Feature

The 30 Best Tacos in America

By Zagat Staff  |  May 2, 2016
Credit: Jipsy

America's obsession with tacos has reached a fever pitch. And with Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, we found a perfect excuse to seek out the very best in the country. Together with input from diners across the U.S. and the expertise of Zagat editors, we compiled a list of the nation's 30 best tacos right now (presented in alphabetical order by vendor name). Without further ado, may we present your taco bucket list. 

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  • Credit: Antique Taco

    Pork carnitas taco at Antique Taco in Chicago, IL

    Selecting a favorite taco off at this Wicker Park gem is like picking a favorite child. With each modern option so unique, each with a depth of flavor and contrast in texture, there's a lot to love about Antique Taco's signature dishes. The pork carnitas gets bonus points, though, for the strip of bacon on top. It's a smoky, crispy accent to the blend of adobo-rubbed pork, tamarind glaze, spinach, onion, avocado and cheese. 

    1360 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-687-8697 

  • Credit: Edouard Pierre

    Al pastor taco at Big Star in Chicago, IL

    Don't let the crowds fool you. This place may incite incessant lines, but its contemporary honky-tonk talks the talk when it comes to traditional Mexican cuisine. One bite of the al pastor taco, arguably the most popular item on the menu, and you'll understand. An exercise in smart restraint and high quality, it's made with marinated spit-roasted pork shoulder, grilled pineapple, onions and cilantro, all tucked inside a housemade tortilla. 

    1531 N. Damen Ave.; 773-235-4039 

  • Tacos Arabes at Cemitas Puebla in Chicago, IL

    One taco reigns supreme at this sleek West Loop taqueria with modest Humboldt Park origins: the Arabes, whose spit-roasted pork and onions are wrapped in a thick flour tortilla, rather than the traditional corn variety, to soak up a smoky chipotle sauce.

    817 W. Fulton Market; 312-455-9200 

  • Navajo Taco at Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, NM

    In the American Southwest, Navajo tacos made with fry bread (a slightly puffy, crispy, naan-like food) are almost as common as their Mexican cousin, especially in Santa Fe. The version at Coyote Cafe includes roasted chicken, pulled pork, ground beef, white cheddar and red chili sauce. Try it with one of the restaurant's habanero margaritas.

    132 W. Water St.; 505-983-1615

  • Basic Breakfast Taco at District Taco in Washington, DC

    There are few things more comforting than softly scrambled eggs tucked into a warm flour tortilla, and this rapidly expanding local chain has three breakfast options available all day. The "basic" packs a simple filling of scrambled eggs, cheese and potatoes with a generous list of unlimited toppings. Health nuts can opt for egg whites, while veggie lovers can go for the vegetarian breakfast taco, which is topped with pintos, cheese, sautéed peppers and onions, and comes with sour cream, pico and jalapeños. 

    Multiple locations

  • Tinga taco at Dos Santos in Denver, CO

    Tinga, a Pueblan classic, is a wonderfully rich chicken thigh dish that combines the sweetness of tomato with the smoke and spice of chipotle. This Denver hot spot serves its version on a corn tortilla with a dollop of guacamole, then sprinkles chopped onion, cilantro and cotija over the top and finishes off the masterpiece with a drizzle of creamy red pepper sauce. 

    1475 E. 17th Ave.; 303-386-3509

  • Credit: El Come Taco

    Sirloin taco at El Come Taco in Dallas, TX

    This Knox-Henderson area counter-serve taqueria is popular for its simple, no-fuss street tacos. Despite not having many bells and whistles, the pure flavors shine through, with chunks of grilled sirloin on small corn tortillas topped with cilantro and onion. While you won't need the salsas, they're impossible to resist.

    2513 North Fitzhugh Ave.; 214-821-3738

  • Taco de Lengua at El Rey del Taco in Atlanta, GA

    Located along the Latin and Asian Buford Highway corridor, El Rey del Taco stands out from the crowd thanks to its handmade tortillas made from fresh masa dough. (The option costs 25 cents more per taco, and it's totally worth it.) Owner Martin Marcias cooks everything to order and prides himself on fresh ingredients. Opt for any filling you like, from steak to chorizo to pork, but make sure to try a lengua taco. The cow tongue is cooked low and slow for a long, long time, giving it a texture that straddles roast beef and pot roast.

    5288 Buford Hwy NE, Doraville; 770-986-0032

  • Lobster Taco at Empellon Taqueria in NYC

    It's not everyday that you spend $26 on two tacos. But this potent mix of tender lobster meat, sweet corn and epazote are among the most delicious and luxurious in NYC – and arguably the best in chef Alex Stupak's taco repertoire. (To think: he didn't serve a single taco when he opened Empellon Cocina in 2012!) Stay tuned for the opening of a flagship outpost in Midtown by the end of the year.

    230 W. 4th Street; 212-367-0999

  • Credit: Fuel City

    Taco al pastor at Fuel City in Dallas, TX

    At this massive gas station and car wash near downtown Dallas, people come to fill their stomachs as well as their gas tanks. Order inside or from the walk-up window, then perch on the patio near the grazing longhorns to enjoy this perfectly seasoned, slightly spicy marinated pork taco, served on corn or flour tortillas with extra-spicy green and red sauces on the side. Cilantro and raw onion come standard.

    801 S Riverfront Blvd.; 214-426-0011

  • Daily Special Taco at Guerrilla Tacos at Los Angeles, CA

    This is definitely not your average taco truck, and chef Wes Avila is not just another guy slinging al pastor. Having worked with Alain Ducasse, Walter Manzke and Octavio Becerra, Avila serves an ever-evolving menu with unique concoctions of stewed or grilled meats, seasonal and locally grown vegetables, seafood, fresh salsas and handmade tortillas. It’s hard to pick a favorite – the menu changes daily based on inspiration and ingredients – but think veal sweetbreads with red pepper escabeche; cauliflower and medjool dates with castlevetrano olives, almonds and chiles; and duck with roasted pears and pistachios. You'll find the truck parked at Cognescenti Coffee on Wednesday mornings, at Blacktop Coffee in the Arts District on Thursday and Friday mornings, and at Blue Bottle (the former Handsome Coffee space) on Saturday and Sundays.

    Guerrilla Tacos on Twitter
     

  • Taco Sampler at Guisados in Los Angeles, CA

    The family-owned and operated taqueria now has three locations — Boyle Heights, Echo Park and now Spring Street Arcade Downtown. Your best option is the sampler: six mini handmade tortillas filled with the best and most popular stews on the menu. You'll get two beef (bistek en salsa rojo, steak picado), two chicken (tinga, mole) and two pork (cochinita pibil and chicharrón). Each one is our favorite until we bite into the next. Don't miss the habanero salsa.

    Multiple Locations

  • Credit: Jipsy

    Fried Chicken Taco at Huahua's Taqueria in Miami, FL

    This South Beach taqueria's award-winning taco is an irresistible combo of Southern-meets-Mexican comfort food thanks to the jalapeño cornbread croutons mixed with rich ancho ranch dressing. The grilled Mexican sweet corn, with spicy mayo is the perfect accompaniment to such Southern-style comfort food. 

    1211 Lincoln Rd.; 305-534-8226

  • Credit: Veronica Meewes

    Carne Guisada Taco at Joe's Bakery in Austin, TX

    There's nothing fancy about the carne guisada taco at this Tex-Mex diner and bakery, an Austin institution since 1962, but why change a thing after all these years? Though carne guisada is typically made with beef, pork is the name of the game here. The stew simmers for hours, resulting in tender, flavorful chunks suspended in a savory gravy. It can be ordered as an entree (served with eggs, beans, potatoes and bacon or sausage) or folded into a housemade flour tortilla for one very satisfying handheld meal.

    2305 E. 7th St.; 512-472-0017

  • Credit: Kogi

    Short-Rib Taco at Kogi Taqueria in Los Angeles, CA

    He may be opening restaurants and bars inside boutique hotels, making rice bowls and burgers in Chinatown and launching healthy fast-food desert options, but Roy Choi’s signature taco is still one of the top players in the game. The caramelized Korean short rib, salsa roja and kimchilike slaw started a food revolution, and for good reason. Choi and company finally opened a brick-and-mortar location in the Palms neighborhood, which means less following trucks around, and more taco eating.

     3500 Overland Ave. and food trucks

  • Lamb neck taco at Los Chingones in Denver, CO

    If the thought of biting into a lamb’s neck gives you pause, stop thinking about it — just do it. After all, there’s a reason this taco became a signature at Troy Guard’s Ballpark cantina (and then its Denver Tech Center sibling) on day one: the deep, dark meat, slow-braised with onions, tomatoes and chiles is a revelation. No wonder the kitchen keeps the garnishes to a minimum: a smattering of diced onion, cilantro and a quick shock of pasilla-lime salsa lets the meat take center stage. 

    2463 Larimer St.; 303-295-0686  ​
    4959 S. Newport St.; 303-567-4258

  • Adobada taco at Los Tacos No. 1 in NYC

    There are few things that make dealing with slow-moving tourists inside Chelsea Market worth it, and these tacos are high on that list. The line at this Tijuana-inspired taco shack is often 20 people deep, but survive the wait and you'll savor simple perfection. Corn tortillas are pressed and griddled to order, then filled with pork meat that's been carved off a rotating spit and topped with pineapple, onions, cilantro and a spicy sauce. Pro tip: the pork "quesadilla" is as small as a taco and made the same way, but features cheese melted on the tortilla.

    75 9th Avenue; 212-256-0343

  • Credit: Madrina

    Taco de chivo at Madrina in Dallas, TX

    Roasted goat is the highlight of these build-your-own tacos at this French-Mex restaurant near Highland Park. Served in a cast-iron skillet, the tender meat is accented with pasilla chile, parsnips, avocado slices and baby greens, and piled into housemade huitlacoche (a.k.a. Mexican truffle) tortillas. Save yourself some taco-making time and order extra tortillas from the start.

    4216 Oak Lawn Ave.; 469-513-2505

  • Shrimp Dorados at Mariscos Jalisco in Los Angeles, CA

    This East LA truck has many, many fans, including one Jonathan Gold who made a stop in his recently released documentary, City of Gold. This is a taco worth the drive: a crunchy shell, shrimp that gets brown and crisp on the edges from the hot oil, salsa roja and fresh avocado. Sit on the brick wall and ponder whether or not to get two more. For less than $2 a pop, the decision is easy. 

    3040 E. Olympic Blvd.

  • Credit: Steven Lindsey

    Brisket taco at Mia's Tex-Mex in Dallas, TX

    Once an off-menu special, the brisket tacos at this Lemmon Avenue family-owned restaurant have become one of Dallas' most legendary dishes. Tender shredded brisket is loaded into corn or flour tortillas with grilled onions and poblano peppers, Jack cheese and fresh avocado. Served with natural brisket gravy for dipping, these tacos are a must-order every time.

    4322 Lemmon Ave.; 214-526-1020

  • Tacos al Carbon at Ninfa’s Original on Navigation in Houston, TX

    Nothing tops the limey-stout margaritas or the addictive avocado-tomatilla green sauce at this Warehouse District gem — except maybe the sizzling beef fajitas that Mama Ninfa made famous. The tacos al carbon taco platter nails it with smoky tender beef fajitas charred to drool-worthy perfection and swaddled in plushy flour tortillas housemade on the hour. A squeeze of fresh lime and sprightly pico de gallo only ups the ante.

    2704 Navigation Blvd.; 713-228-1175

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Fish Taco at Ricky’s Fish Taco in Los Angeles, CA

    Now that Ricky Pina has a truck, it’s easier than ever to spot him on the Silver Lake/Los Feliz border. The specialty is hands-down one of the best in town – fresh fish dipped in a great secret-ingredient batter and fried until perfectly golden brown, served on good tortillas that don't shred and topped with a heap of cabbage and pico de gallo. You can add the crema and salsa; we prefer the verde, which has just enough heat.

    1400 N. Virgil Ave.

  • Fried Chicken Taco at Taqueria del Sol in Atlanta, GA

    Inspired by Southwestern flavors and styles, this growing Atlanta chain fills soft flour tortillas with contemporary ingredients like Memphis-style BBQ pork or shredded beef brisket. The fried chicken breast taco — served with lime jalapeño mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato — is a real winner, and pretty much sums up chef Eddie Hernandez's Southern-meets-Mexican ethos.

    1200 Howell Mill Rd. NW; 404-352-5811

  • Credit: Darlene Horn

    Carne Asada Tacos at Tacos El Gordo in San Diego, CA

    This Tijuana original is the closest thing to border-style tacos without actually crossing the border. The standout carne asada tacos generate lines from lunch until closing, and consist of marinated grilled meat that's hand-sliced before your eyes and layered in a freshly made tortilla. 

    689 H St., Chula Vista; 619-691-8848

  • Credit: @macchiato/Instagram

    Al Pastor at Tacos Leo Truck in Los Angeles, CA

    Ask almost any LA chef where he or she gets a late-night fix and this truck is probably the answer. Pork that’s been slathered with a paste made with dried chiles and achiote is loaded onto a spit to roast away through the night. With the flick of a wrist, the taquero chops off some meat and stuffs a hunk of pineapple into a tortilla, and you have one of the most delicious bites of food you'll ever find on the street. And it's only a buck. The most popular truck is on La Brea and Venice, but there are three more serving the Central LA and Mid-City areas.

    1515 S. La Brea Ave.

  • Fish tacos at Tacoway Beach in Rockaway, Queens, NY

    From a former owner of Rockaway Taco, these crispy baja-style fish tacos, topped with cabbage, radish, spicy mayo, guac and radicchio are a seasonal favorite, not to mention the best fish taco you'll find anywhere in the New York area. Located at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, the outdoor taco shack is now open for the season. What's more, the original Rockaway Taco is rumored to return this summer as well, either as a truck or brick-and-mortar. 

    Rockaway Beach Surf Club, 302 Beach 87th St, Far Rockaway

  • Credit: Darlene Horn

    Fish Tacos at TJ Oyster Bar in San Diego, CA

    When it comes to fish tacos, these 99¢ numbers are worth the trip to Bonita Road for their take on the iconic San Diego staple. It’s as straightforward as it gets: tender fish filets deep-fried in house batter and accompanied by nothing more than shredded cabbage, diced tomatoes and a drizzle of cream sauce. Order them by the half-dozen with a Michelada to wash it all down.

    4246 Bonita Rd., Bonita; 619-267-4577

  • Credit: Veronica Meewes

    Fried Avocado Taco at Torchy's Tacos in Austin, TX

    The secret menu at this popular taco joint doesn't make it any easier to choose from a wealth of creative options, but there's no doubt the fried avocado will leave even staunch meat eaters satisfied. Fresh avocado slices are battered and lightly fried, served over a smear of vegetarian refried beans, then topped with lettuce, pico de gallo and shredded cheese. The whole thing quickly melts when the mound of deliciousness is folded into a fresh corn tortilla. If creamy, zesty poblano ranch isn't your jam, choose from a rainbow of other salsas, from mild to fiery hot.

    5119 Burnet Rd.; 512-382-0823

  • Credit: Veronica Meewes

    Migas Taco at Veracruz All Natural in Austin, TX

    Anyone who's eaten at this increasingly popular taco truck knows to expect a line, especially on weekends. But it's clearly worth the wait once you unwrap your foil package to find ultra-cheesy migas (scrambled eggs cooked with tortilla strips and pico de gallo) tucked into a freshly pressed flour tortilla and topped with a slice of vivid green avocado. Be sure to help yourself to one of their spicy housemade salsas, including one filled with more chunks of avocado.

    1704 East Cesar Chavez St.; 512-981-1760

  • Crispy Tikka Chicken Taco at Velvet Taco in Houston, TX
    Velvet Taco, which has a cult following in Dallas is now tantalizing Houston with its tricked-out tacos and a new Heights location. The standout is the crispy tikka chicken, which is nestled over jasmine rice and comes with a rich, spicy peanut sauce and Thai basil. Out of this world.

    4819 Washington Ave.; 832-834-5908