Sometimes the stars align and forces larger than us reveal themselves and a light bulb goes off and we know: It's time for a taco-themed cover story.
Last Thursday, the world celebrated National Taco Day. Just a day earlier, an escaped emu named "Taco" went looking for a mate and brought traffic to a halt in Cape Canaveral.
That's kismet enough for us.
So without further ado, here are some of our favorite tacos in town. The Flyer staff covered everything from breakfast tacos to fish tacos, vegan tacos to eyeball tacos, tacos wrapped in corn tortillas to tacos wrapped in Doritos. It's taco time.
ChicharrÓnes Taco at Los Comales
I never gave my first chicharrónes taco a fighting chance, purely on the basis of its weird texture. Chicharrónes are fried pork rinds, and I'd assumed that the taco filling would be crunchy just like the convenience store staple. I was wrong and didn't like the surprise chewy pudding texture. By the time I spied chicharrÓnes on the menu at Los Comales, however, I was better informed and knew what I was getting into.
Chicharrónes are popular all over Latin America, and every region prepares its skins a little differently. At Los Comales, the tacos de chicharrónes ($1.75) are like intense pork-flavored crème brûlée on dense corn tortillas with chopped white onions and cilantro. It's great with all the house salsas, but I like it best with just the tiniest dollop of the El Yucateco XXXtra-Hot Habanero sauce. There's a bottle on every table and cold beer on tap should the fires rage out of control. — Chris Davis
Los Comales, 4774 Summer, 683-9530
"Nasty Bits" Taco at Tacos Borolas
Tacos Borolas on American Way near Getwell isn't the sort of place you go to fill up on nacho chips. Tacos Borolas is the kind of tiny mom-and-pop taqueria you visit when you're in the mood to mainline authentic Mexican flavors.
"I was hoping to try something unusual," I said to my server, who had many suggestions for tacos she didn't think I'd order. The next thing I knew I was being served a steaming plate of tacos ($1.85 each) stuffed with meats I couldn't easily identify. Thankfully, everything was chopped and beautifully cooked: brains, head, and eyeballs.
I've never been a fan of brains but can't deny that the gray matter at Tacos Borolas was delicious. The texture was slightly denser than scrambled eggs and the metallic aftertaste that usually puts me off was minimal. After a plain first bite to find out what the brains tasted like on their own, I doused the taco with salsa verde and smothered it all in onions, cilantro, and radishes.
The corn tortillas at Tacos Borolas are slightly smaller than I'm accustomed to, which made the offal on my plate less intimidating. But if the head tacos had been served in a wrapper the size of a frisbee I wouldn't have complained a bit. Anybody who thinks loin is the most tender and flavorful part of a cow should think again. Head meat may sound gross and it may not be easy to retrieve, but it's completely worth the risk and extra effort. And it's fantastic with all the house salsas.
When it comes to tacos, I've always preferred things like chorizo, stewed goat (chivo), and spicy al pastor. But the eyes have it. I'm surprised to report that tacos de ojos — eyeball tacos — may be my new favorite. Yes, the texture is odd, but if you can make yourself forget you're holding a childhood nightmare in your hand, you'll be rewarded with a rich, buttery, intensely beefy flavor that you can't get from any other cut of meat. It's even better laced with Tacos Borolas' extra hot and slightly bitter red sauce.
If all of this sounds completely nasty, be aware that Tacos Borolas also serves a variety of less extreme tacos. The spicy pork is always an excellent choice. On the weekends you can dine in or buy your tacos from their sidewalk stand. Bonus: Panadería La Ilusion is next door, and for 82 cents you can get a gorgeous slab of bread pudding topped with strawberry or pineapple. For a more authentic experience, you'll have to go to Mexico City. Or Summer Avenue at least. — CD
Tacos Borolas, 4273 American Way, 791-4379
Machaca Taco at Elena's Taco Shop
Kowabonga, dudes! Surf's up in Bartlett.
Elena's Taco Shop sits at one end of a newish, mini-commercial strip building at the corner of Summer and Raleigh-LaGrange. The interior is clean, freshly painted, and decorated with California surf posters and pictures. It's not a funky Mexican restaurant but rather a Southern take on the typical seashore taco stand.
I tried the fish taco and the shrimp taco, and both were very good. The seafood was cooked in a crisp batter and piled with a fresh cabbage mix and pico de gallo and Elena's "secret sauce." But my mission for this story was to try a breakfast taco, so I also ordered the machaca plate — a scrumptious blend of scrambled eggs, shredded beef, tomatoes, and onions in two soft taco shells. They came with sides of beans, tortilla chips, and rice and set me back a very reasonable $6.49. Of the eight sauces available, I picked the "mild" San Francisco. Good stuff. If I lived in Bartlett, Elena's would be a regular stop. — Bruce VanWyngarden
Elena's Taco Shop, 6105 Summer, 417-7915
Discada Jarocha Taco at
Tacos Los Jarochos
Memphis is late to the taco truck game, but Tacos Los Jarochos is helping us catch up, one authentic taco at a time. Not long ago, this moveable feast was but a wee taco trailer at Summer and Perkins; now it's a true taco truck, camped out on Summer near Mendenhall every day from 3 p.m. until about 10 p.m. While I happen to believe the enduring value of a taco is in its portable nature, if you like to kick back while you eat, there are a few tables for dining al fresco in the parking lot. Everything is tasty here (and everyone speaks Spanish, which is never a bad sign when you're looking for tacos), but why not try their signature Discada Jarocha taco, made with steak, ham, bacon, chorizo, onion, and jalapeño. Top it with one of their five salsas, fresh sliced cucumbers and radishes, or have it plain and savor the simple combination of fresh corn tortilla and savory meats. At $1.75 a pop, you can try both variations. Just don't miss out on this roadside gem. — Hannah Sayle
Tacos Los Jarochos, Summer and Mendenhall, 314-5735
Cheese Steak Taco at El Toro Loco
El Toro Loco's cheese steak tacos left my mouth begging for an encore when I finished. Three corn tortillas come covered with small, savory chunks of steak, drizzled with a delightful white cheese sauce, and topped with onion and cilantro. It comes served with sour cream, pico de gallo, tomatillo sauce, and refried beans, but I ordered a side of diced tomatoes and lettuce to complete the dish. Biting into one of these delicacies revealed a beautiful combination of tender meat, fresh veggies, cheese, and sauciness. I finished the dish and thought to myself, Damn, that was the best $7.50 I've spent in a while.
— Louis Goggans
El Toro Loco, 2617 Poplar, 458-4414
Asada Taco at Caminos de Michoacan
A colorful, cozy shop on Macon Road, Caminos de Michoacan offers a particularly good take on authentic tacos. All the traditional meat options — pastor, asada, chorizo, carnitas, etc. — are on the menu, and all I've sampled are top-notch, though I particularly like the asada and pastor ($1.80), the latter of which included grilled onion on my last trip. In addition to the standard topping of chopped cilantro and onion and lime wedges on the side, Caminos de Michoacan tacos include a smattering of radish spears, which add color, crunch, and freshness, and a side of grilled green onion bulbs. But it's the before-and-after that really sets Caminos de Michoacan apart. In addition to the standard chips and red salsa, meals here also start with a generous portion of extra-spicy tomatillo salsa, which can be balanced by a tall glass of their on-tap horchata. And, in addition to a taqueria, Caminos de Michoacan is also a bakery — a panadería — with an entire self-service wall that beckons with cookies, muffins, donuts, torta rolls, churros, and other pastries. — Chris Herrington
Caminos de Michoacan, 3896 Macon, 458-5550
Pastor Taco at Mike's Express
Just two doors down from Caminos de Michoacan is perhaps one of the city's most unexpectedly good taco haunts. This cramped, cinder-block quickie mart has a taco bar in the back, which also serves quesadillas, tortas, and other variations of Mexican finger food. The tacos here find a nice middle ground between traditional and what we think of as Americanized, with the basic construction — doubled soft corn tortillas, traditional meats, onions and cilantro — embellished with shredded lettuce, a slice of tomato, and grated queso blanco. Mike's Express is a great place to get tacos to go, but you can also grab a Jarritos soda from the cold case and eat there, with two four-top tables and two four-seat bars surrounded by racks of snack foods and household goods. Two big tacos and a soda will set you back $5.50 before tax. This is what "fast food" should be. — CH
Mike's Express, 3874 Macon, 323-6927
Black Bean Taco at Evelyn & Olive
This taco should actually be called the Magical Savory Tofu & Black Bean Taco from Heaven. Because that's what it is. "Black Bean Taco" sounds a little boresville, but this Jamaican-style vegan taco is the furthest thing from dull. For starters, the crispy taco shell is extra-large, making it the perfect vessel for a hearty serving of its mouth-watering filling. That filling is made extra special by the addition of marinated, sautéed, crumbled tofu. The tofu has been frozen, thawed, and then cooked, lending it a meaty texture. It's combined with seasoned black beans and then topped with a tangy cabbage slaw. Atop the slaw is a sweet-and-savory kiwi salsa. All the flavors combined make for one tasty-as-hell, meat-free taco. If you're lucky, the oil from the tofu and beans will soak through the bottom of the taco shell as you're eating, creating a still-crispy but sinfully delicious last bite. The dish is served with Jamaican-style rice and peas for a little healthy balance. $7.95. — Bianca Phillips
Evelyn & Olive, 630 Madison, 748-5422
Doritos Locos Taco at Taco Bell
KFC may have trademarked "Finger Lickin' Good," but how else would anyone describe the crazy-good Doritos Locos Taco from Taco Bell? After just one bite, you'll have enough UT-orange crumbs left on your fingers for an afternoon snack. On the inside are your basic Taco Bell ingredients: beef, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, and sour cream. But Taco Bell said adios to its boring corn shells and packs all this into a crunchy Dorito shell. It's so special that it's even encased in a cardboard sleeve that encourages munchers to "celebrate the awesomeness." The craziest thing about this combo is: Why didn't anyone think of it before? And when will the Cool Ranch version hit Memphis? — Michael Finger
Goat Taco at La Guadalupana
One thing you're not going to get at a drive-through is a goat taco; another is a tongue taco. I tried one of each as take-home breakfast entrées from La Guadalupana. At $2 apiece, both were seriously meaty (shredded) and served in a soft taco shell with a minced green-and-onion filling. The experience was more like eating a wrap than a Norte Americano-style taco, and the sauces — I tried mild and spicy — were agreeably subtle. The décor of the place is no-nonsense formica-top, and, at breakfast time on Monday, service was quick and courteous — a pleasant surprise.
— Jackson Baker
La Guadalupana, 4818 Summer, 685-6857,
Chorizo Taco at El Palmar
El Palmar is well known for its authentic and hard-to-find menu items, so it was difficult to order strictly from the à la carte menu. The chorizo taco, in all its glory, was what I finally settled on — three of them to be exact.
El Palmar serves its chorizo in traditional Mexican fashion, using minced (not pulled) pork sausage and pork fat seasoned with chili pepper and salt. The chorizo is served in a corn tortilla and garnished with piles of onion and cilantro. I recommend using a fork, because trying to keep the mountain of chorizo, onion, and cilantro in the tiny taco shell quickly proved to be impossible.
Instead, the dish is served with multiple wedges of lime, which should be squeezed onto the taco to counter the dry texture of the meat. If you're feeling adventurous, spoon out both kinds of the homemade salsa onto the chorizo tacos. It's like an authentic way of "Going Bold" Del Taco style. Wash it all down with a modestly priced Pacifico and you've got a hell of meal, all for under $10.
— Chris Shaw
El Palmar, 4069 Summer, 323-0363
Fish Taco at
Las Tortugas Deli
The tacos come four to a plate, with avocado, shredded lettuce, marinated cucumber slices, salsa, chips, and a mildly hot guacamole on plastic trays. The price ranges from $10.95 for fish (red snapper or tilapia) and slow-roasted chicken to $18 for steak. Sounds like a lot of food, but the soft tacos are gone in three or four bites, so it's pricey. The selling point is that everything is homemade. The fish (looked and tasted like tilapia) comes in small filets, not in small pieces, like the chicken. It's a tasty enough meal for those with a modest appetite who find themselves close to Germantown. — John Branston
Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana, 1215 S. Germantown, 751-1200