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Editor's Note: This story is unlocked for everyone to read courtesy of the CRVA, our partner in nourishing culinary exploration for residents and visitors of the Queen City.

June 7, 2024

An unpretentious guide to: Tacos

The first of a series of guides showcasing specific dishes or beverages from restaurants and bars in and around the Queen City

by UP Staff

We’re not sure there really is such a thing as a bad taco. Tacos can run the gamut from basic blue-collar street food to elevated fine dining — and there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two, except the quality of source ingredients. They are always quick bites of satisfying goodness. Who isn’t always up for a taco? Here are our staff favorites around Charlotte.

Como en Mexico, East Charlotte

Handmade tortillas are the focal point of Como’s tacos. Travis Mullis/UP

Go for: Friendly atmosphere, take-out, handmade tortillas
Como en Mexico does most of its business through takeout, and that emphasis can be felt when you take one of their few seats and dine in. Still, there’s a fun camaraderie that permeates the entire family operation. The focal point here is the housemade corn tortillas. Delicious, fragrant, and soft handmade corn tortillas make all the difference. They have eleven fillings for their tacos — with our go-tos being the campechano (steak and chorizo), alambre (sausage, bell pepper, steak, cooked onions, and cheeses), and barbacoa (soft shredded beef). Their homemade salsa roja and salsa verde are essential additions to any taco, regardless of your spice preference.

Maria’s Mexican Restaurant, Madison Park

Maria’s QuesaBirria is a meat-packed quesadilla/taco hybrid with a dipping sauce. TM Petaccia/UP

Go for: QuesaBirria; other birria dishes
The parking lot at Maria’s, on the corner of South Boulevard and Tyvola, is nearly always packed, and even early on a weeknight, you may have to wait a few minutes for a table at this small-ish restaurant. The wait is indeed worth it. While the menu does have a nice selection of soups, fajitas, basic tacos, and other standard Mexican restaurant fare, what you are really coming for is all things birria — beef stewed tender for over eight hours, mixed with onions and a myriad of spices. The tasty meat finds its way into a number of dishes here: burritos, chimichangas, flautas, enchiladas, fries — even the house version of pizza and ramen — and especially the QuesaBirria. Best way to describe the QuesaBirria is “taco meets quesadilla meets French Dip.” A tortilla is hit with an eyebrow-raising amount of melted cheese and piled with the prized birria, then folded into a taco shape on a flattop grill. The dish is served with a couple of lime wedges and a cup of chili spice-heavy “jus.” It’s a total diet killer, and worth every calorie.

Paco’s Tacos & Tequila, SouthPark

Paco’s Tacos plates can come with your choice of one, two, or three tacos. TM Petaccia/UP

Go for: Taco shell options, a good bar, game-watching
Hidden in the back of Specialty Shops at SouthPark, Paco’s Tacos & Tequila is precisely what you would expect of a Tex-Mex restaurant located in one of Charlotte’s most affluent neighborhoods: well-spaced, well-lit, and with a good bar featuring several TVs for keeping abreast of game action. Here, it’s as much about your taco base as it is what goes inside it. You have a choice of soft flour, soft corn, and crispy corn tortillas as well as a lettuce wrap. You can choose between eight taco fillings, such as chili-rubbed beef brisket, grilled or fried mahi-mahi, shredded pork, chicken (two preparations), and others. Taco combo plates can be ordered with one, two, or three tacos and include the house chipotle slaw, red rice, and your choice of refried, charo, or black beans. The margarita game here is strong, with several on point variations.

Puerta, Elizabeth

Lengua (beef tongue) and al pastor (braised pork) tacos at Puerta. TM Petaccia/UP

Go for: Upscale tacos with authentic flavors; great selection of tequilas and mezcals
Puerta chef RJ Corley has a long history of working with and takes great pride in his development of classic Mexican flavors — with an occasional twist. At first glance, the list of tacos on the Puerta menu looks like a lot of taco menus (beef, chicken, pork, fish, etc.) — until you check the descriptions. Not just beef tacos, but beef cheek tacos. Not just chicken tacos, but chicken tinga tacos. You’ll also find braised beef tongue, charred ribeye, rock shrimp, potato and mole, and a few others. There’s also the plus of enjoying the city’s most extensive collection of agave spirits (tequila and mezcal) either straight up or in one of the many well-crafted cocktails developed by Micah Yarborough.

Sabor Latin Street Grill, multiple locations

sabor latin street grill
Sabor’s menu includes customizable tacos. Photo: Sabor Latin Street Grill

Go for: Build-your-own dishes, taco bowls
Sabor Latin Street Grill’s popularity has helped the fast casual concept grow from its original location into 17 storefronts. Build your own tacos either American-style, with flour tortillas, your choice of protein, lettuce, tomato, and cheese, or authentic with a corn tortilla, protein, chopped onions, and cilantro. The taco bowls a must-try here, and daily specials — such as Taco Tuesdays and 99 cent kids meal Wednesdays — make it an affordable stop.

Tacos El Nevado, LoSo/Windsor Park

Tacos with blue corn tortillas are available at Tacos El Nevado every Wednesday. TM Petaccia/UP

Go for: Low-price tacos; blue corn tortilla Wednesdays
The first thing that hits you upon entering either the Central Avenue or South Boulevard location of Tacos El Nevado is the explosion of colors from the mural-like tables and chairs. Both restaurants are bright, vibrant, and festive. The list of available tacos is impressive — from basics like chicken, chorizo, fish, shredded beef, and grilled pork to more hardcore proteins like tripe and beef tongue, plus others. Depending on the core ingredient, most tacos are priced at $3 or $3.50, with tongue and tripe listed as “market price.” There is also a respectable list of Mexican beers and various tequilas.

Tacos La Hidalguense, Food Truck

The barbacoa tacos from the Tacos La Hidalguense food truck score high with our tasters. Travis Mullis/UP

Go for: The adventure of it, great barbacoa
Typically parked in the shadow of I-85 at the Little Rock Road exit in a dusty little parking lot. There are other choices at the truck, but you are coming here for barbacoa — pork cooked in underground pits or large pots, bathed in pulque, the local spirit, and on occasion wrapped in maguey leaves to impart the earthy aroma of agave. A taco truck is obviously limited in its range of cooking, so you won’t find the pulque or maguey leaves here, but the tacos and other menu items don’t suffer from its absence. The barbacoa is as tender as pulled pork and just as delicious. Indeed, the flavor of the cooked meats and oil-splashed tortillas seem almost impossibly flavorful to be coming from a kitchen the size of a broom closet.

Three Amigos, Multiple Locations

Grilled fish tacos at Three Amigos. Tonya Russ Price/Poprock Photography

Go for: Taco platters
A few tacos can sometimes look sparse on a plate, but not at Three Amigos. Order a taco platter and you’ll get a plate that’s also piled with rice and beans. Order the American way, with cheese, tomato, and lettuce, or the authentic way with onion, cilantro, and lime. Fillings include your usuals, such as shredded or ground beef, shredded chicken, carne asada, chorizo, fish, and shrimp, as well as a vegetarian option. Don’t miss the al pastor, its own platter option featuring three tacos filled with a 24-hour-marinated pork topped with grilled diced pineapple.

RuRu’s Tacos + Tequila, Eastover

The tacos at RuRu’s are typically crammed full. TM Petaccia/UP

Go for: Fun vibe, great patio
Off Providence Road, RuRu’s Tacos + Tequlia has the feel of being conceived to be franchised, but at this point, there are only two locations (Charlotte and Charleston). It’s got a fun, kitschy hook — all the menu item names are quotes or characters of popular movies, such as “You’re Going The Wrong Way” (chicken tacos), “It Was The Dukes” (carnitas tacos), and “Vegas Baby, Vegas” (ahi tuna tacos). It’s worth going just to read the full menu. The tacos themselves are, well, tacos. Nothing all that special, but decent eats enough. They are crammed full of their taco components which is quite generous, but can make for awkward eating, not the easy hand-food tacos should be. The restaurant does boast an excellent patio and nice variety of specialty margaritas.

Que Onda Tacos + Tequila, multiple locations

Que Onda in Plaza Midwood. Kristen Wile/UP

Go for: Chef-driven flavors, vegetarian options
Que Onda chef/owner Manny Flores has a fine dining background — one that comes through with each bite of his food, even despite its casual settings. Order something more traditional, like the al pastor tacos, for an intricate and authentic flavor, or try one of the chef’s more playful creations, such as the Coca-Cola Carnitas, which fits right into Southern dining with its pulled pork filling. There are also excellent vegetarian options here that go far beyond your usual grilled veggie filling, including a brussel sprout offering. For at-home dining, their taco family meal is a great deal.

And for dessert …

Cold Hearted Gelato, Plaza Midwood

Cold Hearted Gelato will feature flavor variations of its gelato taco throughout the summer. TM Petaccia/UP

Go for: Gelato tacos in creative flavors
Think “five-star Choco Taco.” Elinn Hesse’s talent for imagining unique frozen flavors will manifest in taco form throughout the summer. Housemade waffle disks will be folded around CHG’s well-crafted gelatos, dipped in chocolate, and finished with appropriate toppings. Flavors will change throughout the season — with the two current offerings being chipotle-chocolate and almond horchata.

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