WHEN I WAS A KID GROWING UP IN AUSTIN in the fifties and sixties, the regulation Texas taco was a single-sized, hard-fried corn tortilla shaped by machine into the form of a U. This was called a crispy taco. Filled with ground beef and topped with a confetti of chopped tomatoes, shredded iceberg lettuce, and grated yellow cheese, the thing was redolent of that exotic spice, McCormick’s taco seasoning. It could also be counted on to explode onto your shirtfront the instant you bit into it. Nostalgia aside, the image is seared into my memory like a bad dream.
Today, thanks to an influx of our neighbors to the South, Texas tacos are all over the map. They can be crispy or soft, fried in fat or heated on a griddle. They can be flat, folded, or even rolled, depending on who’s doing the cooking. They can be made with corn or flour tortillas, and they can be minuscule or monstrous. And the fillings—ohmigod. Basically anything that you can stuff or spoon in is fine and dandy: fajita meat, roast pork, steak, stewed chicken, sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, fried fish, shrimp, and avocado. And those are just the usual ones. If you screw your courage to the sticking place and visit some of the more authentic taquerías in our fair state, you can feast on cactus pad, octopus, tongue, tripe, and brains.
It has been two decades since Texas Monthly published “The Great Texas Taco Tour,” in April 1986. So it seemed like a good idea, not to mention high time, to do a follow-up. We began by assembling Team Taco, a foolhardy band of five food writers who agreed to turn themselves into human guinea pigs (or maybe just pigs) in the interest of culinary research. We combed this magazine’s stories and pestered friends, family, and random strangers for tips on favorite tacos. Then, list in hand, we each took one or more major cities (plus a few smaller ones in the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas) and hit the road.
Three months and 532 tacos later, we evaluated our results. Herewith are the best that Texas has to offer, ranked from 1 to 63. If you can’t find something on the list that makes your mouth water, you may have to face the ugly truth that you’re a closet tacophobe. But just as the U.S. census is more than a population tally, our list is more than a Baedeker. It is a testament to how Texas has changed. Exotic tacos that existed only in primarily Hispanic areas have spread far and wide, and those that were unheard of are now merely unusual. The iconic taco of my childhood has morphed into a savory multitude. A mere 170 years ago, Texas was part of Mexico. Today, if you believe your eyes, ears, and palate, it’s headed that way again.
Fuel City | Dallas
When friends carry on endlessly about driving at all hours of the day or night to eat at a combination convenience store, drive-through beer shop, and truck stop, we pay attention. Good thing, too, because the tacos at this joint are simply out of this world. Orders are placed at the taco-stand window at the northern end of the store, and whether you pull up at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m., you’ll find folks sitting in their cars, gobbling from little carryout boxes. Tops is the picadillo, ground beef with bits of potato seasoned with a dab of garlic and a lot of black pepper. It’s tucked into a double layer of small white-corn tortillas and topped with chopped onion and cilantro. A wedge of Mexican lime comes on the side. The tiny container of green chile salsa is both superfluous and irresistible. (It goes just as well on the amazingly tender beef fajita taco, another good option.) Sitting in the shadows of downtown among strip clubs and liquor stores, Fuel City isn’t in the prettiest part of Dallas, but the gorgeous bikini-clad chicas lounging beside the landscaped swimming pool behind the wrought-iron gates certainly add to the scenery. Funny, though: It doesn’t appear as if they’ve eaten many of these tacos. 801 S. Industrial Blvd., 214-426-0011. Open 24 hours.
Rosario’s | San Antonio
The cilantro-cabbage slaw, chipotle mayo, and sliced avocado are so good they would make a fine veggie taco all by themselves. But the fresh, lightly grilled tilapia sprinkled with grated jack cheese brings the creation full circle. Lime juice has obviously been applied too, giving a zing that raises this fish taco far above the norm. (The shrimp version, by the way, comes similarly garnished.) The finishing touch is a dollop of superlative table salsa made from charred jalapeños. The best time to visit this big, persimmon-hued storefront cafe is any time except for the boisterous lunch and dinner rush hours. Or fight fire with fire: Order a margarita and get a little boisterous yourself. 910 S. Alamo, 210-223-1806. Open Mon 11—3, Tue—Fri 11—10, Sat 11—11. Closed Sun.
100 Percent Taquito | Houston
Sure, it’s a gimmick—constructing a relatively authentic, full-size “taco trailer” inside an air-conditioned, upscale establishment. But it’s hard to argue with success, and 100 Percent Taquito has been 100 percent on target in appealing to an impressive range of patrons, from blue-collar types to pseudo-slumming yuppies. The accommodating menu, with its wealth of small, reasonably priced items, allows a frenzy of à la carte ordering. Chief among near equals is the taco de tinga, a deceptively simple serving of shredded brisket that has been cooked through and through with chi-potle peppers. A delicious burn builds slowly until your whole mouth is tinga-ling and an ice-cold Bohemia isn’t just a good idea, it’s salvation. 3245 Southwest Fwy. (U.S. 59), 713-665-2900. Open Sun—Thur 11—10, Fri & Sat 11—11.
4. Lamb Barbacoa
Sason Sabor Autentico | Dallas
A study in ultramodern design, done in black and white with splashes of muted lime green, Sason seems as though it would be more at home in Mexico City than in a revitalized section of Oak Cliff. Under the watchful gaze of Mayan icons in the stylized wall murals, you can feast on superb and unusual barbacoa tacos. Inside supple white-corn tortillas are tender shreds of lamb—cooked in a pit near the restaurant’s kitchen door—that melt upon hitting the tongue. You add finely chopped cilantro and fresh onion as you see fit, with perhaps a bit of either the guajillo chile or tomatillo salsa on the table. For a treat, have a tamarindo margarita alongside. 2716 W. Davis, 214-333-0700. Open Mon—Thur 11—10, Fri 11—midnight, Sat 8—midnight, Sun 8 —10.
5. Monterey Jack and Mushroom
Polvos | Austin
You tend to remember a dish that is so delicious it makes your eyes roll back in your head. There must be some secret synergy going on between the gooey melted cheese and the sautéed mushrooms, because the depth of flavor is phenomenal, especially if you order your taco with the restaurant’s handmade corn tortillas. Go at nonpeak hours to snag a seat among the funkadelic mishmash of multicolored sombreros on the wall, reproductions of Mayan statuary, and antiquated vinyl booths. And on your second visit, try one of the humongous meal-in-itself tacos from the menu’s second page, at the bottom. (Hint: Order your filling from the top list, your sauce from the lower list.) 2004 S. First, 512-441-5446. Open Sun—Thur 7—11, Fri & Sat 7—midnight.
6. Red Snapper
Café San Miguel | Dallas
Few things in Texas are more fun than a festive Mexican restaurant, and this one is cheery without resorting to clichés (meaning piñatas and serapes everywhere—not that there’s anything wrong with that). What’s especially appealing at chic but warmly welcoming Café San Miguel is that it has great style and serves divine food, starting with its tacos Pacífico. Swabbed in a Negra Modelo beer batter, the tidy planks of red snapper bear golden tempura-like jackets and are paired with pickled red onions, fine shreds of cabbage, and a tequila-infused crema. The finishing touch is an envelope of fresh house-made corn tortillas. No slouch either is the juicy pork al pastor marinated in an achiote blend and sided by a grilled pineapple slice. 1907 N. Henderson Ave., 214-370-9815. Open Mon—Thur 11—3 & 5—10, Fri & Sat 11—3 & 5—11, Sun 11—3.
Taquería Mexico | Houston
Since the first thing you see is an oversized, well-worn grill, you sense Taquería Mexico means business. A few deft passes of the spatula by the no-nonsense cook remove any doubt. The barbacoa tacos at this modest but amiable dining hall in a heavily ethnic stretch of southwest Houston are so popular that they often sell out. That’s okay, because the real prize is the taco de lengua: calf’s tongue. An acquired taste, tongue at its best has a rich, almost creamy texture (and a slightly liverish flavor). Instead of sprinkling on the usual accompaniment of cilantro and raw onion as a finishing touch, the cook tosses the garnishes on the grill with the lengua, where they all become the very best of friends. 6219 Bellaire, 713-271-0251. Open Sun—Thur 8—midnight, Fri & Sat 8 a.m.—3 a.m.
8. Carne Asada Gringa
Taquitos El Güero | San Antonio
Who says you need hundreds of thousands of dollars to open a restaurant? You can start one with a concrete slab, a canvas carport roof, some recycled fast-food tables, and a trailer. Taquitos El Güero, otherwise known as “that taco truck on Commerce,” has further spiffed itself up with banners and Christmas lights. In the tiny kitchen excellent basic tacos emerge from the griddle on either fine flour tortillas or mini corn tortillas. They are all juicy and appealing, but choose the carne asada gringa, translated loosely as “Americanized.” Filled with grilled beef that has been chopped and assertively seasoned, it’s capped with melted white cheese on a warm flour tortilla. A dollop of sour cream comes on the side. If the weather cooperates, there’s no more agreeable, and less pretentious, outdoor dining, as you watch the traffic zip by and listen to soulful Mexican ballads on the radio. 3016 W. Commerce, 210-431-5468. Open Tue—Thur 1—midnight, Fri & Sat 1—12:30. Closed Sun & Mon.
9. Pork al Pastor
Curra’s Grill | Austin
The cooked pork is sliced thin and heated on the griddle, like breakfast ham, so it has a little crispy thing going on. The homemade white- or red-corn tortilla is thick and soft. The requisite pineapple chunks have been warmed and lightly caramelized. Topping off the compelling creation is a judicious sprinkle of white onion and cilantro, with avocado-tomatillo salsa on the side. As you lift the marvel mouthward, savory juices from the meat and fruit mingle and start to run. Careful, or you’ll be mopping your shirt with paper napkins—not that the crowds at this converted convenience store would notice or care. They’re too busy catching the latest Austin band or film fest or discussing how South Congress is (1) so great or (2) so over. 614 E. Oltorf, 512-444-0012 (multiple locations). Open Sun—Thur 7—10, Fri & Sat 7—11.
10. Six-Pack Combo
Tacos Santa Cecilia and Ay Cocula | El Paso
These two places share the same owner and menu, but the locations couldn’t be more different. Santa Cecilia occupies a no-frills concrete building resembling a fifties burger joint inside and a fifties fallout shelter outside, while Ay Cocula is in a bright, spacious room painted red and yellow with a tiled bar. It’s virtually impossible to tell the food apart, though. “Six-packs” offer half a dozen mini-tacos in a choice of two meats: pastor (chile-spiked, smoky pork lightly charred on a rotating spit) and carbón (beef hinting of a soy sauce marinade and cooked, like the pork, over mesquite). They come on small, soft corn tortillas generously garnished with half an avocado, a radish or two, and grilled onions and jalapeños on the side. Tacos Santa Cecilia: 5500 El Paso Dr., 915-772-3435. Open Mon—Fri 8—10, Sat & Sun 7—11. Ay Cocula: 1435 Lee Trevino Dr., 915-593-3117. Open daily 7—11.
11. Chicken Campesinos
La Fogata | San Antonio
You must eat outside here, even in the winter, when they roll down the plastic sheeting, turn on the heaters, and convert summer’s open-air terraces into cozy cold-weather retreats. Mountain laurels and planters of ivy can seem almost exotic if mariachis are playing their hearts out for somebody’s birthday or anniversary. Given the upscale neighborhood, the tacos are appropriately gussied up, but it’s all that extra stuff that makes the tacos campesinos so good. The corn tortillas are crisped on the grill, spread with refried beans, then layered with well-seasoned chicken, white cheese, sour cream, and a little sprinkle of queso fresco. If you order a plate of three tacos, you also get a mix of cabbage, tomatoes, and avocado. Tuck them in too. The more the merrier. 2427 Vance Jackson, 210-340-1337. Open Mon—Thur 11—10, Fri 11—11, Sat 10—11, Sun 10—10.
12. Taco a la Ninfa
Ninfa’s | Houston
No, the late Ninfa Laurenzo did not invent the taco al carbón. But that widowed-mom-turned-restaurateur certainly helped put the south-of-the-border version of a roast beef sandwich on every Houston diner’s culinary Hit Parade. A Taco a la Ninfa is simplicity itself: just fajitas wrapped in a flour tortilla. But the meat is so smokily succulent and the house-made tortilla is so pillowy that enlivening the combination with a splash of the table salsas (ruddy red and the famous creamy green) or a dose of the perky tomatillo salsa or the molten queso that comes with Mama Ninfa’s signature dish can seem akin to putting ketchup on filet mignon. 2704 Navigation Blvd., 713-228-1175. Open Sun—Thur 11—10, Fri & Sat 11—11.
13. Pork al Pastor
Fonda San Miguel | Austin
At Fonda San Miguel an order of tacos al pastor brings more than mere food. It brings you service with old-fashioned courtesy and the chance to relax in a room that is rich with original art, handcrafted pottery, and the feel of an ancient Mexican hacienda. Each of your four excellent, medium-sized homemade corn tortillas is filled with finely chopped, crisply grilled pork and nuggets of pineapple. Take your first bite sans salsa to appreciate how perfectly matched the two ingredients are. Then spoon on the two sauces provided: a sassy green avocado-and-tomatillo and a silky tomato-and-arbol-chile concoction, just hot enough to get your attention. 2330 W. North Loop Blvd., 512-459-4121. Open Mon—Thur 5:30—9:30, Fri & Sat 5:30—10:30, Sun 11—2.
14. El Norteño
Taco Taco | San Antonio
“This place looks like Austin,” said a friend. Well, maybe an Austin diner circa 1950. The look is very Anglo (white walls, orange swivel chairs at the abbreviated counter, and tiles with a frilly floral design). But the menu is pure Mexican, and among the plethora of tacos, the biggest and best is the norteño. This behemoth boasts a homemade flour tortilla nearly the size of an individual pizza. Said tortilla is grilled to a toasty finish and stuffed within an inch of its life with thickly sliced, reasonably tender beef fajita meat (the chicken is almost as good). Then it’s piled even higher with a layer of refried beans plus sliced avocado and bell pepper and melted white cheese. You won’t need to eat again for three days. 145 E. Hildebrand, 210-822-9533. Open daily 7—2.
15. Beef Fajita
Las Manitas | Austin
No marinade, not too much black pepper (a real no-no), no nonsense. The flavor of the smoky, salty beef and the quality of the soft homemade corn tortilla (you have to request it) raise this elemental taco far above its brethren. It comes with a skimpy amount of pico de gallo, so request more. Of course, the most important factor in all of this unpretentious cafe’s dishes is the extremely large helping of Latin soul that goes into everything they do. You’ll feel it in the buzz of conversation, in the time-honored custom of trekking through the kitchen to get to the patio, in the ever-changing displays of local art on the walls, and in the reassuring presence of co-owners (and sisters) Cynthia and Lydia Perez. They rule. 211 Congress Ave., 512-472-9357. Open Mon—Fri 7—4, Sat & Sun 7—2:30.
16. Beef Fajita
Mi Tierra | San Antonio
No Mexican restaurant in Texas has taken the fiesta motif to the stratosphere like Mi Tierra; the dining room looks as though a thousand sparklers are all going off at once, as foil banners, twinkling Christmas lights, and columns festooned with teeny sombreros, piñatas, and serapes transport you to a Mexican fairyland. The pleasant surprise is that the food is far better than you would expect, given the hordes of tourists in and out all day. Best bet: the beef fajita taco, derived not from traditional skirt steak but a more pliable, less sinewy cut of meat (by the way, the kitchen butchers its own beef). Grilled and wrapped in a homemade flour tortilla, the meaty strips are best if ladled judiciously with the roasted-cascabel-chile sauce, arguably the best of four offered. 218 Produce Row, 210-225-1262. Open 24 hours.
17. Barbacoa Mexicana
Tijuana Bar & Grill | Dallas
This hip, sassy newcomer to the Uptown scene provides diners with a blast of Latin American cuisine. The tiny fried appetizer tacos are tempting, but hold out for the Tasty Latino Tacos list. The stunner from this group is the barbacoa mexicana, superfine shreds of tender roasted beef cradled by a double layer of delicate white-corn tortillas. On top there’s a scattering of chopped onion and cilantro and a few crumbles of queso fresco; you add a squeeze of lime and a spoonful of the warm roasted-jalapeño salsa from a ramekin on your platter. Fluffy white rice and Cuban-style black beans fill out the plate. Jamaica agua fresca (a refreshing drink made from flor de Jamaica, or hibiscus petals) is the ideal complement, but a frozen prickly pear margarita couldn’t hurt. 4900 McKinney Ave., 214-443-9293. Open Sun—Wed 10:30— midnight, Thur—Sat 10:30 a.m.—2 a.m.
18. Chicken and Guacamole
Tito’s | San Antonio
Here’s what you do: Order a shredded chicken taco and a guacamole taco with extra lime wedges on the side. When the tacos come, all bundled up in foil, unwrap them immediately so the superb homemade corn tortillas don’t get soggy. Then spritz the guac with mucho lime juice and salt. Divide the fillings in half and convert each single-ingredient taco into a chicken-and-guacamole taco. Why bother? Because the combination is masterful. The chicken is done right (stewed with onions and seasonings and shredded, not grilled and chopped), and the avocado is chunky and fresh, not squished out of a tube. Plus, Tito’s displays the work of local painters. It deserves your support. 955 S. Alamo, 210-212-8226. Open Mon—Fri 7—9, Sat 8—9, Sun 8—2.
19. Sirloin Steak
Taco Place | El Paso
Skip the buffet at this bright, bustling East Side diner and order off the menu or at the taco bar. And make sure to get the corn tortillas, which (unlike the flour) are made in-house and are almost buttery soft. There are ten varieties of fillings to choose from, but the juicy sirloin—marinated for 24 hours in seasoned chicken bouillon—is substantial and irresistible. Dressed with some guacamole, the grilled meat will melt in your mouth (add heat with pico de gallo). For a mega-protein rush, have the descado taco, a muy rico blend of sirloin, ham, and chorizo. 1515 N. Lee Trevino Dr., 915-599-8720. Open daily 8—9.
20. Pork Cubano
El Rey Taquería | Houston
The classic Cuban triad of black beans, plantains, and sour cream joins happily with Mexican tacos at El Rey, an unpolished but pleasing working-class cafe salvaged from a fast-food joint. In the taco cubano, those traditional beans and bananas share a soft flour tortilla with a selection of meat, including grilled chicken or beef, but the best choice is pork, available by request. Combine El Rey’s radioactive red salsa and puckering tomatillo sauce to bounce off the saccharine plantains, then observe it all magically take on a sweet-and-sour Asian character. It’s fusion cuisine at its least pretentious. 910 Shepherd Dr., 713-802-9145. Open Mon— Thur 7—9:30, Fri & Sat 7—10, Sun 8—4.
21. Pork al Pastor
Pepe & Mito’s Mexican Café | Dallas
Merrily chugging along in the barely gentrified neighborhood known as Deep Ellum, this collection of purple, turquoise, and red dining rooms supplies the ideal setting for watching a ball game on TV, knocking back a cold beer, or putting away bodacious taco platters. Best of the lot are the al pastor variety, which are two layers of tiny, tender yellow-corn tortillas topped with chunks of silken pork in a russet cascabel-chile-and-pineapple sauce; caramelized onions come along for the ride. Garnished with finely chopped onion and cilantro, the tacos reach near perfection when drizzled with a squeeze of fresh lime juice. 2911 Elm, 214-741-1901. Open Mon & Tue 11—3, Wed & Thur 11—10, Fri & Sat 11—11, Sun 11—5.
22. Shredded Chicken
Evita’s Botanitas | Austin
Aromatic with spices and seasonings, the pollo in this taco has the rich flavor you would expect in a full-bodied chicken soup. After being cooked, it’s shredded the way somebody’s mama would do it at home. Plus, the kitchen uses both juicy dark meat and white. All these things make a huge difference. In fact, this simple chicken taco is so good you hardly even need salsa. But you’ll still want at least one of the half a dozen varieties made fresh daily, like the tart tomatillo-and-cilantro. Along with this largesse, you get an idiosyncratic dining room with heroic Aztec murals, Mexican ballads on the radio, and furniture that looks as if it’s been reclaimed from a Chinese restaurant. That’s our South Austin. 6400 S. First, 512-441-2424. Open Mon, Wed, & Thur 9:30—9:30, Fri & Sat 9—10, Sun 9—8:30. Closed Tue.
23. Grilled Chicken
Poncho’s Mexico Nuevo Restaurant | Pharr
Great chicken tacos are hard to find because the meat’s mild flavor is so easily overwhelmed. Not so at Poncho’s. Here the pieces of fowl are sprinkled with black pepper, then grilled over flames until they turn juicy, smoky, barely charred, and bursting with flavor. Big hunks join onion, bell pepper, and tomato in an excellent flour tortilla; the chunky, frothy jalapeño salsa couldn’t be a better complement. Almost lost in a mostly abandoned shopping center, Poncho’s has several dining rooms with brick arches, Christmas lights, and abundant piñatas. Somehow, it’s not hokey. 808 N. Cage Blvd., 956-782-9991. Open daily 7—11.
24. Pork Asado Ballezano
Carnitas Querétaro | El Paso
This house of pork is perhaps El Paso’s finest local chain, and the ballezano, in myriad forms, is its forte. For tacos, the cubed meat simmers in a savory reddish-brown chile colorado, a stew or sauce made from red chile, onion, garlic, and oregano. This concoction yields a mild initial burn followed by a stronger and very satisfying afterburn that doesn’t stay long enough to wear out its welcome. As for sides, options include guacamole, rice, and beans. The cozy Mesa location, a tastefully remodeled commercial building, is the best of four outlets. 6516 N. Mesa, 915-584-9906. Open daily 8—9.
Taco Fish | El Paso
That’s right, pulpo (that’s octopus, friends), and don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. The slightly sweet white meat, something like a firmer calamari, is grilled and then chopped so its chewiness is easier to negotiate. Nestled in a corn tortilla, the small tubular pieces have a mild flavor that is boosted (not masked) by cilantro, onion, tomato, and jalapeño, and you can add house pico de gallo, red-chile sauce, or even ceviche. With its black-and-white-checked linoleum floors and orange walls covered with plastic fish and other nautical kitsch, this West Side strip-center cafe also boasts exemplary service. And where else in El Paso can you feel as if you’re near the beach? 7500 N. Mesa, 915-833-9061. Open Mon—Sat 10:30—9, Sun 11—6.
26. Cuadril Steak
La Duni | Dallas
One of Dallas’s more luxurious settings for tacos, La Duni also purveys carefully prepared dishes from all over Latin America. The highlight is a sublime cuadril steak, an Argentine cut of beef similar to hanger steak, seared in an iron pan, finished with chile-rich adobo butter, and served sliced atop fresh white-corn or flour tortillas. You add forkfuls of the accompanying garnish, made with slivers of radishes, cucumbers, red onions, serrano chiles, and tomatoes accented with cilantro, lime, oregano, and olive oil. Gild the lily by dabbing on some of the roasted-tomato salsa and the mashed avocado with lime and olive oil. Just don’t forget to have one of the divine mojitos too. 4264 Oak Lawn, 214-520-6888 (one other location). Open Mon—Thur 11—9:30, Fri 11—10:30, Sat 9—10:30, Sun 9—9:30.
27. Pork Adobado
Taco Tote | Laredo
Who ever dreamed fast food could be so tasty? This outlet of a Mexico-based chain sits on the northbound Interstate 35 access road, turning out tacos (on homemade tor-tillas, no less) and salsas that can match those of any full-scale restaurant. The grilled pork is complexly seasoned but not overly hot. It doesn’t really need any of the five available salsas, but if you add some of the smoky dark-reddish-brown tatemada (the word means, basically, “toasted”), the heat from roasted arbol chiles builds slowly until the whole thing explodes deliciously in your mouth. 5603 San Dario, 956-725-8382. Open Sun—Thur 7—midnight, Fri & Sat 7 a.m—3 a.m.
28. Chilaquiles Deluxe
Chacho’s | Houston
After a night of Richmond Strip revelry, party animals stagger into Chacho’s, a never-closes eatery that offers refuge from high prices and formality. While the atmosphere is often akin to feeding time at the zoo, the consistently high quality of the food from the assembly-line kitchen is remarkable. Among a disarming array of more than three dozen types of tacos, the Chilaquiles Deluxe is a standout, with scrambled eggs, chorizo, Monterey Jack, and salsa-soaked tortilla strips providing perfect consolation for the margarita impaired. The just plain hungry will worship them as well, particularly with the option to make them even more “deluxe” with embellishments from a bountiful salsa bar. 6006 Westheimer Rd., 713-975-9699. Open 24 hours.
29. Carne Picada con Huevos
H & H Car Wash and Coffee Shop | El Paso
Just-spicy-enough carne picada—beef tips stir-fried with onion, tomato, and jalapeño—is the filling of choice at good ol’ H & H, El Paso’s famous diner located in a car wash, so go with the flow. But H & H will also serve anything on its menu, with or without eggs, as a breakfast taco, which, in a town where (amazingly) breakfast tacos are as common as icebergs, is no small thing. The picada has emerged as a morning and a lunch favorite at the popular hangout, which jams a counter and tables into one tight space. Either way, you can’t go wrong, even if the flour tortillas are good but nothing special. 701 E. Yandell Dr., 915-533-1144. Open Mon—Sat 7—3. Closed Sun.
30. Sautéed Lobster
Mansion on Turtle Creek | Dallas
Chef Dean Fearing may have flown the coop to open his own place next year at the Ritz-Carlton, but the classy Mansion on Turtle Creek could never ditch the sumptuous lobster taco that he made famous in the eighties. Sweet lobster medallions are sautéed with olive oil and spinach leaves, topped with jalapeño jack cheese, and tucked into a soft flour tortilla. Savored one luxurious bite at a time—with yellow-tomato salsa and a jícama salad on the side, it epitomizes Southwestern cuisine in its elegant heyday, before the term became a synonym for throwing cilantro and jala-peños into every dish under the sun. 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-559-2100. Lunch Mon—Sat 11:30—2. Dinner Mon—Thur 6—10, Fri & Sat 6—10:30, Sun 6—9:30. Brunch Sun 11—2.
Taquería Pedrito’s | Dallas
The area along Fitzhugh between North Central Expressway (U.S. 75) and Ross, where Pedrito’s is located, can be a little dicey at night, but trust us, your palate will thank you. The biggest trouble you’ll have is making decisions. The sweet señoras working the cafeteria-style line are patient, and they’ll help you choose among carnitas, barbacoa, al pastor, pork in red chile, and tripe as well as the more familiar beef and chicken. Those are all fine and dandy, but they pale beside the lengua—calf’s tongue. Lushly tender, the chopped meat has an earthy flavor that is set off by the piquant combination of chopped onion, cilantro, and lime juice and coddled by small golden tortillas. A full bar is offered, and live ballet folklórico may be your entertainment. What’s more, you can pay in pesos if you like. 4910 Capitol Ave. at Fitzhugh Ave., 214-826-2940. Open Sun & Tue—Sat 8—midnight. Closed Mon.
32. Garlic Beef
Fuzzy’s Taco Shop | Fort Worth
Goofy name, incredible tacos. But, oh, how to choose? From the list of nine Baja-style tacos, available soft or crispy, do not hesitate to pick the shredded garlic beef. First baked, then stewed long and slow with garlic, the meat nestles inside fresh miniature corn tortillas with just a little lettuce and tomato, minced cilantro, garlic sauce, and a frosting of fine feta cheese. These are nice with a cold Shiner Bock, a popular brew at this tremendously casual hangout near Texas Christian University. Already tried the garlic beef? Go for the shrimp tempura in featherlight golden jackets. 2917 W. Berry, 817-924-7943. Open Mon—Wed 10:30—midnight, Thur 10:30—1 a.m., Fri 10:30—3 a.m., Sat 8 a.m.— 3 a.m., Sun 8—10.
Mia’s Tex Mex | Dallas
This humble but lively Tex-Mex eatery near the Uptown area is the mamacita of the phenomenally successful group that spawned Mi Cocina and Taco Diner. Here, for years, Ana Enriquez and her late husband, Butch, offered sumptuous brisket tacos off the menu before making them a regular entry. A slightly gringo-ized version of deshebrada tacos, these bad boys come with your choice of flour or corn tortillas and are stuffed with tender brisket, sautéed onion, and poblano-chile strips and sprinkled with grated jack cheese. A ramekin of brisket gravy comes on the side, but you can get crazy and add some of the really spicy tomato salsa too. 4322 Lemmon Ave., 214-526-1020. Open Mon—Thur & Sat 11—10, Fri 11—10:30. Closed Sun.
34. Tlaquepaque II Three-Meat Combo
Tacos Tlaquepaque | Laredo
This friendly taco haven, located far enough away from the tourist drags to be one of the locals’ better-kept secrets, takes its border town standing seriously. The building is painted the red, white, and green of the Mexican flag, while the inside is decorated with American-oriented red, white, and blue papel picado (cut-paper banners). The tacos—21 varieties at breakfast, 16 at lunch—come in humongous homemade flour tortillas and are served by enthusiastic waitresses with a dare-you-to-eat-it-all gleam in their eye. The Tlaquepaque II is a kitchen-sink affair stuffed with ample fajita meat, bacon, Polish sausage, onion, and bell pepper. Yes, you’ll want to eat it all. 115 W. Hillside Rd., 956-726-6173. Open Mon—Sat 7—4, Sun 8—3.
35. Acelgas y Papas
Hugo’s | Houston
While a decadent $6 lobster taquito initially grabs all the attention at this stylish Montrose-area Mexican restaurant, it is a far humbler offering that takes top honors. A down-to-earth duet of acelgas—Swiss chard—and diced potatoes is sautéed in olive oil with a hint of garlic. Just enough of the chard’s agreeably bitter taste remains to rub against the starchy sweetness of the papas. At an establishment where rabbit, octopus, duck, and goat are regularly served, how refreshing to be reminded that carnivores aren’t the only ones who can enjoy killer tacos. That Swiss chard happens to be high in vitamin A and low in calories makes the experience that much happier. 1600 Westheimer Rd., 713-524-7744. Open Sun—Thur 11—10, Fri & Sat 11—11.
36. Machacado and Egg a la Mexicana
Manuel’s | Port Isabel
Incredible flour tortillas are made in-house at this breakfast-and-lunch joint with scuffed concrete floors and a multitude of football pennants and Al Pacino Scarface posters covering the walls. Said tortillas, so big they hang over the plate, have a lusty flavor that is enhanced by the occasional blister from the grill. The shredded machacado, or dried beef, resembles jerky and has a salty taste and slightly chewy texture that blends beautifully with moist, fluffy scrambled eggs. A scattering of chopped tomato, onion, and jalapeño makes the taco a la mexicana. It’s a great way to begin a day at the beach, but give yourself a little extra time before going into the water. 313 E. Maxan, 956-943-1655. Open Tue—Sun 7—2. Closed Mon.
Berryhill Baja Grill | Houston
Most people think of tacos as delivery systems for beef, chicken, pork, goat, and such. But there’s no rule banning our finny friends from being the featured ingredient. To make its crown-jewel fish taco, Berryhill Baja Grill soaks plump morsels of farm-raised catfish in a chipotle marinade, grills them, and slides them into double-layered store-bought-but-top-quality white-corn tortillas, along with a Dijon mustard sauce, some pico de gallo, and a handful of shredded lettuce. Succulence, crunch, and not one but two kinds of zip: What more could you ask? 3407 Montrose Blvd., 713-523-8226. Open Mon—Thur 11—11, Fri 11—midnight, Sat 10—midnight, Sun 10—11.
38. Rolled Beef
Chico’s Tacos | El Paso
It’s not true that visitors to El Paso aren’t allowed to leave without eating at Chico’s. But the locals do have a way of bragging—and gorging—on the local mini-chain’s curiously flauta-like fast-food tacos. They’re fashioned of barely seasoned ground beef rolled up in corn tortillas. The tidy cylinders are then deep-fried and submerged in a thin red sauce that tastes of tomato and maybe a little chicken broth (it’s almost like canned tomato soup). Grated yellow cheese melts on top to create an irresistibly gooey mess. Doesn’t sound appetizing? Give ’em a chance and the durn things will grow on you; they’re cheap, comforting, filling, and mild enough for tykes and geezers alike. The Montwood location is the newest and most inviting. 11381 Montwood Dr., 915-849-8777 (multiple locations). Open Sun—Thur 9 a.m.—1:30 a.m., Fri & Sat 9—2:30.
El Rancho | Austin
Texas barbecue meets Mexican street food in El Rancho’s savory brisket tacos (talk about your fusion cuisine). The Angus beef is smoked over sweet, mild pecan wood, and the flour tortilla is homemade, not to mention generously filled. A sassy tomatillo sauce comes on the side, but it’s hardly needed (the shredded beef is plenty moist without it). The restaurant, with its proper service and dignified look, enlivened by folk art and terra-cotta pots, has been an Austin institution since 1952 and has a loyal following of Tex-Mex traditionalists. It’s the perfect place for taco lovers who might feel uncomfortable entering the world of taquerías, where English is, at best, a second language. 2613 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-462-9333. Open Sun, Mon, Wed, & Thur 11—10, Fri & Sat 11—11. Closed Tue.
40. Antiguo Puffy Taco
La Fonda del Angel | Corpus Christi
From 1945 to 2005, the now-defunct Old Mexico was a Tex-Mex cornerstone in Corpus Christi. New owner Jose Miranda changed the name but little else. The Antiguo is a variation on the classic puffy taco made not with a tortilla but with a similar, more doughy masa mixture that balloons into a multisided platform when deep-fried. Over and around that base drip lardy refried beans, chile con carne, and melted cheese, with a topping of jalapeño slices and raw onion. It’s every bit as heavy and messy as it sounds, and it’s a plate of Tex-Mex heaven. 3329 Leopard, 361-880-6755. Open Mon—Thur & Sat 11—7:30, Fri 11—9. Closed Sun.
41. Pork al Pastor
Taco Diner | Dallas
Clad in white and accented with bright colors and vintage Mexican movie posters, this sunny, contemporary cafe has grown to five locations since coming on the scene in 1998. We always return to the original University Park neighborhood store for the nine versions of tiny Mexico City-style tacos, and it’s the pork al pastor that really speaks to us. Bits of pork, marinated in an achiote-citrus blend, fit neatly into miniature golden corn tortillas. From a side dish we add sprinkles of chopped white onion and cilantro, a dab of sweet-hot jalapeño relish, and a squeeze of petite lime. The mango agua fresca is the perfect accompaniment. 4011 Villanova, 214-696-4944 (multiple locations). Open Sun—Thur 8—10, Fri & Sat 8—11.
42. Pork Tacos de Trompo
Costa Messa | McAllen
With its white tablecloths and display cases of pricey jewelry, this must be the most upscale Mexican restaurant in town. But at five to a plate (with rice and beans on the side), its taquitos are a bargain. Pork is marinated in a secret red sauce for about thirty minutes, then slow-roasted until tender and all but spurting with juice. The robust flavor goes best with the small but thick corn tortillas, but larger flour tortillas, also handmade, are offered as well (they come three to an order). While there’s nothing wrong with the salsas, the meat is so moist and tasty that it’s better without them. 1621 N. Eleventh, 956-618-5449. Open Sun—Thur 11—10, Fri & Sat 11—11.
43. Chorizo and Jalapeños
El Pato Mexican Food | McAllen
Quite simply, eating at Pato’s is a McAllen rite of passage. The menu board on the wall of this comfort-food haven lists eighteen taco fillings. Choose two and specify corn or flour tortillas, both homemade. Whatever stuffing you order will be state-of-the-art Tex-Mex fast food: nothing fancy, but fresh, substantial, and seasoned to please all palates (a Pato’s taco also satisfies your minimum daily requirement of grease). One superb pairing is chorizo and jalapeños. The chain has fourteen Valley locations, including four in McAllen, ranging from drab holes-in-the-wall to this spiffy, family-oriented restaurant. 3019 N. Tenth, 956-682-1576 (multiple locations). Open Mon—Sat 6:30 a.m.—10 p.m., Sun 8—10.
44. Pork Carboncito
Los Carboncitos | Laredo
One of several Nuevo Laredo restaurants to open Laredo branches in recent years because violence has made Americans afraid to cross the border, Los Carboncitos is nondescript except for the standard-issue mural of a Mexican pueblo covering one wall. The food’s another story. There are many dishes to choose from, but the namesake taco leads the pack. Diced pork, Mexican white cheese, and a pineapple slice are stuffed into a mini-tortilla and topped with chopped cilantro and onion. The taste and texture are extravagant, but to make this taco sublime, squeeze on a little lime juice. Indulging in one of these tacos becomes the culinary equivalent of lying on a tropical Mexican beach. 4610 San Bernardo Ave., 956-723-7111. Open Sun—Thur 11—11, Fri & Sat 11—midnight.
45. Beef al Carbón
Lupe Tortilla | Houston
Anything but adults-only food, tacos are popular with children because, for one thing, they can eat them with their hands and not get yelled at by their parents. Lupe Tortilla is especially kid friendly because of the playground-worthy sandbox, where, like grown-ups camped at the bar, energetic wee ones can happily wait for their party to arrive. Inside the restaurant, the tacos al carbón tastily unite the generations. Harboring moist, smoky strips of charbroiled fajita meat, the ten-inch-diameter tortillas are bent like parentheses to frame the dish’s classic accompaniments—“Spanish” rice and fixin’s, plus exemplary refried beans. 2414 Southwest Fwy. (U.S. 59), 713-522-4420 (multiple locations). Open Sun—Thur 11—9, Fri & Sat 11—10.
46. Steak Milanesa
Taquitos Ravi Restaurant | Laredo
Here’s a nowhar-else-but-Laredo treat, a sort of chicken-fried-steak taco with chunks of moist round steak encased in a golden, greaseless batter. Served in a house-made flour tortilla with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and sour cream, it’s an unlikely mix of light and heavy, plus mushy and crunchy, but the contrasting flavors and textures coexist surprisingly well. Ravi began in Nuevo Laredo but expanded to this downtown Laredo outlet, which is nearly always full, about a decade ago (and another at the north end of town recently). Colorful Mexican mobiles hanging from the ceiling brighten the room considerably. 2919 San Bernardo Ave., 956-728-7473 (one other location). Open daily 11—11.
47. Roasted Pork
Tin Star | Dallas
Tin Star made a big splash in Dallas when it opened in 1999, and seven years later this near-downtown joint with giant windows and high bar stools continues to be a good place for a quick lunch or an easy dinner after a grueling workday, serious soccer game, or killer yoga class. From a combo lunch-dinner list of fourteen tacos, we find the roasted pork hard to beat. Wrapped inside warm, freshly grilled flour tortillas, the supple shredded meat mingles with a red onion-jalapeño mixture, grated jack cheese, chopped cilantro, and sliced radishes to achieve a sensational balance between tart and soothing. If you like, spoon on some of the accompanying pico de gallo made with corn and sweet, spicy Peppadew pickled peppers. 2626 Howell, 214-999-0059. Open Mon—Sat 8—9, Sun 9—8.
Tacolare | Laredo
In Mexico bistek translates as “beefsteak.” Down Laredo way, the word generally means brisket that has been machine-sliced thin as deli meat, then grilled and chopped up into tiny pieces. Kate is the last syllable of aguacate, or “avocado.” Put them together and you have a punny name for a seriously good taco. The beef is lusciously juicy and tender, enriched with just a bit of a special, barbecue-like sauce, and it mixes wonderfully with the soft, creamy texture and flavor of the avocado slices. Get your bistekate tacos on the house-made flour tortillas at this spacious, cheery family restaurant that serves almost, but not quite, fast food. 6102 McPherson Ave., 956-753-0116 (one other location). Open Mon—Sat 11—11. Closed Sun.
49. Cochinita Pibil
Otilia’s | Houston
Cochinita pibil is certainly impressive tucked into a banana leaf as an entrée, but at Otilia’s the Yucatecan version of steamy, slow-roasted pork is equally inspiring as a taco. Transcending its origins as an A-frame Whataburger outlet, this longtime shrine for devotees of “real” Mexican food routinely does everything well and some things, like the taco cochinita pibil, memorably. The shredded meat nestles alongside pickled red onions and jalapeño slivers, with a mild but aromatic achiote sauce drenching both the contents and the rolled corn tortilla. Fastidious diners will use a fork, but the rest realize that for something this scrumptious, it’s worth making a mess. 7710 Long Point Rd., 713-681-7203. Open Tue—Thur 11—9, Fri & Sat 11—10, Sun 11—3. Closed Mon.
Tacos Don Miguel | Fort Worth
After only one bite of the barbacoa taco at this tiny taco shack near Texas Wesleyan University, you’ll understand. Braised and diced, the beef has just enough fat to yield rich flavor and lush texture. Topped with the requisite chopped onion and cilantro and wrapped by two small, soft white-corn tortillas, these tacos are even better with a drizzling of fresh lime juice and some hot red-chile table salsa. Enjoy them at one of the restaurant’s seven tables, amid soccer on TV and sparkling party decorations suspended from the ceiling. 3817 E. Rosedale, 817-531-0806. Open daily 10—10.
51. Steak Fajita
Primo’s Bar & Grille | Dallas
You could get dizzy trying to figure out which of the myriad taco selections to try at this hot-as-ever Tex-Mex hangout in Uptown (and favorite of überchef Dean Fearing). No matter. Just go straight to the tacos camperos and sweetly ask the server to bring you an assortment of four—but be sure the steak fajita is one. White-corn tortillas, hot from the griddle, are piled with cubes of satiny-smooth marinated steak, to which you should add chopped white onion, fresh jalapeño, and cilantro, along with a fat slice of avocado and a splash of the fiery tomato salsa from the table. Enjoy these on the patio or take a table in one of the rooms in this century-old building with its creaky wooden floors and tin ceilings. 3309 Mc-Kinney Ave., 214-220-0510. Open Mon—Sat 11 a.m.—2 a.m., Sun 11—1.
52. Cowboy Taco
Tacodeli | Austin
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Words like “cowboy” and “deli” do not lead you to expect Mexican purity. But purity is not what this tiny place is about. Tacodeli is about tailoring tacos for the mostly Anglo apartment and condo dwellers in the neighborhood. And in the course of doing that, it has created an impressive menu with traditional crossover choices. Take, for instance, the Cowboy Taco: chunks of tenderloin scattered with grilled corn, caramelized onion, queso fresco, and a dab of guacamole (ask for extra guac, plus a knife and fork). Just don’t expect any atmosphere beyond black-vinyl bar stools, concrete floors, and a lone piñata. Still, it’s all agreeable. Order at the cash register and grab a seat at the short counter that looks out on the small tree-shaded patio. 1500 Spyglass Dr., 512-732-0303 (one other location). Open Mon— Fri 7—3, Sat & Sun 8—3.
53. Beef al Carbón
Bocados | Houston
Operating out of a spiffily converted Montrose-area house with hardwood floors, ivy-colored windows, and lemon, avocado, and blueberry walls, Bocados could pass for a classy European bistro. But authentic Mexican tacos al carbón are sold here, and you have to ask for them, because they’re not on the menu. Enhanced by memorably smoky refried beans, they feature tortillas whose imperfect circularity proves they were shaped by human hands, not by a machine. A shot of the chunky, gazpacho-flavored table salsa further moistens slightly caramelized fajitas cut up small but big on flavor. They validate the restaurant’s name, which means “mouthfuls” or “morsels.” Perfect. 1312 W. Alabama, 713-523-5230. Lunch Tue—Fri 11—2:30. Dinner Tue, Wed, Fri, & Sat 5—10, Thur 5—9. Closed Sun & Mon.
54. Pork al Pastor
Beto’s Comida Latina | San Antonio
On any given day, you might find yourself vacillating between the Karla (fried fish with a superlative poblano-yogurt sauce and cilantro-spiked coleslaw) and the pastor, but go for the pastor. Unlike most versions, it’s decidedly juicy and dyed a brilliant red from achiote. The kitchen wisely cuts the pork and raw onion into small pieces, the better to soak up lots of flavor from the seasonings. Add to those basics the excellent homemade corn tortillas and some pineapple pico and you have an eminently satisfying light lunch (it comes with a side salad). The simple, brightly painted counter-service spot doesn’t invite lingering, but that’s not why you order a taco in the first place. 8142 Broadway, 210-930-9393. Open Sun—Thur 11—9, Fri & Sat 11—10.
55. Steak Street Tacos
Blue Mesa Grill | Fort Worth
Known for Southwestern dishes, the hacienda-like, Santa Fe-inspired Blue Mesa also offers Street Tacos in a nod to traditional Mexican village fare. Three varieties—grilled steak, chicken, and shrimp—top a pair of tiny, light white-corn tortillas. All deserve applause, but the small chunks of tender medium-rare steak are superb. Add the usual onion and cilantro, a bit of jícama slaw, and a small spoonful of sweet jalapeño relish and slowly savor each bite. 1600 S. University Dr., 817-332-6372. Open Mon—Thur 11—10, Fri & Sat 11—11, Sun 10—10.
Mexcellente Texas Grande Tacos | Austin
Where you gonna go when taco cravings strike at three in the morning? To the yellow-and-red taco truck at Congress Avenue and Fourth. Actually, you should get there before two, because that’s when the bars close and the ravening mob of barhoppers and pedicab drivers starts lining up. Choose the steak option (though the others are good too), and when the friendly man asks, “Do you want everything on it?” answer yes. The foil-clad monster that’s passed through the window will contain strips of grilled sirloin, rice, whole pintos, guacamole, queso fresco, and your choice of sauce (roasted green tomatillo, which is great, or spicy red tomato). Oh, and they make their own flour tortillas. Congress Ave. and Fourth, 512-789-7524 or 512-779-0654. Open Thur—Sat 9 p.m.— 4 a.m. Closed Sun—Wed.
57. Lucas-Style Beef Brisket
Rio Mambo | Fort Worth
If some dishes seem familiar at this popular, artfully contemporary cafe in the southwest section of town, that’s because it’s an independent spin-off of the Mi Cocina operation. And one of the best borrowed ideas morphed into the grilled brisket Lucas-style tacos. Inside large flour tortillas, browned at the edges, the supple ribbons of beef mix irresistibly with thin strips of roasted poblano chile and grilled onion, melted jack cheese, and crumbles of spicy chorizo. You don’t really need the slices of fresh avocado on the side, but go ahead—they’re worth every gluttonous bite, which will probably require a knife and fork. A glass of the house-made sangria pairs nicely. Cityview Center, Bryant Irvin Rd. at SW Loop 820, 817-423-3124. Open Sun—Thur 11—9:30, Fri & Sat 11—10:30.
El Milagrito | San Antonio
The corner of East Woodlawn and St. Mary’s has been occupied by El Milagrito since 1969, an eternity in restaurant years. Regulars enjoy the plain wooden deck out front, but more often than not you’ll end up inside, where a few pictures of Mexican soccer players and revolutionaries enliven the basic yellow room. The thing to get here is the barbacoa (the rich meat from the cow’s head), which puts others to shame. Why? Because it is devoid of grease and that odd, slightly funky barbacoa taste. Instead, the fat is pressed out after the meat is cooked, and nice, succulent pieces are piled onto your choice of tortilla (the regular-sized ones are homemade, but not the minis). Little plastic cups of raw onion and cilantro come alongside. Actually, it’s better to get the mini version because it has a bonus of fresh avocado slices—mash ’em up and spread ’em on; they add a lot. 521 E. Woodlawn Ave., 210-737-8646. Open Mon—Fri 6 a.m.—3 p.m., Sat & Sun 7—3.
59. Blackened Catfish
J&J Oyster Bar | Fort Worth
Known far and wide for its platters of shrimp, crawfish, and oysters, this come-as-you-are Cultural District hangout now has a new menu favorite, which was originally just a staff meal. Cloaked in blackening spices, domino-size pieces of juicy catfish are grilled and piled into soft, warm white-corn tortillas with kicky pico de gallo and slices of avocado for a thrilling taste rush. With a giant icy-cold schooner of beer, you’ll find nirvana. Sit on the hopping patio in nice weather or hope for one of the booths or tables in the small, busy interior the rest of the time. 612 N. University Dr., 817-335-2756. Open Sun—Thur 11—10, Fri & Sat 11—11.
60. Pork in Green Sauce
Benito’s | Fort Worth
Regulars traipse to this Fairmount neighborhood landmark for interior Mexican dishes like the Oaxacan-style tamale, but the tacos at Benito’s exert a powerful pull too. While the fried deshebrada version is heavenly, few things can beat the pure pleasure of that first bite into the simple and flawless tacos de puerco en salsa verde. Pieces of tender pork, just crisp at the edges and easily shredded, cuddle with chopped white onion, minced cilantro, and a searing green salsa mellowed with a bit of tomatillo inside soft corn tortillas. They go well with black beans on the side, along with a cold Tecate and lime. Everyone’s made to feel welcome inside the serape-strewn rooms. 1450 W. Magnolia Ave., 817-332-8633. Open Mon—Thur 11—9, Fri 11 a.m.—2 a.m., Sat 10 a.m.— 2 a.m., Sun 10—9.
61. Lamb Barbacoa
Tacos a Go-Go | Houston
A giant bust of Carmen Miranda with orange-slice earrings and a pineapple and bananas on her head perches over the door. Inside, you can ogle a mural featuring a devil-horned and -tailed bathing beauty from the Mexican movie Qué lindo cha cha cha. The name and whimsical decor might suggest that Tacos a Go-Go is not serious about its wares. But this cantina-like Midtown storefront takes the trouble to stock Mexican sodas and beers, and its barbacoa taco—a heaping helping of luscious shredded lamb topped with lettuce and diced tomatoes—is some mighty serious eating. 3704 Main, 713-807-8226. Open Mon—Thur 9—10, Fri & Sat 9 a.m.—2 a.m., Sun 9—3 p.m.
62. Fried Oyster
Acenar | San Antonio
This is not your papacito’s taquería. That quaint and picturesque place does not exist within these mod magenta and saffron walls. Acenar is hip and hyped up on hypnotic music. Come here for tacos re-invented for a modern sensibility, specifically for the oyster taco on a homemade corn tortilla. Fluffy, peppery, and salty, these perfectly fried oysters are rolled up with generous amounts of jalapeño-honey mayo, charred pineapple bits, and (don’t roll your eyes) microgreens. Just order a cerveza, get a table by the window so you can watch the palm trees on the River Walk whip in the wind, and think about how the times, they are a-changin’. 146 E. Houston, 210-222-2362. Open Mon—Thur 11—10, Fri & Sat 11—11, Sun 5—9.
Laredo Taquería | Houston
The porcupine of the plant kingdom, prickly pear cactus is associated more with cartoon humor than with cooking, in yanqui minds, at least. It’s something people fall into backward, not eat for dinner. But the nopales taco at this funky working-class taquería explains why Mexicans have been eating cactus pads forever. Spooned from the steam table into house-made tortillas, the fleshily tender, spicily sour strips of Opuntia ficus-indica combine the flavors and colors of green pepper, string bean, and asparagus. Sparked with tomato and onion, they make a satisfying alternative to meat fillings or a tasty lagniappe on a chicken-and-squash taco. A schmear of beans is free, as is coffee on Mondays when the Texans win. 915 Snover at Washington Ave., 713-861-7279. Open daily 6 a.m.—9 p.m.