For me, the search for terrific tacos never ends. I’m always on the lookout for the street cart style tacos that became a mainstay of my diet during the considerable time I spent in Mexico. Thankfully, Mexican immigrants have brought authentic, inexpensive, street-style tacos to our country in recent years. In the past few months foodie informants of mine have directed me to a trio of off-the-beaten-path taquerias North of SLC: in Farmington, Layton and Ogden. All three are worth an excursion for true taco lovers.
I should make clear at the outset that these are taco joints. They are not the hipster taquerias with high-end tequila selections that have seen a profusion here in recent years – the type of places with duck confit and jackfruit tacos priced at four bucks and up per taco. The taco spots I’m focusing on today are fast and funky, without much in the way of decor or ambiance, if any, but where you’ll find truly tasty tacos – normally three or so for five Washingtons, or less. If bodacious bargain tacos appeal to you, read on.
In a Highway 89 strip mall adjacent to Smith’s Food and Drug in Farmington is an unassuming, family-run taco shop called Chonchis. As I understand it, chonchis is a Spanish word for someone who really enjoys eating, like me. And mark my word, you will enjoy eating at Chonchis.
Like all of the places I’ll discuss in this article, Chonchis is a walk-up and order affair. None of these taquerias offer full table service, which is typical and helps keep costs low. Place an order and wait for your name to be called. Try to ignore the kitschy art on the walls; you’re here for the food, not the aesthetics.
Tacos at Chonchis are $2.25 for asada, pollo, al pastor, birria, cabeza, buche and carnitas tacos, and $2.75 for tripa and lengua. While all of the tacos at Chonchis are damned good, I especially like the crispy shredded pork carnitas tacos and the carne asada. The shop also offers al pastor and asada burritos ($8.99) which come with rice, beans, cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream and are both very filling and very tasty.
Chonchis also has a menu item that I don’t see in most taquerias, called vampiros ($3.75). A vampiro is sort of a toasted quesadilla that is stuffed and made crispy on a comal. My wife loved her birria vampiro, as did I, which she enjoyed with a chicken (pollo) taco. Other menu items include mulitas ($4.25), quesadillas ($7.99), carne asada or al pastor fries, desserts like churros, flan and rice pudding, plus beverages such as aguas frescas, jarritos, and fountain drinks. The combined bill at Chonchis for three tacos, a vampiro, asada burrito, plus tax and tip came to a mere $23.
A few miles up the road in Layton is a Mexican eatery specializing in tacos called Tacos Blanquita. It’s located next door to La Favorita, a popular Hispanic grocery store. There used to be a taco cart permanently ensconced out front of La Favorita, but a couple of years ago the owners moved into an empty building next door and opened their sit-down restaurant, Tacos Blanquita.
The menu runs the gamut from tacos, burritos, and enchiladas to tortas, fajitas, flautas, tamales, breakfast items, and stews/soups like menudo, pozole and birria. They make a mean molcajete, which is shrimp, chicken, beef, onion, cheese, and more all cooked in a molten hot lava rock vessel called a molcajete. It’s fun (and messy) to share.
Ultimately though, you’ll visit Tacos Blanquita for the stupendous tacos, which are priced at $1.75 apiece. This taco spot has one of the best arrays of taco fillings I’ve encountered in Utah, including asada, al pastor, buche, birria, cabeza, carnitas, chorizo, tripa, lengua, chicharron, lamb barbacoa, pollo and suadero (brisket). Most of the same fillings are available for burritos. I particularly love the carnitas and carne asada tacos, but no matter what you choose at Tacos Blanquita, you’ll be picking winners! There’s also a salsa bar with a wide variety of salsas and other fresh condiments.
My favorite taco joint of the ones highlighted here is also the most diminutive. It is a brick and mortar eatery, but just barely. Located in a small, stand alone brick building on Grant Avenue in Ogden is Taqueria La Tapatia. It’s not much bigger than a taco cart – a family affair with mom cooking in the small kitchen and teenage son taking orders at the walk-up window in front. The only seating I saw was a single small patio table with no chairs. Perhaps that’s because of COVID restrictions. But regardless of where you eat them, you’re going to really enjoy La Tapatia tacos.
One of the keys to the excellent street-style tacos at La Tapatia is that the tortillas here are made by hand, in-house, which adds flavor and texture that’s lacking elsewhere. “Tortillas hechas a mano,” the sign in front says. Those homemade tortillas find their way into menu items ranging from burritos, quesadillas, and chilaquiles, to a barbacoa platter with fresh tortillas, and of course, tacos. There are also Salvadoreñan-style pupusas on the menu – $2.50.
All of those items are excellent, but I still favor the terrific tacos. The options aren’t as extensive as the other spots I’ve mentioned, but include a really great chile verde taco, al pastor, carne asada, cabeza, pork carnitas, and barbacoa. The tacos are topped with generous portions of meat and priced inexpensively at $1.25 apiece. Perhaps an even better bargain are the homemade tamales, which are also only $1.25. In addition to delicious food, Taqueria La Tapatia also offers online ordering for pickup or delivery, and a rewards points program to earn free food.
So, if you’re looking for South-of-the-Border style street tacos, I recommend heading north for Farmington, Layton and Ogden.
Culinary quote of the week:
“Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.” — Tom Robbins
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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