Back in the day, the most difficult questions one would have to answer when ordering up a taco might be “Beef or chicken?” or “Hard or soft shell?” But as everyone’s favorite spicy handheld delicacy has grown in popularity, so too has its variety of preparations. Whether you prefer your tacos sweet or savory or for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert, here are 20 of the best—and most unique—tacos we’ve discovered in our cross-country culinary journeys.
Baja Rock Shrimp “Skinni” Tacos
Where: Tortilla Republic West Hollywood
Location: West Hollywood, CA
Farm-to-table fare is the focus of this West Hollywood hotspot, which cooks up modern Mexican cuisine in a sophisticated setting. Among their selection of tacos, which appear on the appetizer menu, is this tequila-battered rock shrimp taco, which is prepared with tequila passion fruit cabbage slaw, mango salsa, avocado, chipotle aioli and butter lettuce.
Moroccan Lamb on Roti
Where: Salvation Taco
Location: New York, NY
Michelin starred chef April Bloomfield has assembled an array of unexpected ingredients—house pickles, soy pickled garlic, spicy tartar sauce and marinated kimchi—at this action-packed eatery in the lobby of Manhattan’s Pod 39 Hotel. One of her most international of offerings is the Moroccan lamb taco, served on naan bread with cucumber pico de gallo and crema.
Where: Foreign Cinema
Location: San Francisco, CA
Situated in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, Foreign Cinema gives new meaning to “dinner and a movie” with a daily-changing menu of California-meets-Mediterranean bites, all set against the backdrop of an ongoing lineup of film screenings. The housemade pastrami—cured with coriander, black peppercorns, mustard seed, paprika, onion, garlic, salt and brown sugar—is part of the restaurant’s bar bites menu.
Quinoa & Sweet Potato Taco
Where: Mas Tacos Por Favor
Location: Nashville, TN
There’s a lot to love about this Tennessee food truck-turned-brick and mortar restaurant, including its low prices, laidback vibe, and thoughtful menu. Though the lineup of tacos changes regularly, we particularly like this incredibly satisfying vegetarian option, made with roasted tomatillo sauce, red cabbage, sour cream, cilantro and lime.
Grilled Salmon Taco
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Resist the temptation to fill up on appetizers if you’re planning to order Nada’s rich and tasty take on the standard fish taco, which is topped with chipotle crema, corn pico, jalapeno, and cilantro
Fried Chicken Taco
Where: Huahua’s Taqueria
Location: Miami Beach, FL
This South Beach taqueria offers a perfect après-swim meal, with nearly a dozen different taco options, including a breakfast version (made with cheesy eggs, carnitas, hash browns and cilantro) and this Fried Chicken Taco, which gets topped with jalapeno cornbread, cabbage and housemade ancho ranch. And all for just $3.99.
Where: The Squeaky Bean
Location: Denver, CO
Executive chef Theo Adley has been playing with global flavors at The Squeaky Bean, his progressive den of seasonal flavors, located in Denver’s Lower Downtown neighborhood. At the moment, he’s injecting Chinese flavors into his Tacos Chinos, which are made with pork belly, lamb lengua, hoisin and cucumber.
Duck “Carnitas” Tacos
Location: Oakland, CA
Chef/owner Rick Hackett mixes flavors from the Mediterranean and North, Central and South America at his Pan-American dining spot, where the Duck “Carnitas” Tacos get a spicy touch with pico de gallo, avocado and chile crème fraiche.
Fish Stick Taco
Where: Odd Duck
Location: Austin, TX
The chefs at Austin’s Odd Duck like to utilize as much of every ingredient as they can. So they take the leftover scraps of red fish that make up another dish on the menu and turn them into the fish sticks for this nostalgic taco, which is topped with homemade slaw and sunflower seeds.
Where: Kachina Southwestern Grill
Location: Westminster, CO
Diners at Kachina can partake in its extensive Navajo Taco menu, which is available at both lunch and dinner, and includes some truly unique items. There’s The Mojave, made of duck confit, pickled cactus, chipotle agave and manchego cheese, and The Gaucho, a slow-braised lamb taco with smoked tomato aioli, Brussels sprout slaw and cowboy beans.
Where: Loteria Grill
Location: Various locations in Los Angeles, CA
The fact that there are a half-dozen locations of Loteria Grill in the Los Angeles area should tell you something about the demand for its unique brand of Mexican eats. One of the restaurant’s most popular options across the board is chef/owner (and Mexico native) Jimmy Shaw’s Tres Cochinitos (translation: “three little pigs”), which features pork carnitas and crispy bacon with salsa, onion and cilantro, all topped with pork rinds.
Locations: Chicago & New York
You’ll find Mercadito’s Pancita Tacos—made with dry-roasted pork belly, rosemary, chicharron and creamy tomatillo salsa—at all of Mercadito’s locations, with slight tweaks to better reflect the geography. In Chicago, you might find some roasted apples added into the mix whereas the New York establishment prefers oranges.
“Roku Style” Albacore Tacos
Where: Sushi Roku
Locations: Las Vegas, Scottsdale, Hollywood, Santa Monica & Pasadena
No, that’s not a typo. One of the most interesting tacos we’ve stumbled across is found at a sushi restaurant, which fuses Latin American and Japanese cuisines by wrapping chunks of albacore tuna in crispy wonton wrappers, then finishing them off with creamy guacamole and a tangy Asian salsa.
Prime Rib Street Tacos
Where: Tii Gavo
Location: Sedona, AZ
Washed down with a Prickly Pear Margarita is the way that executive chef David Schmidt prefers to enjoy his zesty Prime Rib Street Tacos, which are flavored with salsa de juan, pico de gallo, shaved cabbage and cilantro.
Where: The Bazaar by José Andrés
Location: Miami Beach & Los Angeles
Diners on both coasts have been singing the praises of renowned chef José Andrés’ Japanese-style eel taco, which is prepared with shiso, cucumber, wasabi and pork chicharrones.
Peking Duck Taco
Where: Bodega Negra
Location: New York, NY
Expect plenty of international infusions at this ode to Mexican street food in New York City’s Dream Downtown, where a Peking Duck Taco—with mole negro, sesame seeds and kumquat morita compote—is a specialty.
Short Rib Ropa Vieja “Double Stack” Taco
Where: Painted Burro
Location: Somerville, MA
The most popular taco at Painted Burro offers the best of Mexico and America with both a crunchy and soft tortilla stacked one on the other and filled with slow-cooked, red wine and Mexican Coke mole-braised short rib. On top? Tres quesos and pico de gallo.
BBQ Brisket Tacos
Where: Moderne Barn
Location: Armonk, NY
You’ll have to hit up this West Chester restaurant at lunchtime if you want to sample executive chef Ethan Kostbar’s brisket tacos. An option on the two-course express lunch menu, they’re made with barbecue-glazed brisket, shaved papaya, red onion and cilantro crema. Dinner brings a plate of Broiled Blackened Mahi Mahi Tacos, with avocado, chipotle aioli and roasted corn salsa.
Berkshire Pig Head Carnitas
Where: CBD Provisions
Location: Dallas, TX
Call this one a DIY taco—and make sure you’ve got a few friends, because this is a dish that’s meant to be shared. The foundation of chef Michael Sindoni’s carnitas is a whole Berkshire pig head, which is served with roasted tomatillo salsa, radishes, and tortillas, so you can make your own tacos.
Where: Hotel ZaZa
Locations: Dallas & Houston
You can’t start the day off with a taco at Texas’ Hotel ZaZa, which has locations in Dallas and Houston. Your choices include Huevos Rancheros Crispy Tacos, made with bean (need a space there) refrito, avocado and tomatillo salsa, or a “Morning Taco” of egg, chorizo, cilantro and salsa.
For more Cinco de Mayo favorites, see the following articles…