In the season finale of the Netflix series Master of None, Aziz Ansari’s character, Dev, is faced with two major dilemmas—first, how to salvage his relationship with his girlfriend, and second, where to find the best tacos in New York City. His frenetic, multi-tab Google spree is not only a reminder of our current priorities, but also our obsessive—if not at times, rocky—relationship with tacos here in America.

“Mexicans have been putting stuff in a tortilla, pinching it, and then eating it for thousands of years,” says Gustavo Arellano, author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. But the taco didn’t formally seep into the American consciousness until after WWII, when veterans looking for opportunities to make money coincided with the rise of restaurant chains. That’s the scene Glen Bell, of Taco Bell fame, entered in San Bernadino, CA, deciding he’d focus on a hardshell-and-ground-beef combo after watching the McDonald’s brothers’ financial success soar from their hamburger operation.

“Glen would sit in the parking lot and seethe,” says Arellano. “He was very jealous.”

“My hat is always off to the pioneers. It’s easy to hate on [places like] Taco Bell, but they whetted the palate for americans to try new food.”

The 1950s also introduced the DIY taco kit, courtesy of George Ashley from El Paso, TX, who is credited as the inventor of tortillas in a can (#staywoke). The kit included a metal taco shell scaffold along with an instructional pamphlet, making it easy for housewives across the country to whip them up for Sunday supper.

“My hat is always off to the pioneers,” says Arellano. “It’s easy to hate on [places like] Taco Bell, but they whetted the palate for Americans to try new food.”

As the taco became a part of the American vernacular, Glen Bell’s chain spawned derivatives like Del Taco, and eventually fast-casual operations like El Torito, setting the stage for the second phase of its cycle: the soft taco. “Technically that’s what it is, but no one calls it that,” says Arellano. Their emergence in the ’70s can largely be attributed to legendary SoCal chain, King Taco, which “basically created the taco truck as we know it,” says Arellano. “No one believed people would eat them from the truck format, but the King Taco founder knew something others didn’t. From there, everyone started copying him.”

This opened the floodgates for pioneers like Roy Choi, who helped popularize the multicultural taco and bring Kogi to the mainstream. “Now we’re in the era of Chicano chefs like Wes Avila who have the culinary training to create artisanal tacos,” says Arellano. As the Chipotle E. coli scandal continues to compromise the burrito’s seemingly untouchable status in America—”it’s the Altamont of burrito culture,” says Arellano, equating it to the violent 1969 Northern California concert that ended the blissed-out hippie era—the void is wide open for the taco to inch its way up the ladder. “The taco is getting its proper respect right now,” says Arellano.

To celebrate this moment in time, we’ve tapped a handful of authors, writers, taco bloggers, and even a couple of globe-trotting deejays to provide some intel on the scope of tacos here in the U.S. (And, yes, pardon the heavy West Coast coverage; it is, after all, the spiritual home of domestic tacos in many respects.)

  • John Birdsall, Oakland-based food writer (@john_birdsall)
  • Regan Hofmann, food writer, contributor at Punch (@regan_hofmann)
  • Scarlett Lindeman, writer and recipe editor (@itsmescar)
  • Armando Rayo, taco journalist, author of Austin Breakfast Tacos and Tacos of Texas (@elmundodemando)
  • José R. Ralat, founder of Taco Trail, food editor at Cowboys & Indians (@tacotrail)
  • Jordana Rothman, food and drink writer, co-author of Tacos: Recipes and Provocations (@jordanarothman)
  • Rebecca Flint Marx, senior editor at San Francisco Magazine (@ediblecomplex)
  • Erin Mosbaugh, news editor at First We Feast (@jayblague)
  • Corey Cova, chef at Lord Hamm’s and New Leaf (@coreycova)
  • Gabriel Carbajal, L.A.-based food writer (@el_dragon_tragon)
  • L.A. Taco, food, culture, and taco lifestyle blog (@lataco)
  • Edmund Tijerina, restaurant critic at the San Antonio Express-News (@etij)
  • A-Trak, d.j., founder of Fool’s Gold (@atrak)
  • Neil Armstrong, d.j. (@djneilarmstrong)
  • Matthew Dekneef, writer at Hawaii Magazine (@mattdknf)

Suadero Taco at El

Address and phone: 4610 International Blvd, Oakland, CA
Website: N/A

birdsallBirdsall says: “The thing about food in a place like Oakland’s Fruitvale, where families with roots in Mexico have settled for more than a generation, is that it’s reflected pueblo culture, mostly: life in the small towns and ranchos of Jalisco or Michoacán, where the birrias and menudos suggest the quietness—sometimes the diffidence—of pastoral home life. El, with a fake-web name that gestures at contemporary life, is an urban shitshow in the best way possible. No other place I know in Oakland has El Paisa’s surge and flow, the hustle of taquerías in Mexico City. At midday you file through the aisle-thin space of this long-ago burger stand, tell the lady who doesn’t have patience for your bullshit how many tacos you want, pay, and then inch to the taqueros, chopping meat on boards through windows like ravaged DMV counters. The cabeza—beef cheeks, primarily—is sweet in that concentration-of-protein way, and the lengua’s good, but what you really want is suadero, that muscle from the belly region of the cow—an emblematic cut at street taquerias in DF—which isn’t so much tender as it is smoothly grained and pale, like organ meat. El Paisa’s tacos express the perfectibility of food on a small scale, in a culture that respects it. But hey, this is East Oakland! You’ll hunch at a table along with queer Latinas with facial piercing jewelry and big Asian guys who look like club bouncers. The Fruitvale families smart enough to grab the good seats before they got in line: They’re just focused on the tacos.” (Photo courtesy John Birdsall)

Carnitas Taco at Carnitas Uruapan

Address and phone:
 1725 W 18th St, Chicago, IL (312-226-2654)

reganhofmannHofmann says: “There is no mystery to what Carnitas Uruapan is all about. You walk in under a pig-adorned awning to a small, cafeteria-style dining room teeming with pigs: cartoon pigs, carved wooden pigs, ceramic pig figurines. There is only one thing to order, and of course it is pig—carnitas, pork that’s flash-fried then braised in more fat until it’s reduced to gleaming, shuddering hunks of meat, ready to fall apart at the touch of a knife. Order at the counter, where slabs of lean meat, rib, belly, stomach (buche), and skin are rough-chopped in whatever mix-and-match combination you like (get a little bit of everything for a textural thrill), piled onto obscenely fresh, corn-perfumed tortillas, or weighed out by the pound. Maybe add a chunk of one of the great sheets of chicharron that sit in the window—you know, for a snack—but don’t look for superfluous onions or cilantro; there’s salsa and pickled jalapenos, but they’re just a distraction. The inspirational mottos on the wall and cartoon-adorned menus may not look the part, but the 40-year-old Carnitas Uruapan may be the closest thing we have to the dining temples of Japan, where dedicated practitioners of kitchen zen spend lifetimes making the same dish, the unattainable pursuit of perfection their only goal.” (Photo: Yelp/Anthony M.)

Brisket Taco at Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ


Address and phone: 7612 Brodie Ln, Austin, TX (512-221-4248)

mandoRayo says: There are two food groups in Texas: Barbecue and Tacos, and you can get the best of both worlds when you eat at Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. In Central Texas, we have plenty of choices for slow-cooked meats, but none push the envelope like Miguel Vidal’s San Antonio and Austin mash-up cuisine. Although he operates out of Austin, Vidal is a San Antonio native with strong ties to its culinary traditions. On weekends, his father would smoke and grill las carnes while his mom and tias would make fresh tortillas, salsas, guacamole, rice, and beans. That’s what makes Valentina’s tacos so special—it’s a mix and true representation of Tejas. The Smoked Brisket Taco is probably one of the best tacos in the Lonestar state—smoked brisket on mesquite with guacamole, sea salt, and serrano salsa on a freshly pressed flour tortilla. If you cruise by at 2am or 2pm, you’ll see Miguel and his team cooking up some of the best barbecue and tacos in Texas. Now that’s what I call a one-two punch.” (Photo courtesy Armando Rayo)

Poke Poi Taco at Surf N Turf Tacos

Address and phone:
2310 Kuhio Ave, Honolulu, HI (808-922-8226)
Website: N/A

dekneefDekneef says: “One of my favorite things about eating in Hawaii is how a typical meal can incorporate five cultures on a single plate, and nobody bats an eyelash. Unsurprisingly, a taco exists in Waikiki that reflects this: the ahi poke tacos on a poi tortilla at Surf N Turf Tacos. Thick slices of fresh tuna are drenched in a smoky chipotle sauce and sit atop a chewy purple taro vessel. Taro, or kalo in Hawaiian, is a root vegetable, one of the few plants the earliest Hawaiian settlers brought over in their canoes and cultivated as a staple. Among locals, Hawaii is notorious for its limited selection of Mexican food (what we’d call one of those special #hawaiiproblems), and of the handful that are open for business, the topic of authenticity always gets dragged into the conversation. Now that I’m back in Hawaii after having spent four years living in L.A., I’m not necessarily interested in looking for something that attempts to fit in with what you could find in the holy land of 2am taco trucks. Instead, what I get is a taco completely unique to the region, that can be walked to after an afternoon at the beach—and that’s ‘real’ enough for me.” (Photo: Yelp/Shryia P.)

Puffy Taco at Ray’s Drive Inn

Address and phone:
822 SW 19th St, San Antonio, TX (210-432-7171)

joseRalat says: “There is no greater regional Texas taco than the San Antonio puffy taco. Little known outside of the Lone Star State, the puffy taco is made from raw corn masa formed into a U-shape during deep-frying. If cooked perfectly, the shell’s exterior will be light and snappy, with some flaking; the shell’s interior will be chewy but not tough. None of it will be greasy. In that sense, it is a marvel of Tex-Mex alchemy. My favorite is filled with the classic spiced ground beef mixture known as picadillo, topped with the Tex-Mex trinity of lettuce, tomato and cheese, served at Ray’s Drive Inn in San Antonio. Ray’s (which even holds the trademark for the name) is where the puffy taco was standardized after opening in 1956, and where brother Henry learned the craft before opening his own place. Arturo, another brother, started his own namesake restaurant in Whittier, California, and eventually came to run Ray’s as well. Arturo himself died last year, but the Lopez legacy lives on. I know one thing: when the end is near, I want my last taco to be from Ray’s.” (Photo: Yelp/Steve C.)

Tacos Arabes at Ricos Tacos

Address and phone:
 505 51st St, Brooklyn, NY (718-633-4816)
Website: N/A

jordanaRothman says: “If someone ever wrote a song about me, it would be a mariachi ballad about a strange blonde gringa, a remorseless taco-eating machine, who stalks the Mexican cafes of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. It would be called, ‘Is She Going to Eat All Of That Herself?’ and the chorus would be, ‘sí, obviously, now look away.’ Anyhow, all of this is to say that I have a certain level of comfort with the taquerías of deep Brooklyn, and each spot has its own quirks and merits. But the tacos Arabes at Ricos Tacos are the real death-row order. The pork is cooked al pastor—on a vertical spit that rotates in front of a gas flame—so the shaved meat has a great char-to-moist ratio. The al pastor method itself evolved from the traditions of Mexico’s Lebanese immigrant population (you get one guess at the translation of “Arabes”). This style of taco is often served on a corn tortilla, as at Alex Stupak’s Empellón Al Pastor, but the gang at Ricos goes a step further to honor the dish’s Middle Eastern lineage: The tacos Arabes are served rolled up in a blistered, pita-like flatbread that is the perfect stretchy and supple cradle for the spicy, crispy meat.” (Photos: Doron Gild, Yelp/Kenny C.)

Guisado Taco at Guisado’s

Address and phone: 1261 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA (213-250-7600)

marxMarx says: “Going to a taquería and falling in love with a tortilla is a little like getting a present and falling in love with the box, but such is the greatness of the tortillas that one finds at Guisado’s. Fresh, thick, fluffy, and expertly griddled, they’re so sublime that I could easily eat a stack of them on their own, with no adornment save for perhaps a knob of butter. Having said all that, the rest of Guisados’ tacos are pretty amazing, too. Though they specialize in stewed meats—the cochinita pibil is legendary—I’m partial to their fish tacos, which come grilled instead of battered and fried, and the hongos, or mushrooms, which come with a generous scattering of cilantro. The first time I went to the Guisado’s on Sunset Blvd there was a line, which made me grumpy, but really, once you sit down on the back patio and are presented with a plastic tray covered in hot tacos, there is absolutely no way to stay that way—it’s like watching the sun cast its rays on a field of unicorns and puppies.” (Photo: Erin Mosbaugh)

Ground Beef Taco at Jimboy’s Tacos

Address and phone: 1420 29th St, Sacramento, CA (916-452-6451)

covaCova says: “There’s a lot to be said for boundary-pushing, thought-provoking tacos. It seems nowadays every chef has some take on them. However, in light of this Instagram-ready era of food, I submit to you the regional delicacy of Jimboy’s Tacos, a fast-food taco-slinging institution that’s been around for 60 years. These tacos are ugly and unapologetically inauthentic. The classic Jimboy’s taco is simply a fried corn tortilla that’s coated with a generic Parmesan cheese on the outside, and filled with a dirty seasoned ground beef layer, topped with shredded cheddar cheese and lettuce.

In fact, I propose the reason this chain has never really spread much farther than Sacramento and Reno is because of its rough appearance, silly name that doesn’t have the word taqueria, and use of brown tables, which sound the alarms for most people not-in-the-know. But, in my mind, this may be the most American taco we have. As their website boasts, “By blending subtle flavors from several cultures and applying them in a marketable way, Jim introduced a taco that explodes with character and stands apart from any other taco on the market.” Even if it’s untraditional in a Steve Buscemi way, it’s truly a bucket-list taco.” (Photo: Facebook/Jimboys)

Suadero Taco at Taqueria Izucar

Address and phone: 1503 Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237 (718-456-0569)
Website: N/A

scarlettLindeman says: “Start with an order of three tacos de suadero, con todo, at Taqueria Izucar in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Handed over on a paper plate, the tight, tiny tacos of braised beef release rivulets of braising juice and liquefied fat to gild the delivery to your mouth. Suadero is usually from the naval beef plate, marinated with a splash of vinegar, marjoram, and salt, so the clean and irony-smack of beef comes through; texture is derived from being briefly frizzled on the flattop. There are radish coins, pyramids of lime, and finely tuned salsas along side. Just a dab of salsa—the red stitched with dry heat and the green, a tart counterpoint. Sometimes, if you catch them on the right day, there’s tepache, the lightly fermented pineapple drink that’s a perfect foil for the tacos. Izucar is a panacea for bitter winters, when the snow has finally revealed the trash piles entombed underneath, and the JMZ rumbles overhead. There’s no where you could be, but eating Mexican in New York.” (Photo: Yelp/Brendan T.)

Pescuezo Taco at Santa Rita Jalisco

Address and phone: 3900 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA (323-261-2738)
Website: N/A

gabrielCarbajal says: “While L.A. has a plethora of loncheras and stands offering customary nighttime options like carne asada, al pastor, and carnitas tacos, there is only one place slinging deep-fried pescuezo (chicken neck) tacos. Cue Santa Rita Jalisco, a Boyle Heights truck that specializes in tacos similar to the ones made at Kentucky Fried Buches—a hole-in-the-wall joint in Tijuana, Mexico, where fried chicken necks first became popular. Each four-to-six piece order comes topped with a generous amount of spicy tomato salsa, a side of cucumber, limes, and warm corn tortillas. Some chicken necks are are mostly crispy skin, while others are surprisingly meaty and are worth picking apart to be placed on a tortilla. Even though I’d never put myself above cheap tacos, I don’t always like to settle for flattop-grilled beef or pork that’s been reheated just before being plopped onto coaster-sized tortillas. That’s the draw of Santa Rita Jalisco—a unique, build-your-own taco kit that contains golden-fried chicken necks, warm tortillas and fresh, spicy tomato salsa.” (Photo courtesy Gabriel Carbajal)

Fried Shrimp Taco at Mariscos Jalisco

Address and phone: 3040 E Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA (323-528-6701)
Website: N/A

latacoL.A. Taco says: “We often get emails or texts from out of town friends asking where to get good tacos (not surprising, since we’ve run L.A.’s original taco & art blog since 2005). Sometimes people will get specific—what’s the one taco I must have during my stay? And my answer is always the same: Mariscos Jalisco in Boyle Heights. The lonchera has a reputation for excellent tostadas and other seafood items, but the indisputable star is the taco dorado de camaron. That is, a golden brown, fried corn tortilla lovingly wrapped around lightly-breaded fried shrimp, covered in avocado slices and a thin tomato- and cabbage-based salsa. The extremely crunchy shell gives way to delicately tender shrimp, while the tomato salsa runs into every nook and cranny.

The chef/owner of the truck, Raul, is extremely guarded about the exact recipe. Back in 2010, when we launched the first Taco Madness event, we invited a bunch of our favorite taqueros to our friend Bricia Lopez’s iconic Oaxacan restaurant, Guelaguetza, for a cook-off. Raul declined, stating that there was no way he’d ever cook his tacos in open view of the other chefs, as they were sure to spy on him and steal his recipe. He actually had reason to be paranoid—once at an event, a very inebriated dude came up to L.A. food blogger Bill Esparza and confessed that he and his brother had been stalking the Mariscos Jalisco truck, peeking into the windows and reverse-engineering the tacos to open up their own location. While you can get a similar taco at a few other spots in L.A., none of them holds a candle to Raul’s creation. Whatever his secret is, it works.” (Photo courtesy Gabriel Carbajal)

Barbacoa Taco at El Milagrito

Address and phone: 521 E. Woodlawn Ave, San Antonio TX (210-737-8646)

edmundTijerina says: “In San Antonio, barbacoa is almost a religion, and the congregation comes together every weekend, when people stand in line at tortilla factories all over the city to buy the shredded meat from steamed beef heads or cheeks. The tender, simply seasoned beef is a South Texas tradition with roots in the ancient, indigenous method of pit cooking, and any Sunday when I was a kid that included barbacoa was a special one. Most tortillerías serve their barbacoa only on Sundays, but when I’m craving it in the middle of the week, I visit El Milagrito, a place that steams beef cheeks every day. There’s nothing like El Milagrito’s fresh barbacoa in a hot tortilla—corn or flour is a mood thing—with a spoonful of the accompanying diced white onion and minced cilantro, along with drizzle a squeeze of salsa. The barbacoa is wonderful. The memories it evokes are even better.” (Photo courtesy Edmund Tijerina)

Carne Asada Taco at Taqueria Cancùn

Address and phone: 3211 Mission St, San Francisco, CA, 94110 (415-550-1414)
Website: N/A

atrakA-trak says: “People come to SF from all over in search of ‘Mission-style burritos,’ but in their obsessive hunt, they often overlook one of the best tacos in the neighborhood. The carne asada taco from Taqueria Cancun is by far the most flavorful (and hearty) you can get in the city, decked with generous avocado slices. Side note: go to the Cancùn on Mission and Fair Ave (in Bernal) to pick up the green salsa (better at this location) and take it with you to 19th street. (Photo courtesy A-trak)

Special of the Day at Guerrilla Tacos

uniAddress and phone: Multiple (323-388-5340)
mosbaughMosbaugh says: “‘Uni on a tostada? What the…’ I thought to myself as Wes Avila reached down from the window of his blue Guerrilla truck and handed me a raw hamachi and sweet Santa Barbara sea-urchin tostada. Prior to my first Guerrilla Taco trip, I’d only experienced sushi-grade fish in taco/tostada form down in Baja, California. More specifically, I tried a snail-and-pesto taquito at Tacos Kokopelli in TJ, and a tostada topped with Pismo clams and sea urchin at La Guerrerense in Ensanada. My blissful Baja seafood taco-eating binge seemed like a dream that couldn’t be relived once I drove back across the border—that is, until I had my first tostada from the Guerrilla truck. Since then, I’ve taken friends to get Guerrilla’s Ensanada-style fried shrimp tacos dressed with slaw, chile de arbol, and peanuts. I’ve driven way too fast down the 101 to get one of Avila’s foie gras and oxtail tacos before it sold out. The native Angeleno inside me knows this is Alta California cuisine at its peak; and no matter how you define it, there’s something so delightfully L.A. about eating uni in a tortilla.” (Photo: Erin Mosbaugh)

Octopus Taco at Tako


Address and phone: 214 6th St, Pittsburgh, PA (412-471-8256)

djneilArmstrong says: “Pittsburgh is one of those sleeper towns. Only the people who live there and have been there recently know how dope it is, and how great it’s becoming. Take, for instance, Tako, which has been around for less than a year and was opened by the same folks who run Meat & Potatoes and Butcher and the Rye. Taco spots are pretty standard fair up and down the West Coast and in your average foodsnob-central cosmopolitan destinations, but the team of Rick Deshantz, Tolga Devdik and Kevin Kelly brought something new to the Steel City, where once upon a time Jennifer Beals flash-danced to our delight. Tako is not your traditional Mexican taqueria; instead, these guys incorporate Asian influences, as the name of the restaurant suggests (tako is Japanese for octopus). The namesake taco is worth going for: grilled octopus, harissa aioli, preserved lemons, mizuna greens, and pickled red onion. Great presentation and taste, and they had Mobb Deep playing the last time I was there. 412 speaks the dun language.” (Photo: Twitter

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