantro.
If you’ve ever had slow-cooked beef cheek, you already know how rich and flavorful it is and why it makes a perfect taco filling. At El Rey Del Taco in Atlanta, Georgia, the cabeza is cooked until it nearly falls apart. It is then chopped before being spooned into a house-made corn tortilla and topped with onion and cilantro. Pico de gallo and sour cream are available as toppings, but with a taco this good, simple is better.
The fish taco at the original location of Coconut’s Fish Cafe on Maui in Hawaii is a work of art. Fresh grilled mahi mahi or ono top a grilled tortilla, and the fish is covered with wasabi-coconut milk coleslaw, fresh tomatoes, mango salsa, red tomato salsa and a little melted jack and cheddar cheese. It coincidentally resembles the fish sandwich at Paia Fish Market, which happens to be one ofthe best sandwiches in America.
Two sisters from Texas, Susan Lloyd and Sandy Broun, make everything — even the tortillas — from scratch at Tin Roof Tacos in Boise, and Idahoans are lucky to have this place around. Go for the flagship Tin Roof Taco, with a pile of deep red, juicy, achiote-paste-marinated shredded pork. Cilantro, onion and diced pineapple salsa add a little sweetness, creating a perfect balance.
The owners of Birrieria Zaragoza in Chicago are so confident in their roasted goat (birria tatemada) that it’s literally the only thing on the menu. 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. If you get there early enough, you can choose what part of the goat you want (go for the shank), but whatever you’re served will be slow-cooked deliciousness.
Allison F./ Yelp
The housemade chocolate- and chile-based mole is rich and complex at Indy Tacos in Indianapolis. Their mole taco features an ample dose of it spooned atop tender and juicy shredded chicken. This magic combination is served on top of a pair of warm corn tortillas, rice, queso fresco and cilantro, with a lime wedge on the side.
The folks at the unassuming La Juanita in Storm Lake, Iowa, are making their own tortillas in-house. We suggest you top yours with grilled and chopped carne asada, which is simply anointed with onions and cilantro. It’s juicy, tender and as beefy as some of the best steaks in America.
If you ask for Jorge at Taco Republic in Kansas City, Kansas, you’ll be served a taco filled with blackened shrimp and chunks of crispy fried pork belly, topped with chipotle aioli, cotija cheese, avocado and cilantro on a flour tortilla. It’s the top seller for a good reason. And after you’re done, you can head up the street for some of America’s best fried chicken at an outpost of Gus’s.
Chef Anthony Lamas’ shrine to Latin cuisine is one of the must-visit restaurantsin Louisville, Kentucky, and Seviche’s mahi mahi taco is one of the best things on the menu. The mahi mahi is marinated, grilled and then topped with a cumin-lime aioli, cabbage and pico de gallo. This isn’t just a taco — it’s a star fish dish in its own right.
Food Network star Aaron Sanchez’s Johnny Sanchez infuses a little bit of that fun-loving New Orleans spirit into its vibe, and its tacos are simply stunning. The carne asada is the best of the bunch. It contains sliced skirt steak that’s been grilled over wood, pickled jalapenos, pico de gallo and guacamole on a flour tortilla. This is a taco that’s definitely worth seeking out, especially if you need a break from all those classic Louisiana dishes.
Tacos at Taco Escobarr in Portland, Maine, are available in three varieties: soft corn tortillas, crispy griddle-fried tortillas or deep-fried San Antonio-style puffy tacos. The crispy taco is the winner of the bunch. Fill yours with smoky slow-braised, poblano-kicked shredded beef, melted Chihuahua cheese, green onion, cabbage and cilantro.
Al pastor is the way to go at Tortilla Sinaloa in Baltimore, Maryland. The mound of rich and tender pork is deeply flavorful, and it’s served on two super-fresh house-made corn tortillas and simply topped with onions, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.
Loco Taqueria and Oyster Bar is a funky Boston gem that serves a wide variety of creative tacos, but go for the short rib. This top-seller is filled with braised short rib, habanero hot sauce, queso fresco, lime crema, green pico and pickled red onion all served on a house-made corn tortilla. Each component works in perfect unison, and the result is a spectacular bite.
Taqueria El Rey is best known for its spectacular grilled chicken, but no visit is complete without trying a few tacos as well. Go for the rich, tender carnitas, shredded and crisped up on the griddle before being piled into corn tortillas and topped with onion and cilantro.
If you haven’t had lengua, or beef tongue, in a taco, you’ve been missing out. At El Taco Riendo in Minneapolis, Minnesota, it’s slow-cooked until tender before being chopped and tucked inside tortillas from a local tortilleria. Customers often top theirs simply with onion and cilantro, but the toppings bar offers many choices.
They make the corn tortillas in-house at Green Ghost in Jackson, Mississippi, and you’re going to want to fill yours with spicy fresh chorizo. You can top your tacos here with either lettuce, tomato and cotija or onions and cilantro — both options work equally well against the chunky, fatty sausage.
Why choose between steak and chorizo when you can have both? That’s why when you see “campechano” on a taco menu, it’s always a good bet. At La Tejana in St. Louis, the two proteins, along with onions and cilantro, work in unison to deliver an unctuous and savory taco that you’ll probably be craving again soon.
Missoula, Montana, may be landlocked, but a fish taco is still the best taco in the state. At Taco Del Sol, they’re baking fresh Alaskan cod and topping it with your choice of pinto or black beans, shredded cheese, fresh Roma tomato salsa, shredded cabbage, white sauce, red sauce and your choice of several hot sauces. It’s a masterpiece and something you’d expect to find at a great seafood shack.
La Choza in Omaha, Nebraska, serves traditional Salvadoran and Mexican fare, and the tacos al pastor are deeply satisfying. A mound of flavorful deep-red chunks of pork goes into each taco along with onion, cilantro and pineapple. Order them in Combo #1 and you’ll get two fresh-made pupusas along with two tasty tacos.
If you’re looking for the best taco in Nevada, leave the Las Vegas Strip and head to Taco y Taco. You can see the al pastor roasting on its huge vertical spit as you wait in line to order — a good sign of things to come. The pork is luscious, crisp, tender and full of flavor, and when piled onto a house-made tortilla and topped with diced pineapple, cilantro and green salsa, it’s a perfect bite of food. In fact, it’s up there with the super-expensive restaurants just a few miles away.
At the bustling and lively El Rincon Zacatecano Taqueria in Manchester, New Hampshire, the tortillas are house-made and the tacos shine. Opt for the pastor and you’ll be served strips of juicy and tender pork and pineapple, topped with onions and cilantro. Be sure to ask for some green salsa to add some extra zing.
Panchos Mexican Taquería is a must-visit in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Tacos here are made to order and served three to an order, and the chivo is a beauty. It’s made by slowly roasting goat in a red chile-based sauce until it’s tender and falling apart. Onions, cilantro and a dose of homemade salsa complete the dish. Be sure to save room for a visit to White House Subs located right next door, though. It’s a great sandwich shop and one of America’s best casual restaurants.
The green chile stew at The Shed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is one of the best soups in the country, so it should come as no surprise that the tacos are also some of the best around. They start with two locally sourced blue corn tortillas, which are topped with your choice of ground beef, chicken or green chile turkey sausage and doused with your choice of red or green chile before being topped with cheddar, onion, lettuce and tomato. Go with green chile — it’s one of the foods you need to try in every state, after all.
Tacos El Bronco is a must-visit taqueria in Brooklyn, New York, and the taco to get is the cabeza, a.k.a. veal head. This delicacy may be off the beaten path, but you’ll definitely be rewarded: It’s meaty, fatty, tender and slow-cooked to the point of falling apart and being slightly gelatinous in the best way possible. Topped with onion, cilantro and a spoonful of tomatillo-avocado salsa verde to cut through the richness, it’s a bite of Mexico City in Brooklyn, and it’s just as craveable as the city’s great pizzas.
At La Vaquita in Durham, North Carolina, the barbacoa is slow-cooked in a deeply flavored sauce, shredded and served on a corn tortilla with cilantro, onion, radish and your choice of red or green sauce. It’s a soul-warming taste of Mexico in a place where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it.
Red Pepper has been a Grand Forks, North Dakota, institution for more than 50 years. Its tacos are most likely exactly how you remember them from your childhood. Listed on the menu as just “Taco,” it’s a hard-shell taco filled with homemade ground seasoned beef, lettuce, hot sauce and grated colby cheese. They’ll put it in a soft flour tortilla for you if you prefer, but why mess with perfection?
Barrio is a Cleveland gem, serving some truly creative and delicious tacos to Ohioans. A massive selection of tacos is available, with over 1 million combinations if you choose to build your own. But go for the top seller, the El Jefe Loco. It starts with housemade flour and corn tortillas with chorizo and queso between the two, and is filled with spice-rubbed chicken, queso fresco, smoked cheddar, pico de gallo, corn salsa, chipotle honey barbecue sauce and salsa roja.
Green chiles are a staple food of the Southwest, and Oklahoma’s best taco, at Big Truck Tacos in Oklahoma City, puts them to good use in the Green Chile Pork taco. The pork is slow-roasted and shredded along with roasted green chile, and it’s topped with queso fresco and plenty of onions and cilantro. It’s a true fusion of the best of the Southwest and Mexico.
The family-run Sanchez Taqueria in Tigard, Oregon, makes its own tortillas throughout the day (not to mention salsas and fabulous pastries), and they’re big, soft, pillowy and addictively good. Fill that tortilla up with the slow-cooked, tender and juicy carnitas, topped with onion and cilantro. Make sure you add some homemade salsa and hot sauce to finish it off.
Marissa Evans courtesy of El Vez
Stephen Starr is the person behind some of America’s best restaurants, and at El Vez in Philadelphia, he’s doing tacos right. Get the shrimp tacos when you visit. They feature big, plump shrimp, which are grilled and deposited onto homemade corn tortillas, topped with a slice of fresh avocado, cotija cheese and a little salsa de arbol. They’re simple and spectacular.
A neighborhood gem in Providence, Rhode Island, Tallulah’s Taqueria serves all the classics, but if you order the carnitas taco, you’ll be richly rewarded. It’s made with pork belly along with shoulder for an extra dose of fattiness, and it’s all braised together before being shredded and hitting the grill. It’s loaded into a double layer of corn tortillas and topped with salsa, onion, cilantro and guacamole.
Located outside of Charleston in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, the unassuming Carmen y Juan’s is turning out spectacular traditional Mexican fare. The tacos are built on house-made tortillas, and the carnitas is a must-order. These big chunks of marinated and slow-cooked pork are so full of flavor that they don’t even need the accompanying onion and cilantro, but we’re not complaining.
Believe it or not, you can find great tacos just a stone’s throw from Mount Rushmore in Rapid City, South Dakota. After paying your respects to this must-see heartland destination, visit the small and unassuming Sabor A Mexico, where you’ll find a wide variety of traditional Mexican favorites. Sure, there are specialties including enchiladas, chiles rellenos, tamales and sopes, but make sure you sample some tacos, especially the marinated shredded chicken, served with onion, cilantro, lime and fresh green salsa on the side.
Carniceria Y Taqueria Don Juan in Nashville, Tennessee, is a hole in the wall, but there’s nothing wrong with that. This is the kind of taqueria where you’ll want to try everything on the menu, but start with the barbacoa. Big shreds of slow-cooked beef melt in your mouth, and all they need is a little bit of onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. A house-made tortilla brings it home.
There are a lot of incredible tacos in Texas, but for a real showstopper, hit up San Antonio’s Carnitas Lonja. Here, 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. Next, it’s chopped and piled into spectacular handmade corn tortillas. Make sure you try some carnitas as-is before piling on the accompaniments, which include pickled jalapenos and onions, pico de gallo and salsas.
Tacos Don Rafa is a beloved Utah taco cart, selling $1 tacos in Salt Lake City since 1998. Everything here is absurdly delicious, but don’t miss the carnitas, shreds of insanely juicy and flavorful slow-cooked pork. These tacos are served “naked,” but you’re more than welcome to help yourself to a vast array of toppings including onions and cilantro, cabbage, pico de gallo, cucumbers, radishes, limes and several sauces, all stashed in a cooler.
There’s nothing to get mad about at The Mad Taco in Waitsfield, Vermont. In fact, the chile Colorado taco will probably put a smile on your face. To make this luscious filling, beef is slow-cooked with red mole sauce before being shredded, and the end result is deeply flavorful. Avocado, onion and cilantro round it out.
Visit Tacos El Chilango in Arlington, Virginia, and you’ll most likely leave fully convinced that this is one of the best food trucks in America. The corn tortillas are handmade and all the fillings are done just right. The chorizo is especially noteworthy; the fresh sausage is mildly spicy, chunky and not crumbly. It imparts just enough of that awesome orange oil that’s the hallmark of a great chorizo taco without being overly greasy.
Tucked away inside Hillcrest Market in Seattle with just a takeout counter and a handful of stools, Carmelo’s Tacos is hiding Washington’s best tacos in plain sight. Just a handful of menu items are available, but don’t miss the super-satisfying campechano, a mixture of grilled steak, chorizo and potato. The tortillas here are all made in-house, and all tacos come topped with onion, cilantro and red and green salsas.
Oyamel Cocina Mexicana /Yelp
Chef José Andrés is a national treasure, and so are his tacos. At Oyamel, which is one of America’s best Mexican restaurants, tortillas start out as heirloom Mexican-grown corn and are ground in-house daily. You absolutely must try the carnitas estilo Michoacán con salsa de tomatillo. While the dish name is a mouthful, you’ll want to fill your mouth with this slow-cooked shredded confit of suckling pig topped with green tomatillo salsa, onions, cilantro and pork rinds for that extra crunch.
Maria’s Taqueria is a popular and buzzing Shepherdstown, West Virginia, spot with a hip and welcoming vibe. The menu is limited to tacos, burritos and “other yummy stuff” like taco salads and nachos, but the star of the menu is the fish taco. A nicely sized filet of cod is battered and fried to crispy golden-brown perfection and topped with a spicy cabbage and carrot slaw, cilantro and a jalapeno-kicked aioli. It’s a true showstopper.
The charming Taqueria Guadalajara makes its own tortillas from scratch and fills them with top-notch traditional fillings like al pastor, lengua, buche and tripa, but don’t miss the carne asada. Well-seasoned steak is browned on the griddle before being chopped and making its way into double-layered tortillas with just a little onion and cilantro to finish it off.
San Juan is one of the few taquerias around that lets you choose between beef or pork al pastor, and honestly, the beef is the way to go. Beef is sliced thin and a flavorful sauce is seared into it, and when topped with onion, cilantro and salsa, it’s a must-order. Any way you slice it, tacos are simply one of the most iconic dishes to eat in America.
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