Robert Flicker recently experienced a conversion—of the tortilla-wrapped variety. “I’d been a believer that a truly great taco must be served in a dive and consist of chicken, beef, or pork,” says the Nevada communications executive.
But the taco appetizer at Mandalay Bay’s Fleur—with tuna tartare, ponzu, serrano peppers, and an avocado cream—changed his mind. “It elevated the taco,” he praises, “into the realm of fine-dining legitimacy.”
For comfort-foodies who embrace the nuances of grass-fed burgers and artisan donuts, the taco is finding a new picante status. Even high-end gourmands are on board: chef René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s award-laden Noma recently tweeted his enthusiasm for the distinctly non-high-end, Queens-based Tacos Morelos.
When we looked around the nation for the best tacos, we focused primarily on taquerias where the hand-held delicacy gets top billing—and we still found more style and variety than could fit in any one Tuesday.
Many purist taquerias give thoughtful renditions of classic Mexican street tacos like the al pastor (spit-grilled pork), carnitas (braised pork), or barbacoa (which can refer to beef, lamb, or goat); others offer more exotic twists. In Arizona, you can find a Peking duck taco paired with fried Brie, while an East Nashville mainstay turns out a sweet-potato-and-quinoa version. And a few beloved holdouts still go hard-line with the hard shells, topped with good ol’ shredded iceberg.
“A great taco presents a blend of textures and flavors that merge with a tortilla,” says StreetGourmetLA and Los Angeles magazine food blogger Bill Esparza. “It must become a stew once you take the first bite.”
Here’s where to chow down on America’s best tacos from that first bite to the messy last, every day of the week.