A Mexican favorite, tacos get their moment on October 4, which has been declared Taco Day! But just what makes this humble, hand-held treat so delicious?
“The taco has three equal parts,” explains chef and Mexico native Danny Mena, co-owner of New York’s Hecho en Dumbo. “The tortilla itself—the foundation is the difference between Wonder Bread and a nice French baguette—the filling, which goes without saying, and then, of course, a good salsa.”
When judging tacos at the Arizona Taco Festival, David Tyda, president of the National Taco Foundation, zeroes in on taste, texture and presentation.
“Presentation is obvious: it’s your first visual of a taco,” he says. “Does it look appetizing? Taste is everything from smell to level of spice. Do the flavors come together? Texture is a part of the taste experience but addresses concerns of tortilla integrity—does it fall apart once picked up? To make a good taco, all of these components come together.”
Both Mena and Tyda agree that tacos should be served on a single corn tortilla with plenty of salsa options. Whether and how you add the salsa to a taco is purely a personal preference, but it’s all about variety, customization and spice level.
So where should you be heading to get your taco fix?
Chicago: Big Star
When in the Windy City, Mena and Tyda recommend a visit to Big Star. Together, the food and atmosphere create an unforgettable experience. Mena favors the Taco Al Pastor, which is a combination of spit-roasted pork shoulder, pineapple, onion and cilantro. “Big Star’s tacos aren’t overly fussed,” he says. “It’s more about the ingredients that they use and less about the sauces.”
California: Kogi BBQ
“[Kogi BBQ] was one of the first to gain notoriety for blending Asian and Mexican flavors, which, it turns out, are natural bedfellows,” says Tyda. He’s a fan of their Short Rib Taco, consisting of caramelized Korean barbecue short ribs, salsa roja (made with Korean and Mexican chilies), cilantro-onion-lime relish and signature Kogi slaw served on crispy corn tortillas.
New York: Los Tacos No. 1
Besides his own restaurant, Chef Mena loves the Adobada taco at Los Tacos No. 1. Their take on the traditional taco al pastor (marinated and grilled pork), reminds Mena of his childhood. “It’s not the same as I had growing up, but it’s one of the closest things to it in NYC,” he says.
Phoenix: Taco Guild
In his home state of Arizona, Tyda enjoys the Chipotle Cherry taco at Taco Guild. This steak taco is topped with crispy breaded poblano strips, chili aioli and blue cheese. “It’s by far one of the most surprisingly great tacos I’ve ever had,” he says. “The flavors, textures and high-quality ingredients all come together in a way you don’t usually see.”
Tell us about your favorite taco, where we can find it and what makes it so irresistible in the comments below.
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