I’ve always believed that you have to go to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas or California to get the best, most authentic tacos in the U.S. That’s not to say that cities like New York and Chicago haven’t upped their game in recent years, thanks to Mexican entrepreneurs launching eateries and chefs of every ethnicity embracing the taco. Now that I live in Chicago, I will go out of my way to get to Big Star and Mercadito. But you don’t have to venture far to get a good taco when you visit the aforementioned states.
That’s one of the reasons I look forward to attending RLC in Scottsdale, Ariz., every year. This time around, I got to have tacos every day. The first was at The Truck Caravan, a new dining destination in a parking lot near Old Town Scottsdale. On Saturday nights only, anywhere from six to 12 food trucks gather, peddling their specialties. Word has spread, and the picnic tables were packed with both couples on dates and multi-generational families. The night I visited, two trucks were dispensing homemade tacos, and both had the longest lines.
I chose a pulled pork taco from the SuperFarm Super Truck and I was immediately smitten. The tortillas that formed the taco carrier were freshly made, soft and earthy. The pork filling had just the right level of spice and the green tomatillo salsa provided good acid notes. And the SuperFarm truck was also selling homemade ice cream. Could never resist that, so I got a double scoop of mint chocolate chip and vanilla. A cool and creamy finish to the evening.
Next night, it was tacos at SOL Cocina in the Scottsdale Quarter. Actually, it’s in an outdoor shopping mall but the restaurants are definitely several cuts above. Here, the menu reflects the coastal cooking of Baja and you can mix and match tacos to create a full taco plate with two or three choices. Or you can order a la carte specialty tacos. Even though the waiter tried to upsell us on ordering several appetizers and full-blown entrees, our table opted for the tacos, which made for a reasonably priced and quite authentic dinner.
The Taco Xolo with pineapple and onion reminded me of Tacos al Pastor but more flavorful, thanks to a shot of chile adobo along with the pineapple, onion and pork. And the Fish Tacos Gobernador tasted of Baja—despite the fact that we were in the middle of the desert. Instead of fried fish, they were filled with pan roasted fish seasoned with lemon and garlic, then piled on a soft taco with cheese, avocado and salsa gobernador—a fresh salsa made with tomatoes, peppers and cilantro with a smoky edge. Hard to place but really tasty—especially when washed down by one of the handcrafted fresh margaritas on the rocks.
Perhaps the most surprising tacos of all were right in the parking lot of the Hampton Inn, where the staff of Restaurant Business magazine was staying. At the fast-casual Coconuts Fish Cafe, a small chain that started in Hawaii, we had some of the best and cheapest fish tacos for lunch. For $10.99, you get two tacos grilled with white corn tortillas. Each comes on a separate, colorful real plate—not a disposable—filled with 17 ingredients, including tomato, cheese, housemade cole slaw and mango salsa. The fish is from Hawaii and rotates with availability. It may be mahi mahi, ono (wahoo), yellowfin tuna or red snapper. Servers in colorful Hawaiian shirts bring the tacos to the table after your order is placed. Wish we had one of these in our office parking lot in Oak Brook!