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First it was burgers. Then pizza. Now, American chefs are obsessed with tacos, perfecting classics and even creating Asian versions. F&W offers an extraordinary taco tasting, from hot spots like a California fish market with great seafood tacos to a self-proclaimed "hillbilly dive" in Chicago.
Newport Beach, CA
Newport native Thomas Carson grew up working on fishing boats; now he runs this fish market renowned for its fresh seafood and stellar fish tacos. Diners have a choice between the signature panko-crusted Basa (an Asian catfish) and a selection from the fish counter, including scallops and wahoo from Baja. For heat seekers, Sriracha and Indonesian sambal complement the mayo-based house sauce.
“Tacos, whiskey, hillbilly music” is how star chef Paul Kahan describes the ultracasual Mexican spot he opened in Chicago’s Wicker Park in 2009. Though he calls the place a dive (it’s not), the classic tacos—excellent spit-roasted pork and beer-battered fish—are impressively fresh, and the beer list is one of the city’s best. One way to battle the seemingly endless crowds: head over to the takeout window.
Jefe's Original Fish Taco and Burgers
The best fish tacos in Miami come by way of another coast. Jefe’s bright orange truck serves classic California-style tacos: lightly fried beer-battered fish is topped with crisp shaved cabbage, fresh pico de gallo and house-made Mexican crema, all bundled in two corn tortillas. Jefe’s changing Miami locations are constantly updated on Twitter.
Photo © Jody Horton
Native Texan Rene Ortiz looks to Mexico for both La Condesa’s design (a collage of vibrantly colored Mexican billboards adorn one wall) and its menu. Ambitious tacos and taquitos hew both authentic, such as the Tecate-style fish taco piled with rustic charred corn-chipotle slaw, and inspired, like the Arábicos, a bacon-fat crisped tortilla layered with seared venison, pickled cucumber, chipotle harissa and fennel pollen yogurt.
Star chef Ken Oringer’s talents range from traditional Japanese at Uni to Barcelona-style tapas at Toro. At La Verdad, he skillfully takes on Mexican, with a menu of plates like braised pork belly with red mole, along with stellar tacos like the Benny Lengua (tender cubes of braised beef tongue with salsa arbol, cilantro and red onion).
Photo © Joe Hakim/TheHungryDudes.com
When Los Gauchos upgraded from a swamped truck to an actual storefront in 2011, it did more than add seating: The menu expanded to burritos and quesadilla-like sincronizadas. But the undisputed favorite is still the Al Pastor taco: soft corn tortillas filled with tender slices of pork and a sliver of pineapple—grilled before 4 pm and sliced from a rotating spit after.
¿Por Que No?
Photo © Bryan Steelman
One bite into a taco in the Mexican town of Morelia and Bryan Steelman had an epiphany: Why not open a taqueria of his own? The resulting ¿Por Qué No? (“Why not?” in Spanish) now pulls out-the-door lines with stellar tacos that emphasize local ingredients: house-made chorizo made from pork from nearby Carlton Farms, chipotle-rubbed chicken from Draper Farms in Washington.
R&R Taqueria’s first location—inside a Shell convenience mart—presented its own set of issues: Its landlord wanted fried chicken and wings to be served. Instead, founder Rodrigo Albarran-Torres takes inspiration from the foods he grew up with in Mexico City, cooking tacos heaping with luscious meats, from carne asada and chorizo to pork belly and roasted baby pig. R&R Taqueria’s second location—marginally better, depending on who’s being asked—is inside a suburban mall food court.
Taqueria Del Sol
This Georgia mini chain has become a near institution for its unabashedly Southern- and Southwestern-influenced Mexican dishes, a collaboration between chef Eddie Hernandez (a native of Monterrey, Mexico) and co-owner Mike Klank of Memphis. That border-straddling cooking translates to ingenious tacos with fillings like fried chicken and smoked brisket, and accompaniments including spicy jalapeño coleslaw and tequila barbecue sauce.
Mary and Tito's
Mary and Tito’s may not look like much from the outside, with its sun-faded sign and exterior, but this nearly 50-year-old adobe café was recognized as an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation in 2010. The famed secret weapon of this mother-daughter-run operation is its fiery red chile sauce—killer with succulent braised pork in the New Mexican classic carne adovada, or drizzled over beef tacos in crisp corn tortilla shells.