Serious Eats

The Search for America's Best Tacos: Southern Contenders

Chorizo and Egg Tacos at Taco Taco

And we're back with another edition of our March Madness-style tournament of tacos. We traveled thousands of miles to taquerias, taco trucks, corner stores, and carnicerias to find the 64 very best tacos in the country as part of a feature for Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine's March issue.

Yesterday we told you about the West coast picks; today we're heading to the South.

The Bracket Methodology

The national list includes 64 contenders divided by region: West, South, Midwest, and East. Within each region we picked our top 16 taco contenders (ta-contenders?) which we then narrowed down to four winners from each region to enter the Sweet 16.

The regions were split up into mostly obvious clusters of states, though some gerrymandering needed to occur to make sure the division of taco awesomeness was more fair for each region. For example, we included Arizona and New Mexico in the South here, as there were just too many great taquerias in the West to lump them all together.

Taco Criteria

For the purposes of this search, we didn't discriminate based on style of taco. A $9 taco from a famous chef competed side-by-side with a $1 taco from a roadside truck. That said, there are a few things every taco should have in common, and those are the criteria by which we judged.

Favorite Tacos in the South

The south was the only region where we found flour tortillas to be the predominant wrapper of choice. Unlike lean corn tortillas made with a soft, uniform corn dough, flour tortillas are made with a touch of lard, adding a bit of meaty flavor and flakiness. In parts of Texas (hello Austin!), breakfast tacos featuring egg, cheese, potatoes, or chorizo were nearly ubiquitous, not that we're complaining.

Which 4 Made it to the Sweet 16?

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Migas from Tacos Veracruz: Tender, thick homemade corn tortillas are a worthy base for any of their tacos, but the migas are what to order here. Bits of crunched up fried corn tortilla are soaked in a jalapeño-laced avocado salsa until just barely softened then tossed with still-soft lightly scrambled, melted Jack-style cheese, and chopped tomato. Flavored crunchy tortilla wrapped in soft tortilla makes for a satisfyingly hearty breakfast.

1704 East Cesar Chavez, Austin TX 78702 (map) 512-963-1428

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Barbacoa from Gerardo's Drive-in Grocery: Go on a Saturday or Sunday, when the house specialty is available--the pigs head taco, also known as barbacoa. The meat is cooked in a spicy chile broth in enormous metal vats out back, resulting in intensely meaty, concentrated flavor. It's scooped into a flaky flour tortilla hot from the griddle (or comal), with a hefty squeeze of lime, smattering of cilantro and onion and a drizzle of mouth-searing red jalapeño salsa to cut the richness.

609 Patton Street Houston, TX 77009 (map); 713-699-0820

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Suadero from El Guero: This tiny roadside stand serves nothing but tacos, and their entire roster of meats is printed in large colorful letters on their bright yellow outer wall. Steak, al pastor, and lengua are all fantastic, but the best is their suadero--thin slices of fine-grained, well-marbled meat cut from the brisket griddled until crisp. It comes served it on a double-stacks of paper-thin corn tortillas that barely contain the beefy juices destined to trickle down your throat (or your shirt, if you're not careful).

4500 Bryan Street Dallas, TX 75204 (map); 214-823-1260

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Beef Fajita from Tacos La Flor: You'll find the corniest, tenderest, best-charred corn tortillas in Austin at this cheery blue truck. Lightly chewy with a miraculously crisp rim that reminds us of a tiny pizza crust, they're best topped with the fajita-style beef, tiny strips of well-seasoned skirt steak crisped up on a charcoal grill. Don't expect the grilled onions or peppers you'd find in Americanized versions of the dish. Here, it's all about the beef.

4901 South 1st Street, Austin TX 78745 (map); 512-417-4214

Stay tuned for more Taco Madness the rest of this week!

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