All week we've been sharing the national taco bracket we worked on with Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine (you'll find the full story in their March issue). So far we've told you all 64 picks in the four regions: West, Midwest, South, and East. Now it's time to announce the Final Four tacos and the tournament's big winner!
The Final Four
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
Al Pastor from Los Guachos (Columbus, OH): Served all night and into the wee hours of the morning in the parking lot of a Spanish night club, Los Guachos serves all the options of a typical taco truck—lengua, carne asada, carnitas—but the majority of the long line is there waiting for one thing: the spit-roasted al pastor taco. Strips of chile-marinated pork, almost bacon-like in consistency, are stacked in layers on a spit, then slow-roasted in front of a gas flame. The cooks stack fresh pineapple above the meat while it cooks, so the sweet juices drip down over the edges where they caramelize into crispy, sweet charred spots. The spitmaster slices the meat to order, catching the savory strips on a waiting warm corn tortilla. Diced onion and a sprinkle of cilantro seal the deal.
5221 Godown Road, Columbus OH 43235 (map); 614-538-0211
Chorizo and Papas from La Verdad: Located in the shadows of Fenway Park, the tequila bar at this sit-down restaurant can be packed with game-goers come Sox season. Dodge the crowds, the waiters and the wait, and instead head straight for the take-out window. Any taco you order comes atop a mini made-from-scratch tortilla. But the taco that knocks it out of the park is the Chorizo and Papas: Plump bits of ground pork sausage seasoned with a slew of warming spices like cinnamon, allspice and ground chile are served over tender potatoes that act like a sponge to soak up the sauce and grease. On top, thin slices of pickled red onion and a tart salsa verde.
And the Winner Is...
Carnitas from Cinco Puntos: Part piñata shop, part super cocina market, Cinco Puntos also has an incredible kitchen behind the counter with giant pots of slow-cooking meats and wads of masa ready to become tortillas on the comal flat grill. They pile the meats on high but each thick, still warm and puffy tortilla—made lovingly by one of the ladies in the back—impressively stays intact. The carnitas—juicy hunks of pork shoulder slow-cooked in its own fat then crisped up before serving—are a mouthful (and chinful, if you're not careful) of porky flavor. Make sure that no matter which taco you order, you get it with plenty of the bright nopales (cactus) on top to cut through the rich, fatty meats.
3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave, Los Angeles CA 90063 (map); 323-261-4084