I will never forget the first Mexican street taco I ate. It was from a cart in Mexico City and it was a revelation, having previously thought that the crunchy tacos from Taco Bell were the real deal. Since then, I’ve probably eaten a thousand tacos from dozens and dozens of different sources. I’ve rarely met a taco I didn’t like, but some are better than others. There’s no shortage of terrific tacos in SLC and beyond; here are ten of my favorite taco temptations.
One of my very favorite taco joints is the aptly named Taco Taco, which was created by the owners of (now closed) Cannella’s and Chef Alberto Higuera Calderon. It’s a small, but comfy and friendly taco shop offering a selection of quesadillas, burritos and, of course, tacos. I love the chicken chile verde taco and vegetarians will appreciate the cauliflower or zucchini blossom tacos, but my go-to is the killer carne asada taco, with tender morsels of grilled beef. Enjoy it with a Mexican Coke.
Located in Rose Park, El Cabrito is another of my favorite Mexican eateries, one of the off-the-foodie-radar spots for authentic, no-BS Mexican fare. The folks at El Cabrito make their own flour and corn tortillas and they are superior in taste and texture to most. So when you order a taco, the tortilla is the star of the show. There are plenty of toppings and accouterments to fancy up your taco, but the meat and the tortilla are the main attractions. Taco fillings include cabeza, pollo, asada, carnitas, barbacoa de chivo, and lengua. My personal favorite are the juicy, fantastic tasting pork carnitas.
The first fancy taco spot to pop up in SLC was Taqueria 27, the creation of Todd and Kristin Gardiner, which I first wrote about back in 2012. Today, there are four Taqueria 27 locations serving tacos that range from traditional – carne asada, carnitas, fish and such – to gourmet selections like grilled pear with roasted beets, and the grilled veggie taco with cauliflower, corn, squash, roasted peppers and spinach. My favorite is the decadent duck confit taco, with a smoky chipotle flavor, roasted corn, squash and peppers, topped with chipotle crema and crispy leek strings.
Like Taqueria 27, there are multiple locations of Santo Taco, opened and run by Alfonso and Claudia Brito. The Rose Park Santo Taco is a no-nonsense, inexpensive spot to enjoy traditional tacos such as pescado, carne asada, birria, al pastor, carnitas and more. What makes these tacos special is that the tortillas are homemade, in house. Guests who might not want meat or fish can opt for one of the vegetarian tacos like calabacitas (zucchini with corn) or nopal (grilled cactus).
The Britos also recently opened a new, higher-end restaurant called Monarca in the downtown SLC space that was previously home to Alamexo. Unlike their Santo Taco eateries, Monarca is upscale in ambiance and cuisine, with menu items such as ceviche, lobster enchiladas, cochinita pibil, halibut en flor de calabaza, and others. But Monarca does also serve terrific tacos and it’s pretty hard to top the bodacious birria tacos made with brisket and cooked with crispy melted cheese and a side of house-made consomme for dipping.
One of the friendliest taco spots is family-run Tacos Los Lee, owned and operated by Oscar and Rosa Lee and their family. The Lees have been dishing up authentic Mexican fare in Utah for over 15 years, starting with a catering business. And, their tacos rock. The tacos (1.99 a la carte) are larger than many of the street cart tacos you find and very simple and straightforward. The soft, hot homemade corn tortillas come with the fillings of your choice, minced white onion, fresh cilantro, and that’s it. Of course, there are a variety of homemade salsas available at each table. But frankly, the tacos are so good here that I didn’t want to obfuscate the flavors by adding too many toppings. The asada tacos are made with beef lightly seasoned with cumin, where the meat itself is the main attraction. With the pork tacos, the red and green sauces play a bigger role.
A relative newcomer to the SLC taco scene is Lola, a snazzy, fairly pricey Eastside eatery with an eclectic menu that includes items like a miso burger, steak & asparagus salad, pork belly Peruano, and a beef belly barbacoa torta. I find the generously portioned Berkshire pork carnitas tacos with a pesto-style sauce and topped with chicharron to be irresistible.
In a Highway 89 strip mall adjacent to Smith’s Food and Drug in Farmington is an unassuming, family-run taco shop called Chonchis. Tacos at Chonchis include asada, pollo, al pastor, birria, cabeza, buche, carnitas tacos, 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.
Another excellent North-of-Salt-Lake taco joint is La Tapatia in Ogden, a family affair with mom cooking in the small kitchen and teenage son taking orders at the walk-up window in front. One of the keys to the excellent street-style tacos at La Tapatia is that the tortillas here are made by hand, in house – “Tortillas hechas a mano,” the sign in front says. Tacos at La Tapatía include a really great chile verde taco, al pastor, carne asada, cabeza, pork carnitas, and barbacoa.
Last but not least, is another of SLC’s newer taco destinations: Barrio. It’s a modern taqueria with lots of metal furnishings and a wrap around counter to sit at, as well as a few tables. The tacos aren’t cheap, ranging from $4.25 to $6 apiece, but include arrachera made with seared Snake River Farms Waygu beef, grilled shrimp, cochinita pibil, pollo asado, and even a plant-based “chorizo” taco. We especially like the Oaxacan-style chicken with mole negro taco and the calabacitas taco, with sauteed, spiced zucchini, corn and onion.
Do you have a terrific taco tale to tell? Let us hear about it!
Main photo courtesy of Unsplash and Jeswin Thomas
Culinary quote of the week: “Great art is horseshit, buy tacos.” – Charles Bukowski
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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.