A Downtown Taco-Tasting Adventure – plan yours soon!

February 20, 2015

By Cristina Manos

When the clock rang midnight on New Years Eve this year to kick off 2015, a 15-foot taco dropped from the sky in Tucson. Perhaps some saw it as the taco’s last gasp as many a new-year resolutions probably included eating fewer of them! This is also why it took me over a month to complete this Downtown taco-tasting adventure. The only regret was missing out on a few excellent taco opportunities due to time and belly limitations.

Street Taco & Beer

Street Taco & Beer, handcrafted beverages.

Street Taco & Beer, handcrafted beverages.

Street Taco & Beer just opened last month and has quickly become a popular spot in Downtown at 58 W. Congress. It could be because they offer so much more than the standard street taco. I don’t know if I was more impressed by the excellent taste of their taco or by the fact that they have a buzzer at each table so that a bartender will appear and take your beer order any time you hit the button. It was also hard not to be distracted and completely impressed by the handmade refreshers offered. Choose from Horchata, Limonada, Jamaica, or Tamarindo, and know that Dago Martinez, co-owner, peels the tamarin straight off the tree and creates this amazing, delicately flavored beverage by way of a careful process.

Once my sensory overload settled down after being distracted by everything cool at Street Taco & Beer, I tasted the marinated pork taco, Al Pastor. The tacos are simple and the meat is the feature. The pork was perfectly spiced and perfectly textured. At Street Taco & Beer the meats are marinated by way of a unique technique, and they are another establishment that uses pineapple enzymes in the marinade. The tacos here are garnished simply with cilantro and onion, and then you’re turned loose to add what you want from the huge variety of flavors at the salsa bar. Everything is made in house except for the locally made tortillas. Street Taco & Beer is where the buzz never ends, and is one of Downtown’s “must try” hot spots.

Seis Kitchen and Catering

Seis kitchen & Catering, Cochinita Pibil Taco

Seis kitchen & Catering, Cochinita Pibil Taco

Seis is located in the Mercado plaza at 130 S. Avenida del Convento, where the atmosphere is quaint, casual and very friendly. Seis uses local, fresh ingredients, and the cooking stems from regional Mexican street food traditions from six culinary regions in Mexico. The tacos are $2 to $2.50, and they’re both simple and fancy. Seis replicates underground cooking, which involves important and delicate processes – that when you taste your taco you can tell it was created with care.

I tasted the Cochinita Pibil, which is a Yucatan recipe featuring achiote slow roasted shredded pork. This is where a simple street taco can blow your mind. There was not doubt in my mind while tasting this taco that the recipe was authentic and the meat was truly slow roasted. This taco has the most unique blend of spices -the main ingredient, achiote, gives the meat a bright red color and comes from the achiote tree. It is used to create a bright red citrus marinade. The meat is then slow roasted and braised. This taco is topped with pickled onion, chopped cilantro and mild fresco. Stop by Seis Kitchen and Catering and taste the regional flavors of Mexico. Seis now has breakfast tacos, including bacon tacos!

El Charro Cafe

El Charro Cafe, Patty Taco Platter

El Charro Cafe, Patty Taco Platter

At El Charro Café you are going to find much more than the simple street taco, because the hospitality is old-school and you’re going to be eating a plate full of food or somebody’s mamma is going to be upset! The recipe for the simple taco comes from 1922 when Tia Monica secured the family tradition, “There’s only one way to make a taco!” In this family, the recipe is a ground beef patty folded into a homemade corn tortilla and fried in a pan, and is referred to as a “patty taco.” It is a different kind of taco, almost like a deep fried burger.

You can order the patty taco a la carte, in a platter, or a lunch special. I truly wanted just one taco, after all, I was filling up on this tasting adventure. But hospitality prevailed and I was presented with the whole platter. The taco was simple, traditional and bursting with fresh corn tortilla flavor. It’s garnished with peas, radishes, Mexican cheese and special sauce made in-house. This taco has plenty of flavor, mild spice and the spirit of family tradition is included.

Bernardo's, shredded beef taco

Bernardo’s, shredded beef taco

Bernardo’s

Bernardo’s maybe exactly what some folks think of when they here the term “street taco.” Bernardo’s provides the basics. They offer a traditional menu in a fast food style setting. I tried the most popular taco, the shredded beef taco, garnished with lettuce, tomato and jack & cheddar cheese. It comes in a fried corn tortilla, made in-house, as is the salsa at the salsa bar. There’s no fluff at Bernardo’s, there’s nothing fancy going on here, it’s just real, authentic, and as street as it gets.

Take on the Taco Challenge!

The tacos featured in this taco-tasting expedition are available choices from only five of 14 restaurants in Downtown that offer Mexican & Southwestern cuisine. So take your time and try a different taco every time you’re in Downtown. At a rate of trying one taco a month in Downtown, it would take you more than one year to complete an entire Downtown taco-tasting marathon, and may cost as little as $3 a month! Definitely worth it.

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